WEDNESDAY OF HOLY WEEK

 

     


Often the Cross used to be explained as the sacrifice that paid back to God for the insult of the sin of Adam, original sin. Left like that, this explanation could do more harm than good and certainly doesn’t cut it today. Yet it is a good place to start. But before it makes sense, we have to make some inroads into self-knowledge and self-acceptance.
 
Holy Week draws back the curtain on human nature, yours and mine and generally. It shows us as sinful. The Greek word is ‘hamartia’ which means missing the mark. Limited, making mistakes, mortal, limited and unfinished. Let’s say ‘sinful’ provided we remember that sin, as Mother Julian said, is not desirable because it causes so much suffering but it is nevertheless necessary.
 
Everything depends on whether we respond to sin with self-crippling guilt or shame which merely inflates the ego negatively: ‘God could never forgive or love me.’ This self-negation creates a force of negativity and there is such a thing as a solidarity of sin. We see it in the alliances established between inhumane authoritarian regimes.  There is another way, however, the self-affirmation of humility, seen radiantly in Jesus even as he is sucked into the machinery of a tyrannical state system that will execute him for exposing its inner workings. His trial was an alliance between religious and political authoritarianism reproduced innumerable times since.
 
The fellowship of sin is a primitively low consciousness. But also there is, evident in his witness to the truth, a solidarity of grace. Grace deals with sin not by punishment or by exploiting guilt: it simply dissolves it. For example, we can imagine how the disciples might have felt when they encountered Jesus in the Resurrection experience. They would have felt some shame and guilt for running away and maybe anger at him for disappointing them. Yet all of that is entirely and instantly evaporated when he breathes on them and says ‘Peace’. Grace, not punishment, breaks the bond of karma.
 
To access this solidarity of grace we need only the humility to know and accept ourselves. The conspiracy of sin escalates evil. Grace connects us even to our enemies. This strange and unexpected unity, even with the alien other, is God. It reveals that the essential orientation of human nature – even in its limited and sinful state – is towards God: the God who is infinitely desirable but can only be known through the experience of loss.
 
This week Jesus manifests this orientation towards God as the common ground of humanity. He named this universal orientation to God by calling God ‘father’, ‘my father’. But he also says, ‘my father and your father and the prayer that summarises his teaching begins with ‘our father’.
 
So, Christian community is not a believers’ club. It is the community which – for all its human faults – understands what being human means and what God is like. Jesus died for our sin of ignorance.
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Laurence Freeman 
Lenten Reflections 2022
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