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  • Reverend James Squire

Holy Week Then and Now

We have entered into Holy Week. It is not often that you see religious ceremonial on the front page of the daily newspaper, but there were the images of clergy and lay waving palm branches as was done many years ago to remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The people rejoiced in seeing their political messiah arrive. As a result of the greatest mixed expectation in all time, He saw himself as a liberator of the peoples’ soul, a spiritual messiah!

We know how the week will be described with a last supper, foot washing, crucifixion, and an empty tomb discovered by women who sought to care for His broken body, and the realization that He was no longer there. The resurrection becomes his last and first gesture that there is new life in this faith, and the power of the spirit sent others with this good news to places in all generations.

That was then, but what does it mean for us now? What does this event say to the privileged and the oppressed? What changed from Palm Sunday to Good Friday that led to His death then and now?

Many people have claimed to be the author of the following statement but who wrote it doesn’t change the truth of the message. “To those accustomed to privilege, then equality feels like oppression.”

The resurrection message goes out to anyone who would listen. Some did. Others chose a different path to God. The threat of the Gospel lies in the oppression felt by the Pharisees and the Sadducees of the day. The oppression originated in the message of salvation that all persons are equal as children of God. What is unique about Christianity is that it was born in the moment when oppression is vanquished because privilege is not the norm but equality has been underscored as the condition for all.

Good Friday occurs when the privileged in power feel oppressed by the essential message of the Gospel that all are equal.

We need to look at the events of today through the prism of this message whether it be in Ukraine, migration at the border, the various “isms”or political division. When Russia or politicians declare that I am better, we are experiencing Holy Week now. When I believe that I am privileged to treat you in any way that I choose, the Gospel message is a threat. The message of the Gospel proclaims that this thought has been with us since the dawn of time and is the prevailing attitude during Holy Week. The threat to the powers to be in the Roman world as well as the religious world of Holy Week are the same as it is for those who choose division or in the case of Russia, that the Ukrainian lives are not as worthy as a Russian life. Russia privilege is oppressed because the Gospel says the Ukrainians are equal.

Easter is about individual salvation and community salvation. You cannot participate in the salvific notion of eternal life now or later if you do not love your neighbor as you love Jesus or your God. The message of the Jewish people during Passover is very much the same. Oppression is experienced by those in power in the form of the Egyptians because of the equality that has been bestowed on the Jewish people by the words of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. Love God. Love your neighbor.” They are heard as well in the words, “Let my people go.”

During this Holy Week, let us focus on “to those accustomed to privilege, then equality feels like oppression.” It is ironic that a Jewish president of Ukraine is leading his people who are largely Christian demanding equality from Russia, a nation that feels oppressed by the privilege that they feel worthy of taking anything they want in any way they want.

Dr. Paul Farmer, beloved recently deceased caregiver for those oppressed around the world, said it best, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

Zelensky is saying: “Let my people go!”

Easter proclaims: We have risen because He has risen.

“Rise up ye saints of God. Have done with lesser things; give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of Kings.” Hymn 551 The Episcopal Hymnal

“And I’ll rise up

I’ll rise like the day

I’ll rise up

I’ll rise unafraid

I’ll rise up

And I’ll do it a thousand times again.” Andra Day

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