As we begin upon what the Christian tradition calls the great Triduum — the three days that bring us to Easter and constitute the heart of Holy Week — I think we have to ask ourselves a question: Is the drama that unfolds beginning on Maundy Thursday and reaches its fulfillment on Easter primarily a human drama, or a divine one?
I think we have become accustomed to viewing the events commemorated and celebrated this week as a divine drama, God pushing Jesus forward into arrest, trial, and crucifixion, and finally to resurrection. God is in the driver’s seat, if you will, and always has been, needing things to turn out just this way. After all, isn’t that what we mean when we say that Jesus in God incarnate, God appearing within a human life?
I think, though, that what unfolds in this week is not a drama driven by God. Rather, it is a very human drama in which God is a willing participant. The elements of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are all deeply human, and propelled by human beings. The fear among those ancient religious authorities that Jesus will somehow ignite a revolution that will result in a blood bath; the concern among Roman authorities about anyone who looks at all like a rallying point for Jewish aspirations for liberation and freedom; the disappointment of people who placed their hopes and expectations for such a revolution upon Jesus, and then become frustrated when he seems to be failing to act as they anticipated; the disappointment among some of his own disciples, and one particular disciple who decided to cooperate with the authorities in Jesus’ betrayal; the last, lingering meal of Jesus with his followers, knowing what is coming; the terror of those followers after Jesus’ arrest, running away out of fear for their own lives; their grief at the death of their teacher, a death which has made of Jesus a victim, and taken all the air out of any thought of revolution, relieving the societal pressure that had been building up around Jesus; the tenderness of his burial; and the deep humanity of the women who came to anoint his body. All of these things speak of the complex dynamics of humanity, so easily drawn into fear, so ready to identify a victim to attach our fears to, and yet so shocked and grieved when we actually behold the victim in death.
What these days of Christ’s passion reveal to us is not a carefully laid out divine plan for our salvation, but the full truth of our own humanity, and the way we carry on with one another. In Jesus, God enters into this human drama, becomes a willing participant in it, in order to reveal it for what it really is.
When we come to the end of the drama and behold its final act, the Risen Christ, then we really see what all this looks like in the light of the divine: that all the fear, shame, guilt, and victimizing that to us seems so final, so absolute, and so necessary is a truth that God acknowledges but does not buy into. In the Risen Christ, God finally does get in the driver’s seat, taking our human drama in an entirely new direction, showing us that we can live differently, that we can live outside of the dynamics of fear and death, shame and guilt, and be freed for a larger, fuller, more authentic, and inexhaustible life.
As we move through the heart of this Holy Week, I hope we will not see what happens to Jesus as following a divine plan, but rather, that we will see our God entering into the dynamics of our own humanity, in order to unmask them, name them, forgive them, and then move us beyond them into love.