Posts Tagged ‘Good Friday’

Jesuit Offers Holy Week Lessons from an Unlikely Pontius Pilate

This week, Christians around the world commemorate the Passion of Christ, the remembrance of Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and death. This final week of Lent before Easter Sunday, called Holy Week, began on Palm Sunday last Sunday and ends with Holy Saturday tomorrow. Today is Good Friday, marking Christ’s death on the cross.

While Holy Week is solemn and sorrowful, it also anticipates the joy of Easter through the recognition of God’s goodness in sending Jesus to die for our salvation. For Palm Sunday, well-known author Jesuit Father James Martin shared in Washington Post’s “On Faith”, the story of his nephew’s participation in a Lenten pageant. In the article below, Fr. Martin sees Holy Week through the eyes of a six-year-old.

Want to learn more about Holy Week? Below you can view Busted Halo’s “Holy Week in Two Minutes” to find out more. 

My six-year-old nephew Matthew called me a few weeks ago. This was an event in itself, since six-year-olds generally don’t initiate phone calls. At least my nephew doesn’t. “Uncle Jim,” he said, “Guess what?” (This is his normal way of starting a conversation.)

“What?” I said.

“I’m in the Lenten pageant at church!” Despite 24 years of Jesuit training, I had no idea what that was. So I asked.

“It’s kind of like a Christmas pageant,” he said, “but it’s about the crucifixion.” Okay. “And guess who I play?”

“Jesus?” I ventured.

“No! Better than that!”

What’s better than Jesus?

“Pontius Pilate!” he said.

My nephew had been cast as the Procurator of Judea in his church’s Lenten Pageant, which my sister described a kind of tableau vivant. Or a “Living Stations of the Cross,” as the church was calling it. While I had some concerns over whether the Passion narrative was appropriate storytelling for someone so young, I figured I would give the church the benefit of the doubt. Besides, what do I know about teaching six-year-olds?

“Are you excited?” I asked.

“Well,” said Matthew, “I’m a little sad because we have to crucify my best friend. And we use a real hammer and a nail.” This gave me pause. “We paint little red tears like blood on his hand, but it’s not for real.” Who was directing this pageant–Mel Gibson? (Later conversations with my sister revealed that the hammer and nail were props, and, obviously, not used.)

Over the next few days, I kept up to date about the Lenten pageant and my nephew’s passion about the play, which seemed to wax and wane. On the one hand, Matthew was disappointed when he discovered that Pontius Pilate was not, in fact, a pilot. On the other hand, last Sunday, during the recitation of the Creed, when the congregation reached the description of Jesus’s death and said, “For our sake, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate…” Matthew yelled out, “Pontius Pilate! Yay!” (Pilate normally doesn’t get shout-outs in church.)

The night after the big day, I spoke with Matthew. “So how was the pageant?”

“Well,” he said, considering things carefully, “there were three Jesuses.” (Several of his friends were enlisted to appear in several Stations of the Cross.) “But only one Pontius Pilate.” That pleased him. On the other hand, his flip-flops made his feet cold.

“And, Uncle Jim, I forgot to wash my hands!” (This was Pilate’s most famous physical act in the New Testament, betokening his attempt to disavow responsibility for the death of Jesus.) “First I was afraid I would do it early,” he said, clearly miffed. “Then I was afraid I’d do it too late. So I didn’t do it at all.”

Finally I asked, “Did the story make you sad?”

“Well,” he said, “it was a little sad. But everyone roses from the dead, and everyone lived happily ever after.”

So is such a lighthearted story inappropriate to recount on Palm Sunday? Yes and no.

Yes, it may be considered inappropriate because Palm Sunday invites us to meditate on the death of Jesus, perhaps the most serious topic in all Christian theology. Equally as serious are Jesus’s physical suffering on the day of his crucifixion, our own suffering, and the way in which we “participate” in Jesus’s suffering during our lives. For some people, the sufferings of Jesus allow them to identify more easily with the Son of God, who might otherwise seem far removed from such mundane concerns as physical pain. To paraphrase St. Paul, we do not have a God who does not understand us.

Thus, the model of Jesus as the man of sorrows is an important image for Christians. Not only does it reveal to us a model of suffering – that is, with forgiveness and without retribution – it also shows that God understands our struggles in the most intimate way imaginable.

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