Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Faith Works 4-16

Faith Works 4-16-11

Jeff Gill


A Week That Changed the World




This Friday, in a variety of ways and at a number of locations, the events of some two thousand years ago in a Roman backwater outpost, putting down a possible popular rebellion, will be remembered.


That's remarkable in and of itself, right there.


A handful of revolutionaries and agitators getting their leaders snatched and executed, as any imperial functionary knows, usually disappears back into the woodwork or woods or wood and plaster hovels from whence they came.


A few years later, even their closest associates have forgotten the names of the leaders, the disappeared, those who were cut down. If they are remembered, it's more for trying to figure out what they did wrong so the next attempt at revolution can succeed. The person themselves becomes a lost note played on an uncertain trumpet, whipped away on the wind.


Not in Judea under Pontius Pilate, though. At least at one time.


Pilate is one of the few – OK, only – Roman procurators known to the general public today. He was like any Roman official worth his salt (or "salarium," soldiers in imperial service being paid in the fungible commodity of salt, which could get you a drink or a quiet upstairs room in any corner of the Roman world).


There were quite a few rebel leaders and charismatic figures whose blood was already on Pilate's often-washed hands. The Galilean was by no means his first, probably not even his first slaughtered Galilean. Quick, name one other. No, thought you couldn't.


Processions in Jerusalem were no new news, either; claimants to the wobbly post-Herod Jewish throne often gathered their adherents and marched in with the Passover crowds, hoping to co-opt the tourism excitement for their own cause. Sometimes the Roman legionaries clipped them off in the deeps of the Kidron Valley, occasionally as they passed through the eastern gate, hedged in before and behind, hustled into a tower room of the castellation, not always emerging (or at least emerging chastened, sometimes beaten).


A parade that built on the energy of a Passover pilgrimage might enter the city itself, but the first turn was directly below the walls of the Antonia, the fortification guarding both the Temple courts to the south, and the pilgrim way along its north. Soldiers could apprehend a claimant right at the convenience of their own gates.


For a troublemaker out of the sticks, to get all the way into the Temple porticos, let alone to pitch over the stalls and tables of the financial branch offices, still escaping intact back into the teeming city – that was unusual. But to keep one's hide, let alone one's name alive, you then needed to get out of town. If you stayed in the general reach of both Roman and Sanhedrin authority, your arrest and disposition was simply a matter of time.


What was, and is, the key point is that when the powers that be apprehend and execute you, that's oblivion. Your story ends there, whether shot by dark out in the desert, flown over the ocean in a military transport and pushed out miles from the coast, or assassinated by death squads in broad daylight. These horrible dramas play out regularly around the world here in our present, civilized day, and in dimmer times, longer ago, the death toll was no less savage. The obliteration was no less complete.


Yet this "Good Friday" there will be a contingent gathering at 10:45 am to walk from St. Edward's Catholic Church in Granville up to Denison's Swasey Chapel, a solemn drum and carried cross leading them. St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Newark will host a service from Noon to 3 pm, marking the "Seven Last Words" of a condemned man, commemorated by seven different pastors reflecting on the meaning of that day. In the evening, a 7 pm service at Lakewood High School will bring a number of churches together in remembrance and prayer.


In all those places, and many more, the death on a cross of a man from Nazareth will be remembered, with great clarity and distinctness. Before we consider the radical claims of Easter, it's worth recalling how revolutionary it is that we know who this man is at all, someone whom the vast Roman Empire wanted both dead and forgotten.


This time, they got neither. Just to say the name of the one who died on that cross is a great miracle all by itself. He is not forgotten; you might almost say, in a way, that he lives.


His name is Jesus.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him something that shouldn't be forgotten at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.