Passover was celebrated each year of Jesus’ life. Yet, we know very little about what that looked like then. There are references but few descriptions until more than 100 years after Jesus death. In our text there is an unwritten assumption that you know what this Passover meal involves and what it means. The telling of the Passion is a dialog with realities and remembrances about which the text is silent. The ability of printed words to convey meaning is amazing and powerful. However, text is limited by its own lines and curves. It cannot convey everything. There are infinite lives that we cannot see all around the dark lines of text. Look at those pages. Dark text on an infinite field of silent space.
Our four gospel accounts all place Jesus’ death in the vicinity of the Passover festival, even if they do not agree on how or when or why. The memory and theology of the Passover is deep and personal and irremovable from the Passion narratives. It so imbedded that it is very much left unsaid. To know the salvation of this devastating week, we have to enter the silent spaces between the words. We have to enter the thousands of years of Exodus and Exile memories, to stand in the infinite soundless space that is a challenging re-membering of every Passover.
Biblical scholar Raymond Brown reminds us that, ‘were scholars agreed on a portrait of the 'historical Jesus,' it would not cover one hundredth of the actual Jesus.’ If there was agreement on what happened that wretched week, it would not cover one fraction of the experience abandonment, or of the cruel agony of crucifixion. The gospels do not clarify in words on a page how or why the death of Jesus is salvation. They only insist that it is.
The practices of Holy Week can only bring us into a fraction of the silent memories of that week that will live forever. We are called to follow Jesus the Christ, We are summoned by him to enter the dark spaces where devastation and hatred laugh and mock. We are called to follow him in this way of the cross and into a new kind of Passover.
When you eat this bitter herb, you become one with the people who cry under tyranny. When you eat this bread, you become one with the people who flee under the cover of a terrible night. You drink this cup and you become one with God, it is a cup of a new covenant that rises from the depths of God’s love and sacrifice.
This Holy Week of liturgical truth-telling is a call to grasp the unfinished and the conditional experience of emptiness that lies between each line of these written words. It is unfinished and conditional because we can never actually be in the story, and yet at the same time all these words and actions and failures are also our own story of brokenness. It is unfinished and conditional because in all its terror, it is told through Easter eyes.
We read from that space beyond the text, from what looks like white but is actually a brilliant spectrum of color. This is where the empty tomb shines on his Passion. For when we rise and live in union with Christ that is where we can begin to understand the incomprehensible silence of the words: that it was necessary.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Walla Walla, Washington
The 'children's sermon' portion included a brief explanation of the Passover tradition, the searching for the hidden matza and the sampling of matza and parsley.
Recording from the 8am service.