I spend the morning of Good Friday, when possible, listening to the St John Passion. This year a particular theme stood out of the narrative: Unity — something bishops are supposed to represent, and something Anglicans have been mortgaging the farm to try and create. Today’s narrative seems to contain three concepts of Unity
- Totemic Religious Alignment
This is what Caiaphas and Annas seek. The Temple is the great expression of religious identity and aspiration. Whatever secures cohesion, loyalty to the temple is prioritised, no matter what the cost. Thus it is expedient for one man to die for the people. It will reassure Roman authority by putting clear blue water between the temple authorities and a troublemaker who, apparently, preaches against the precious holy place. Justice may be desirable but becomes dispensable to the high priest, discharging his over-riding responsibility as professional guardian of the sacred.
- Political containment, control, Imperium
This is Pilate’s aim. Whoever Jesus is, whatever he has done or not, there is a tumult among the people. Whatever secures the power of the state is paramount. There are fine Roman principles of justice but this man is no citizen, and for some reason his own leaders want him out the way. The pragmatic duty of a wise ruler charged with securing the public peace is to let the pale Galilean die. His Death is regrettable but ultimately the best way to hold the Empire together.
- Emergent from Failure and Brokenness
As the events of Thursday and Friday unfold, the disciples must have been utterly dismayed to see their leader abandon everything and, surrendering any credible sense of his own destiny, seemingly throw himself into the vortex. He mounts no defence, answers question with no more than another question, and refuses to summon the angels to save him. Everything he has said and done appears to add up to... nothing.
You cannot create unity that is worth anything by appealing to it as a general principle, or by religious or political manipulation. True unity is the gift of God — love with open eyes.
Christ on a Cold Stone from Catharijneconvent, Utrecht; photo credit: Ruud Raats