Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Borg and Crossan on Holy Week

The March 20 2007 edition of Christian Century went online yesterday at the FindArticles site and it features an interesting piece by Historical Jesus favourites Borg and Crossan:

Collision Course: Jesus' Final Week
Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan

Of course the impact is not quite the same if one is reading it a month late, as I am, but there are still several features of interest, and I'd like to comment on a couple of features in the piece. It begins by posing the following question:
IF, AS JOHN'S GOSPEL suggests, Jesus went regularly to the annual festivals of his people in Jerusalem, what was so different that last time that it resulted in his execution? If, as Mark's Gospel suggests, he only went there once, why did he do it then? What, in other words, was Jesus' intention in making what proved to be his final, fatal visit to Jerusalem and its Temple that Passover of 30 CE?
A minor comment, but does Mark suggest that Jesus "only went there once"? I would be inclined to say, rather, that Mark only narrates one visit, and gives no indication one way or the other as to whether Jesus had been there in the past, though we might guess that his Jesus would have attended pilgrim feasts given his endorsement of Torah commandments like the leper showing himself to the priest (Mark 1.44). Borg and Crossan continue:
One answer was given in Mel Gibson's 2004 film The Passion of the Christ. Jesus' intention, according to that film, was to sacrifice his life as a substitutionary atonement for the sins of the world and thereby obtain vicarious forgiveness for us all. Since God was offended by human sin, and since human beings were an inadequate subject for divine punishment, only a divine victim, the Son of God, was fully appropriate to suffer in our place.
There is no question that The Passion of the Christ focuses in a major way on a substitutionary theory of the atonement, but as I argued in my article in Jesus and Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ (38-9), which appears next to Crossan's article in the volume, it is not the only perspective on the atonement in the film, which also makes a great deal of Christus Victor and exemplary ("no greater love") atonement theories. But the article goes on to make an interesting point about the celebration of Holy Week in Christian Churches and how that affects people's understanding of the Gospel narrative:
For more than one reason, the story of Holy Week--the whole week from Palm Sunday onward--is not as well known as it could and should be among Christians. One reason is a recent liturgical and lectionary change. In many churches, the story of Jesus' death has replaced Palm Sunday on the Sunday before Easter. The change was made largely because Good Friday has ceased to be a public holiday. Most of us over 50 recall a time when in many places there was no school on Good Friday. Many businesses closed. Good Friday was a day for going to church, and some of us can remember services from noon to 3 o'clock with sermons on "the seven last words."
One does not have to be "over 50" to remember such things; indeed, it is still the case in the UK that no school meets on Good Friday, and most have the whole of Holy Week off too, depending on how late Easter is in the year (the later Easter is, the more certain it is that Holy Week will be taken off). Indeed, the three hour Good Friday service was very much part of my own upbringing. As a child I used to think that the point of the three-hour service was so that we could join our sufferings to Jesus's in the most obvious way, by having to spend three whole hours in church.

Of course when Crossan and Borg say "Now the world doesn't stop on Good Friday", they are using the word "world" to mean "USA" in the same way that the ancients used the word "world" to mean "the Roman Empire". I must admit that I found working on Good Friday for the first time ever last year a real shock to the system, so much so that I blogged on it, Working at Easter. This year I was lucky enough not to have any classes scheduled on Good Friday, but I did teach on Easter Monday, which felt very, very odd, especially with thoughts of the family together back home, celebrating it together.

Crossan and Borg's article is an enjoyable read, though, and ultimately argues for something like the kind of Holy Week that some celebrate in England. The irony there is that the time off work that some (not all) have is not used to go to church, where rates of attendance are far lower than they are in the USA, where there are no such holidays. That's one I'm still trying to figure out.


Peter T Chattaway said...

For what it's worth, Good Friday is a statutory holiday in Canada, too, though Easter Monday is taken off pretty much only by those who work in unionized jobs (which includes pretty much anybody who works for the government, including teachers).

The first time I remember realizing that Americans had to work on Good Friday was when I saw the Ben Affleck / Samuel L. Jackson film Changing Lanes, which is set on that day and takes place partly in downtown offices.

crystal said...

Your mention of the Christus Victor view of atonement in your paper about the Passion of the Christ film inspired me to post something about that subject a while ago.