Sunday, March 16, 2008

In a More Nurturing Time and Place...

Remembering Holy Week as it used to be...

Christ Entering Jerusalem, by Giotto (1304-1306)

From The Christian Century, John M. Buchanan's A Passion Narrative:

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point the liturgical calendar changed and Palm Sunday became Passion Sunday, with the strong suggestion that we read as much of the Passion narrative as we can on this Sunday before Easter. I always rather liked the older tradition of marking Passion Sunday two weeks before Easter as a time to devote attention to the Passion, Christ crucified, and then to deal with the powerful complexity of his entry into the capital city on the first day of Holy Week.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan discuss these liturgical changes and recall how Good Friday used to be celebrated. People my age remember: it was a school holiday and we spent three hours in church, from noon until 3, listening to seven preachers have at the "seven last words" of Christ. My memories of those hours are that it was a very long time to be confined to a pew on a spring afternoon, with the baseball diamond summoning. But it did impress me that something very significant was at the heart of it, something that warranted a lot of my attention. Borg and Crossan suggest that when Good Friday stopped being recognized as a public holiday, the story of the crucifixion was heard by fewer and fewer people. So "the story needs to be told on the Sunday before Easter." I can't argue with the logic of that, but I do lament and resist diluting the complex power of Palm Sunday.

In their book The Last Week, Borg and Crossan follow the Gospel of Mark's account of Jesus' last week, day by day, hour by hour. In the process they note details that we might overlook. They dispel the notion that the crowd that welcomed Jesus turned against him during the week. How many sermons have been preached on that theme? The crowd was his protection, it turns out. The authorities were afraid of the crowd. The crowd that gathered in Pilate's courtyard and demanded his crucifixion wasn't the Palm Sunday crowd at all, but "supporters of the authorities--perhaps a few dozen people." That is an important observation. And more than ever, it makes me want to be there on Palm Sunday, when the children sing sweet hosannas and tears come to grandparents' eyes.

I can relate very strongly to what Mr. Buchanan is saying here, about Holy Week, and Good Friday in particular. When I was a kid, back in the 60's, Holy Week was a very big deal, and each day had a different and special emphasis.

We always had the day off from school on Good Friday, but it was a day to be kept silently and solemnly. It was a lot like coming home after a funeral. Very serious business... One thing that lifted the tension a bit was the fact that the television stations would run nonstop religious programming, with hour after hour of continuous biblical epics. One of the ones I remember especially was The Robe. A slave named Demetrius (Victor Mature) is owned by a Roman Tribune named Marcellus (Richard Burton). Demetrius, who first notices Jesus upon his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, becomes a follower and recovers the robe of Jesus at the site of the crucifixion, which took place under a Roman cohort led by Marcellus. To make a long story short, both Demetrius and Marcellus become converts, with Marcellus eventually martyred with his betrothed, Diana, under Caligula.

Victor Mature and Richard Burton in The Robe (1953)

It's a film that would certainly be considered hokey and corny by today's standards, but there are certain things I still like about it. For example, I like the fact that the face of Jesus is never shown in any of the scenes. That gives it added power somehow.

Yes, it might seem corny today, but for kids, this stuff was formative, and I'd say that it was mostly in a good way. None of this exists for kids anymore, unless their parents insist upon being completely counter-cultural. I feel fortunate in some respects to have been born in a time that preceded the Culture Wars, a time when faith was a given and there was no inherent hostility to be found as a matter of necessity between people of faith and people in the media. For all the faults of those years, and there were many, I think it was a more nurturing time for children overall.

Actually, as I listen to the screenplay again in these scenes, I'm struck at how radical they are, in terms of indicting Roman imperial aggression. It's almost as if John Dominic Crossan could have been an advisor. ;-D

Video clips:

Demetrius recovers the robe

Marcellus refuses to apostasize before Caligula

Watch 'em quick, before Youtube pulls them...


crystal said...

Ha :-) I remember that movie. I miss the old religious movies on tv too. My favorite was Ben Hur. Maybe I'll post something about that one.

Jeff said...

Ben Hur! A classic! The chariot race scene is amazing, even by today's standards. We always heard that a stuntman died in making that scene, but I've heard that's an urban legend.

Garpu the Fork said...

You know, on the one hand I wish we had Good Friday off. On the other...there are some things about living in that time period I wouldn't have liked. I doubt I would've had the opportunities to get in on computer music back then, for instance. (One of the people I know was the first woman to get a doctorate from a particular east coast school, and she has stories.)

I kind of wish kids these days had the opportunity to go hang out and run around all summer like we did, though. I remember being able to take my bike and head off with some friends, call to say I was eating dinner with them, which was okay, so long as I was back before it was too late. Kids these days don't know how to make dry ice bombs, for instance... or maybe I just have a different kind of nostalgia.

Jeff said...


Dry ice bombs. :-)

Yes, in other respects, kids are more overprotected now and have less independence. We were hardly ever in the house, We'd come home when my mother literally rang a cowbell for us to come in for supper. We used to spend all day in the woods. I wouldn't dream of letting my kids spend all day in the woods now, even if it wasn't full of deer, coyote, and lyme ticks.

Other things we used to do... Cross highways on foot to get over to the supermarket to buy candy. Ride our bikes for miles and miles, including along the highway, no helmets or nuthin'. Ride around in our friend's dad's station wagon, all piled in the back... Seat belts? Who wore seat belts? Those were just the things that wound up all tucked in under the seats...

Very little in the way of organized sports. You'd just go down to the local playground and see who was around. Buck up for sides.

Liam said...

What about the biggie -- the Ten Commandments? With Yul Brynner and that weird think coming out of his head.

Yeah, my childhood was different, too. There was a gully near my house, and we would climb the fence and hang out there all day. Of course, I lived in a residential area of a small/mid-sized city. Life is very different in Manhattan for my 12-year-old.

Garpu the Fork said...

I introduced my nieces to the diet coke-mentos thing via youtube videos. My half-sister asked me, "Do you want to explain why your nieces are out in the back yard with a package of mentos and my diet coke stash?" :) Corrupting the youth... Figured I'd wait until they're older for the fun that you can do with dry ice.

Helmets? We didn't need no stinkin' helmets. :)

crystal said...

My childhood sounds like yours too - we spent all day walking or riding bikes or hanging around in parks. I remember one Saturday, dropping acid at Folsom Lake, talking to the trees .... ah, the good old days :-)

Jeff said...


Dry ice... It reminds me of the very first play I was ever in. A murder/mystery farce called The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard. In the middle of a very dramatic scene that was set in an English drawing room, we had a dry ice machine that was supposed to pump "fog" in through the French windows. On opening night we didn't quite have the dry ice thing down yet. We had fog everywhere, coming in through the door in great billows, pouring in through seams in the walls etc... Got lots of unintentional laughs. That's show biz.


The Ten Commandments is great. Yeah, Yul Brenner, with that bullfighter kind of braid. The green mist that comes down and takes out all the first-born in Egypt. Heston was a big guy, but Brenner was ripped (in the days well before the cigarettes got to him). Him and Moses fighting over the same woman... IMO, Brenner stole that picture. He was great in that Pharoah role. "So it shall be written, so it shall be done."


Dropping acid?? Geez, California... My goodness, it does sound like you could have used just a bit more supervision. Did the trees answer back?

Garpu the Fork said...

Maybe it's just a midwestern thing, but we never dropped acid in the summer. :) Although the drug talk I got from my dad was, "If you want to try pot, don't go buying it off the street because they cut it with God knows what. Come to me, and I know people who grow organic." The thought of toking up with my dad kept me straight. ;)

Liam said...

Dropping acid in the summer... I remember that. A long, long time ago.

Jeff said...

I despise recreational drug use. I can’t believe you guys would even consider dropping acid. When I was in High School during the 70’s, everyone was terrified of LSD, because there were too many older brothers who were teenagers during the 60’s shuffling around town completely fried from it. It was frightening. They’d be laughing one minute and in tears the next.

crystal said...

Oh - now I see what you mean about picking on me :-)

When I was a kid almost everyone I hung around with used drugs. I know almost no one anymore from back then so I don't know how they turned out, but my sister seems ok .... the jury's still out on me :-) I think really it was just a form of dangerous living, like the hitch-hiking we used to do, to see how immortal we really were.

Jeff said...

Hi Crys,

Hitch-hiking! That's another thing we used to see all the time that has disappeared.

Speaking of dangerous living... When we were teenagers, some guys used to do a thing called "skitching". During a snowstorm they'd grab a hold of someone's rear bumper and go for a ride. The trick was all in knowing when to let go...

crystal said...

Ha :-) that's what Michael Fox's character did in Back to the Future, but with a skateboard.

Jeff said...

Exactly, but on snow!

cowboyangel said...

Geez, looks like I've missed the trip down memory lane.

I've never seen The Robe.
I've seen and liked Ben-Hur and The Then Commandments.

I've never even heard of dry-ice bombs.

But I have done skitching, though I didn't know that's what it was called. We just called it "grabbing on to the bumper" when there was snow. An inner-tube and a rope are also very fun/dangerous in that regard. This was not a Texas childhood thing but a 20-something thing in Colorado.

I won't go into the recreational drug thing.

Except that my mother always told me that if I was going to try pot, to do it at home, because she didn't want me getting caught. So, of course, when I took her up on her offer, and she came home early, well . . . she certainly sang a different tune then!

"But Mom, you said!"

I loved playing in the woods. Playing in the woods and playing football up at the schoolyard. We did that almost every afternoon for many years. Sigh . . .

When I went back to Austin after 10 years, they'd gotten rid of most of the woods and empty lots and put up condos or something. Really tragic.

Why DON'T parents let their kids play in the woods now, Jeff? What happened to make it so scary for everyone? I don't remember anything bad ever happening to my friends and I. No one was kidnapped. No one got hurt (seriously). So why all the fear now?

cowboyangel said...

The THEN Commandments. Hmm... Freudian slip?

Garpu the Fork said...

Of course I'm not recommending anyone actually do this, since they're illegal in some states (like California), and the guy's an idiot for holding onto it as long as he did, but:

(or how to make a dry ice bomb. we always used garden gloves for handling the dry ice, though. or tongs.)

Jeff said...

My, what tolerant households you guys came from, at least in stated principle.

If I had ever smoked pot, I would have gotten caught for sure, and if that had ever happened, I do believe that the planet would have stopped on it's axis and reversed direction. The earth would have opened up and the curtain of the temple would have been torn in two. Something like a great mountain burning with fire would have been thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea would have become like blood. In other words, all the seals would have been broken and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would have been acting out the whole Book of Revelation in our family living room.


Why DON'T parents let their kids play in the woods now, Jeff? What happened to make it so scary for everyone?

I never saw a wild animal in the woods when I was a kid. I don't think I even saw a raccoon until I was about 20 or so. Now, because of ever-creeping suburbia, those same woods are full of them... Deer, coyote, wild turkeys... Don't laugh about the turkeys. The "toms" are very aggressive. Not only that, the deer have brought the lyme ticks with them. Just about every kid on the street has had lyme disease at one point or another.

I think people are also more nervous about abductions today than they used to be. I've heard about the occasional man being spotted in the nearby woods from time to time, homeless or otherwise. Might be hysteria on our part, but this is the zeitgeist in which we live.

Don said...

Thanks for the clips. The Robe is one of my favorite movies. I'd forgotten about it but thanks to you I'm going to watch more of it.

Garpu the Fork said...

I'll second that about wild turkeys. Those suckers are *mean*.

Jeff said...

Don! How are you?! Long time, no see. I'll bet you used to enjoy Barabbas too, like me.

Have a Happy and Blessed Easter!


They sure can be. I have some photos. I'll have to post up them up.