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
Demetrius recovers the robe
Marcellus refuses to apostasize before Caligula
Watch 'em quick, before Youtube pulls them...