How can we have a Pandemic Passion? The word “passion” often conjures romantic allusions or designates ardent desire so it may be surprising to learn that the root of the word “passion” is suffering. Passion Sunday is the first day of Holy Week when we mark the bloodstained footsteps of Jesus towards the Cross.
Passion Sunday is also called Palm Sunday to remind us of the palm-waving crowd welcoming Jesus as he entered the city. Palms symbolized happiness and victory, so the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is often called “The Triumphal Entry.”
Some scholars believe that the welcoming crowd may have been villagers who accompanied Jesus all the way along his journey and therefore was a different crowd from the rabble of local urban haters who were incited to yell “Crucify him” later in the week.
Before COVID restrictions limited people’s movements and gatherings, there were re-enactments of that triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago, our Christian Education board would have a Palm Saturday rally where thousands of children would gather for a day of celebrations, praise, prayer and reflection on what the life of Jesus means for us. It was an exuberant day of inspiration!
Shall such days ever return? We wonder. Shall we ever again exhaust ourselves by walking along a route with a large group in chanting and chattering camaraderie? Shall we feel the crush of a crowd again? Perhaps these are good questions to ask ourselves as we think about how Jesus entered the city with a crowd but sought solace in solitude with God.
The enemies of Jesus were incensed by the acclamation he received so they embarked on a plot to isolate Jesus so that could wrest him away for a sham trial and torture. Jesus Christ is unfazed and unchanged by the cheering, but those who disliked him fed their fury with the fuel of what they saw as the popularity of this interloper from Nazareth.
Do we crave the adulation of an audience? We live in a society whose trends are spread by influencers. We live on a planet where nations vie not only for military supremacy but also for the soft power of dominating hearts and minds.
Jesus Christ gently offers us a strange contradiction to our way of understanding life.
Whether he is riding a donkey or derided and scourged, he is the same. Whether he is applauded as he enters the city or beaten as he carries his cross outside the city, he is the same.
Passion Sunday offers us the timeless lesson that in the vicissitudes of wildly unpredictable circumstances, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and is with us always.
St. Andrew’s Theological College
Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago
Adrian attended universities in Trinidad, Canada, the USA, Israel, and England, and embarked on vocations in the Church as well as in law, government, commerce, and education.
Among awards he has received are several scholarships and Enterprise Teacher awards in England as well as the Gold Medal for first place at Knox College in the University of Toronto. He has taught at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels.
He is a Barrister of England and Wales and an attorney of Trinidad and Tobago.
For a short season our littlest one decided almost everything in her life be punctuated with “ta-dah!” Proclaiming “ta-dah” after putting the last puzzle piece in, picking out a book to read, putting on socks, entering into a room, seeing a dog walk by, getting into the bath, hugging stuffed animals, taking a sip of water. You name it, she “ta-dah’ed” it. It was endearing. I didn’t want to squash her enthusiasm of “finding joy in the small things,” and I applaud her for celebrating the ordinary. But I can be a literalist and at times had to restrain myself from letting her know that taking a bite of cracker really doesn’t necessitate a “ta-dah.”
Lately I have realized that I have been longing for a “ta-dah!” moment when it comes to COVID. A moment when I sense, “ta-dah! It’s over.”
This past year we have been collectively holding our breath. Wondering will we get sick and if so, how sick? Will one of our loved ones die from this? Will we miss being with them for their final breath? Will the scaffolding of my carefully plotted childcare fall apart (again) and I’ll be forced to work while handing out snacks? Is my child’s withdrawn attitude going to succumb after they go back to school? Is my furlough really furlough or will it extend to unemployment?
We are longing for a big exhale, a sense that it is finally over.
We wonder: will it come when I am fully vaccinated? When social distancing guidelines are no longer posted everywhere? When we have herd immunity? Will there be a sudden moment when I will be able to watch my favorite drama on TV without panicking as characters shake hands or go in for a hug? Will a sign that it is over be that I lose my reflex to grab a mask as I leave the house?
The past few weeks we have been journeying through Lent and now we are heading toward Holy Week. Lent is a sad story—a culmination of the story of an enfleshed God, Jesus Christ, who receives horrible justice and is murdered. “It is finished,” Jesus states, as he dies. Ta-dah.
But, you say: Lent has a happy ending! Easter is the “ta-dah!” of Lent, not the cross. Yes, in some respects it is. However, more than an ending, Easter marks a beginning—living into a world where death has been conquered, a world of new unknowns. Living into a future not yet imagined is hard work. I take heart that as we look at scriptures, we see that as Jesus’ earlier followers live into this new world, they do not mark it with a sense of victory, deep exhales, and cries of, “it is finally over!” But rather with fear, questions, confusion, and doubt.
I am slowly living into the reality that the “ta-dah” moment is not coming with the pandemic. There is not going to be one moment where I feel like I can exhale and think, “it is finished.” I am a different person than I was a year ago—we are a different community than we were a year ago—and It is going to take time to understand all the implications this has. Perhaps an entire lifetime. Yet, while we might not get one “ta-dah” moment maybe like my daughter we can learn to celebrate little moments along the way. All the while, taking comfort that we are in good company of those who have gone before us.
—Rev. Dr. Kate Guthrie
Ordained in the Reformed Church in America
Serving a PC(USA) church in North Carolina
The season of Lent is one of discipline and discipleship as we focus our attention more intensely on following Jesus into eternal life. It’s a season of letting go so that we might take hold of the life that really is life. For this 4th Sunday of Lent we’re focusing on one of Jesus’ more difficult parables. It is the story of Lazarus, a poor man, who suffered on the doorstep of a nameless rich man who feasted sumptuously and dressed himself in fine linens. Abruptly, both men die.
What strikes me is that we don’t know much about either man. We don’t know why Lazarus is poor. Has he made poor choices? Is he the victim of unfortunate circumstances? And, we don’t know what he has tried to do, if anything, to alleviate his own suffering. Likewise, we don’t know how the rich man became rich. Did he inherit this wealth or work hard? Was it the result of cruelty and oppression or ingenuity and invention? All we know is that the poor man was carried away to the comfort of Abraham’s side and the rich man sent to be tormented in Hades.
The only clues we have into the rich man’s character come from his callousness toward Lazarus; even the dogs show the poor man more concern. The rich man also expects Lazarus to come tend to him in his suffering; still expecting the hierarchy of rich over poor to serve his comfort. Even in death the poor man was still viewed as a subordinate. Abraham is having none of it, not bowing to the rich man’s wishes, as he stands with Lazarus.
The Western world enjoys immense wealth at the expense of much of the rest of humanity. It’s tempting to imagine that those who are rich are not to blame for their wealth, that it’s God’s blessing. It is equally tempting to justify generational poverty with accusations of poor choices or poor character, the poor are to blame. Jesus’s parable is having none of it. There seems to be an inherent obligation on the rich to address the suffering of the poor regardless of fault or reason.
Part of decolonizing Christian theology and practice is moving on from this same callous disregard to solidarity. This is not an easy move to make because solidarity doesn’t fall into the usual categories of the colonized mind. For example, solidarity is not generosity. As Paolo Freire writes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “an unjust social order is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity’…true solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform” the present situation.
Neither is solidarity friendship. As Chanequa Walker-Barnes writes in I Bring the Voices of My People, “In friendship, people run toward one another. In solidarity, people run together toward a greater objective…Practical solidarity means that we do not simply feel compassion and empathy for others, but commit ourselves to be in the struggle for justice with them. We do not simply suffer with people; we also struggle alongside of them.”
For some “solidarity” is too political a word. For others “accompaniment” might be a better fit. For others still “communion” might feel most at home. Regardless of what you call it, the season of Lent calls us down a road that challenges comfort and callousness and calls us to discipline and struggle alongside others who are suffering for the sake of our mutual flourishing. For some of us, there is no reason to answer that call except one: someone has risen from the dead.
The one Abraham was speaking of is Jesus. One who was willing to lower himself and take on the form of a servant, becoming obedient to the point of death, bringing salvation to all the world without question or reservation. It was the greatest act of solidarity the world has ever known. As a result, God raised him up and gave him the name that is above every name. To bend the knee before the Lord is to stand with Lazarus as he sits at our gates, to fight at his side, and to commit ourselves in the struggle for justice with him wherever he exists today.
St. Croix Reformed Church
US Virgin Islands
Peter is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry at Claremont School of Theology and exploring what it might mean to decolonize Reformed theology and practice.
Biblical text: Matthew 14:13-21
Feeding and hydration are basic needs of all living things. The difference between other living things and human beings is that, as beings created to live in community, these biological needs have a social character. In many cultures, sharing food and drink are signs of familiarity, love, respect, and the joy of being together. In my country we say: where two eat, ten eat. In fact, the early church, according to the texts of the New Testament, very often, if not always, gathered to celebrate the bond that united them in Christ, and they did so around the table, eating and drinking in communion.
One of the fundamental aspects regarding the mission of our church in Cuba today has to do with the need to serve those in need, even in the midst of our limitations, especially economic ones. We are always grateful that many of our sister churches and project agencies come in solidarity to supply these material needs. The challenge for us is to set limits to this diakonia so as not to turn it into a form of assistance that can easily become a charity devoid of meaning. To understand that satisfying the basic needs of every human being is not enough to build the foundations of the Kingdom of God is not an easy thing. If only we Cubans knew it!
A text like the one that corresponds to this ninth Sunday after Pentecost does not help to reflect on the subject and also empowers our capacity to understand where the true meaning of our diakonia lies. The narrative that Matthew's Gospel offers us about the so-called miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes confirms to us that the ministry of Jesus, as a prelude to the Kingdom of God, was full of signs that affirmed the values that give meaning to God's proposal for the human being in Christ Jesus. For it is not only to satisfy those basic needs but to create a community spirit that communes with God's intention that every human being has the right to have those needs satisfied. The Kingdom project is to build a community, a human family in harmony with all Creation. Solidarity and justice are essential for the full life proposed by the Kingdom and announced by Jesus.
The easy solution, which is the one we as humans always look for, was the one the disciples brought to Jesus: "The place is deserted and the hour is late; send the crowds away so that they may go to the villages and buy food for themselves" (Matthew 14:15). Jesus' response is firm: "...give them something to eat" (14:16). The call as followers of Jesus is to be agents of solidarity and promoters of alternatives in which the solution is not to "buy" but to "give." Offering what little we are or what little we have can be like that mustard seed in the parable, which is the smallest of all, but when it grows and multiplies it can be a nesting place for the birds of the air. Five loaves and two fish become then that seed, that incentive so that even in the midst of needs and limitations, God's people can feel their needs, all of them, satisfied. The great problem of the world today, this story reminds us, is not the lack of resources to feed human beings, but the lack of solidarity, the lack of alternatives to the commercialization of the basic needs of human beings, the foolishness of not understanding that the table of the Kingdom is for everyone, not just for a few.
May God help us to be a community of men and women, a church with open doors and a table served in the name of Jesus. As a song we sing a lot here says: "Bless our bread, Lord, and give bread to those who are hungry and hunger for justice to those who have bread."
—Pastor Dora Arce Valentin
Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba
My faith journey is most well sung in this song brought by a young Nigerian friend from her home church to another home church in Chicago:
I love the family of God so closely,
so closely knitted into one,
they’ve taken me into their midst
and I’m so glad to be
a part of this great family.
For me, this is a “Presbyterian belief,” that everyone belongs to a family of God. I gained this trust and love in the radically inclusive family of God at my second home church in Chicago: Edgewater Presbyterian Church (EPC). EPC was small church of immigrants from Cameroon, Nigeria, India, Korea, and so forth. Our English accents were drastically different, but we hardly corrected our beautiful English. We often celebrated our mother tongues. Every Sunday, they would just accept who I am, singing “our song,” which is “what I hope Presbyterians would believe” – everyone belongs to this church. The first home church in Philadelphia taught me how PC(USA) has looked like so far – a “predominantly white” church. The second home church in Chicago showed me how PC(USA) will look like in the future – a community of diaspora people where everyone belongs.
How did I get there? Right now, it does fair justice to me if I introduce myself as a Korean diaspora theologian. However, my journey of soul searching and loving “who I am” has been slow and still on-going.
In some winter of the 1980s, I was baptized as an infant at a Presbyterian church in South Korea. There I grew up as a daughter of a Presbyterian church musician who later became an ordained Presbyterian minister in South Korea. Right after college, I came to the U.S. to study “Reformed theology” and “Presbyterianism” at first.
I gradually learned that a large portion of Presbyterian beliefs and our “Reformed confessions” stem from Western, European, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Barthian theological statements. When it comes to theological practice in the North American context, the beliefs needed cultural translation in depths and widths. American English could often fall short of translating the profound and extensive theology rooted in the rich culture of Western Europe. Moreover, neither Europe nor the U.S. owns the authentic Presbyterianism and a Reformed practice anymore. Both adopted changing context of their “reformed and reforming church” more rapidly than other Presbyterian churches in “Global South.” Moreover, the plight of refugees, BIPOC, and Asian and Latinx immigrants is brewing another theology “reformed and reforming” in the context of both Western Europe and North America.
In this changing context, I could not embrace any labels Americans granted me other than “Presbyterian.” None of those labels could accurately define where I belong – whichever color, racial-ethnicities, or nationalities. Even “Korean” would not translate correctly the words used for our communities – which is, han-kuk-in (Korean person) in han-kuk-mal (Korean speech). “Presbyterian” was one of the few labels I actively chose, as it embraced who I am – a nomad, a sojourner, an “international student” in a global Presbyterian community.
I somehow adopted my identity as an “international student” early on and still do. It is categorized by the U.S. immigration office: the first Americans I had met before I came to this country. Just like a duckling which would follow the first creature she gets to see, the first label I received was imprinted in my brain. I tried to enjoy my life in this country with a mindset of a guest, a spectator, and a consumer, if not an “oppressed” or “colonized.” However, I was de facto a nomad, not a tourist. Nomadic life is not easy, although I would not deny my privilege. I often felt “international students” were the target of discrimination in so many levels in this society.
Along the extensive journey, thankfully, the Presbyterian Church (USA) provided a home where I can stay who I am, in our Presbyterian theology and worship, our belief and practice, which made me speak in the multiple Presbyterian languages.
—So Jung Kim
Associate for Theology
Office of Theology and Worship
Presbyterian Church (USA)
So Jung is completing a PhD in Theology at the University of Chicago, Divinity School, in June, 2021. Shecurrently works and resides in the traditional lands of the Cherokee, Shawnee, Wazhazhe (Osage), and Haudenosaunee (Louisville, Kentucky, USA).