In the church during Holy Week we retell the Passion Gospel, reflecting on Christ’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion. We sing hymns and say prayers and hear sermons that call us to examine our own times of denial and betrayal of Christ, the times when our words or actions – or sometimes our failure to speak or act – have served to mock Christ or to drive another nail into him. In many churches, we will hear good reminders that when we join in acceptance of violence of any kind or fail to see and serve those in need we betray Christ himself and essentially deny our relationship to him.
What we will not hear in very many churches this week is the connection between our acceptance of the ongoing degradation of the earth and our apathy as witnesses to Christ’s Passion. We are witnesses removed by time but not necessarily by temperament from the events of Holy Week, and our Scripture readings and liturgies this week are meant to help us bear witness to Jesus’ crucifixion and the events leading up to it. How well we allow ourselves to see and speak of and act in response to what is happening fairly rapidly to our deteriorating biosphere, how well we witness to climate change and pollution, is connected to how well we serve as witnesses to the events of Holy Week.
We may hear this week that we are not very far removed from the frightened disciples and the fickle crowds, that to distinguish between them and us is an error. It’s not a surprising error since we tend to see ourselves – 21st century Christians or Americans or whatever our primary identity – as a unique and exceptional group of people, as did so many groups of people before us. One of the lessons of Holy Week is that we all sin in ways that are at their heart neither unique nor exceptional, just an old, sad story.
We make similar errors in supposing ourselves to be outside the category of people who will be affected profoundly by climate change and in supposing ourselves and all of humanity to be separate from the other living things in Earth’s biosphere. If we continue to ignore the grim facts of climate change and act as if our duties to God and neighbor do not obligate us to address global warming, we mock Christ and drive the nails deeper into Christ on the cross because we crucify all living things – humankind and the web of other living things on which our lives depend.
I invite us to expand our view this year and consider all living things, ourselves and all the others who share our biosphere, as we experience Holy Week. Watch for posts here for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to help in that reflection.
This verse from "My Song is Love Unknown" (sung in this video by the King's College Choir, Cambridge) expresses our tendency to be inconsistent in loving and following Christ:
Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry