Ambivalence is a Good Place to Hide

Ambivalence scares me, especially my own.  In the area of most ambivalence, amidst the shallow, shoal infested waters that lie between hope and fear, there are moments when I find everything within me rising in hope and I cry out: save us, we pray -hosanna! Then in the next moment the impossibility of my hopeful exultation crashes under the weight of a defensive cynical realism, and because I am an INTJ, I quietly give voice to my fears and whisper: crucify him.

Palm Sunday is my least favorite stop on the Easter liturgical Express I find the contradiction of blessing palms and singing Ride on, ride on in imagesmajesty before minutes later hearing an enactment of the Passion, with its crescendo cry of crucify him, crucify him, deeply disturbing.The juxtaposition between hosanna and crucify him administers a shock to the system. For this is an expression of the human capacity for shocking contradiction. We retreat into our paranoia saying: see there really is something out there to be afraid of.

In 160BC after seven years of guerilla resistance, Judas Maccabeus led the triumphant Jewish Resistance back into a Jerusalem newly liberated from the yoke of the Seleucid Emperor, Antiochus Epiphanies. The Jewish forces carried blessed palm branches with which to begin the cleansing of the Temple, a Temple that  had been defiled by the image that Antiochus had placed of himself in the Holy of Holies. The Maccabean Revolt was the last time the Jew’s could point to a successful assertion of their independence from foreign domination.

I find drawing a connection between the Maccabean cleansing of the Temple and Jesus being welcomed by the crowds bearing branches they had cut from the trees gives an insight into the hopes and aspirations of the crowds that welcomed Jesus into the city. They were welcoming in the name of the great King David a new liberator, who like Judas Maccabeus would liberate them both from the foreign Roman domination and the Jewish Temple authorities, the domestic collaborators with Roman oppression.

We know the end of the story. We know that as the events of Holy Week unfold, things don’t go in the direction of fulfilling public hopes and expectations. These increasingly turn to disappointment and in disillusionment the crowds turn on the one in whom they felt their deepest longing had been betrayed.

This is what happens when our impossible expectations fail to materialize. We turn on those who have hitherto evoked our hopes and crush them. It seems the only thing we can do to express the rage and despair that feed our fear that nothing has, nor will ever, change.

How does the profound disillusionment of the crowds at large, and of Jesus’ own inner circle in particular play into our current experience of the world? We live in a world in which the political, judicial and law enforcement, the educational, economic, and religious institutions that articulated our highest aspirations and hopes as a society are either in rapid collapse or changed beyond recognition. We seem to be returning to an age when the levers of power are firmly controlled by those with unaccountable privilege while the rest of us are gripped by a growing sense that we are helpless in the face of a new world in which there is a great deal to be afraid of.

The danger is that our liturgical journey through the events of Holy Week and the Great Three Days of Easter communicate only esthetically and sentimentally. We are moved, maybe even caught up in the drama of this week. Yet, when the gruesome ordeal of poor Jesus is vindicated in his glorious and shining resurrection, we breathe a sigh of relief. Easter is now over for another year and we are reassured by having witnessed the archetypal triumph of good over evil.

The danger I fear most is that we travel through the events of Holy Week and Easter as if we are only attending consecutive performances of Shakespeare’s history plays or the demanding three days of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. We emerge from the experience moved, disturbed, elated, saying to one another: gee that was powerful!  Like drama and opera, liturgy has the power to transport us from one spiritual state of awareness to another. Liturgy is the vehicle that moves us into and through what I have been referring to as sacred time. Yet, the question will remain, for what purpose? Is the drama of Holy Week and Easter just another form of entertainment? Or is Holy Week and Easter fundamentally important to our ability to live out our hopes and longings?

What scares me about my ambivalence is that in the events of Holy Week and Easter as they are particularly magnified on Palm Sunday, I see myself in the crowds crying both hosanna, and crucify him. I am full of hope and longing for a world transformed beyond the maintenance of the status quo, the endless repetition of business as usual. Yet, my very hopes and longings also terrify me, and so I resist the change I most long for. If I really believe that self-sacrificial love can change the world, challenAmbivalence_artge the tyrannies of power and privilege, where then would I find myself? What might an allegiance to self-sacrificial love cost me? What will following Jesus to the Cross and beyond demand of me? Now that really scares me! Ambivalence is a good place to hide.

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