Holy Week Blues (Part 2): Perfunctory Tradition vs. Perfect Freedom

Published on by Vincent Ragay under

Jesus Reigning in Heaven


Holy Week always gets me started — and startled! Just yesterday, I again had that “holy week” feeling. And when I read this article by a Catholic archbishop asking if we should “blindly follow those Holy Week traditions” and making defenses and excuses for their traditions without actually saying why this or that act is good or bad, and not taking a clear stand at all why a certain act is unnecessary and should be stopped, I realized why Holy Week will be around for a long while. It made me want to cry out like Robin, “Holy Cow!” – or was it Moses who first said that?

Anything that is abolished is already unnecessary; and anything unnecessary wastes time and energy. And anything wasteful is not a part of perfection. Endlessly dwelling in and arguing about non-essentials in life bring people nowhere. The “viernes santo” mood is one such outdated, non-essential religious exercise.

So, how do we describe the “viernes santo” feeling? Let me try:

Instead of the usual loud, romantic or lively music blaring from the neighbors or broadcast by the networks, you hear mainly silence or an occasional mellow music somewhere. Instead of the deafening videoke night-singing, you hear the monotonous reading of the “pasyon” into the dead of the night (the pun is appropriate). Almost all radio and TV stations are out. Most offices and stores are closed. Roads are quieter. And even people are intentionally somber. It all reaches a climax during Good Friday when that childhood-instilled memory revives the parental admonition to remain silent – because “God is dead!”

I love the stillness though. If only it will last forever, like it does in many western countries. And because the heat at this time is oppressive, one cannot help but take a shower or two even if the ancient old-wives’ advice is not to take a bath on Good Friday. By all accounts, this day must be the most controversial and most over-rated day among many Christians (perhaps, a tad more than Christmas). For reasons that only its ancient and new promoters and practitioners should be blamed for. For one thing, it was never even commanded by Christ to be celebrated or commemorated the way it is done today, but through a manner of life that befits a true child and follower of the Lord.

So, why do we need to feel this way? Or should we really have to feel this way? Is this what Jesus would really want us to do for Him?

For to be honest, it is a repressing and depressing feeling – a kind of gnawing sense that something is wrong and yet something could be right. That a certain thing is bad and yet there could be good somewhere. You feel lost in the thickening pall descending upon your surrounding on a bright sunny morning, and even when you know for certain you should not be affected by it at all. (Makes you envy the kids jumping naked into the river to escape the day’s heat.)

The lingering mood is a puzzling product of religion. It is a primary example of a complete enculturation of an entire nation, a turning of many minds into a single mind focused on a figure or an icon in a massive hypnotic spell. It is like the very darkness of Calvary creeping in on you again, even when you know the whole scene had already been acted out two millennia ago. For Christ, as He really wanted us to perceive when He instituted the communion or love feast, is already seated at the right hand of the Father and reigns triumphant; and – that — should be reason enough to erase all thoughts of pain, suffering, bloody sacrifice, murder and death. If not, at least, that depressing feeling. If this is what Jesus wants for me, I want no part of it!

The deed is done! It is finished! When will we stop killing Him, raising Him up and killing Him again over and over in our minds, day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out, year-in and year-out? His command was for us to “DO THIS TO THINK OF ME” – not to “THINK OF MY DEATH”. The command, as common sense should tell us, is to rejoice in the victory of the resurrection moment (the NOW, not even the very historical fact, but the reality of His reign and our acknowledgment of the fact) by “proclaiming” the truth of His death through a joyful, common New Meal. Yet, even that meal we have turned into a mournful wake! We have not passed over Passover. We have turned back to it and missed experiencing Pentecost entirely. The letter kills; the Spirit gives life. And so, we remain in the gloomy shadow.

Once a person is convinced of a certain fact, it is enough to see it once or twice and then apply that knowledge in the changing and spontaneous events of one’s life. But tradition and religion want us to memorialize – no, rigidify the idea into a collective ceremony, all dressed (figuratively and literally) in the gloomy, heart-crushing and soul-wrenching realities of the past. Hence, the accurate depiction of the crucifixion in its morbid details as it supposedly helps us to “remember” Him. Again, people, the Greek word used (anamnesis) means “to think of”, or literally, “to put into mind” – not “remember”. And since no living witness still walks to effectively remember the event, we are left with the other option of only recalling or thinking of what happened based on the narratives. But then, since He gave the command, DO THIS TO THINK OF ME, before He died, He was not actually telling His disciples to REMEMBER or THINK OF HIS DEATH but to THINK OF HIM. The Person, not the deed. And if you please, the LIVING, not the DEAD; the CONQUEROR, not the CONQUERED.

And where is He now? Who is He now? The reigning King of Kings in Heaven. Hence, the communion or the agape (the DO THIS – or what we do — in response to the command, which is the love-feast or the love-meal) is the final expression of our recognition of and thanksgiving for His triumph and His reign. And all the requirements imposed by tradition and religion to reenact, remember and re-offer the suffering over and over again in all forms of rituals and traditional depictions (real crucifixions, passion plays, flagellations, masses, fastings, mortifications, etc.) – in my honest belief – detract from the true meaning of the victory of Christ instead of helping us to appreciate it. Why?

Because that is what tradition and religion are all about – to enslave us once more to the external forms (just as the law of Moses did) of the real meaning of the good news, instead of freeing us from the shallow obedience to legal or ceremonial requirements and, thus, bringing us into the complete freedom of loving service to God. Tradition and religion, like it or not, impose a collective as well as an individual restraint, tying down a person to fulfill an official obligation designed by the priesthood of a certain religion. And Christ did condemn the corrupt religious leaders of ancient Jerusalem for raising their traditions above the laws of God. Should we listen to our High Priest in Heaven or to human religious leaders, old or new?

For the High Priest already offered once and for all the ONE PURE SACRIFICE demanded by God and only expects His people – His royal nation of priests (not a few but all, sanctified and, therefore, literal saints anointed by the Spirit of Jesus) to offer their lives as a living sacrifice. This is the New and Living Way in the New Testament. Contrast to that the revived Old and Dying Way of the Old Testament and you get tradition and religion, you get what denominations, in general, practice and preach today.

We do not intend to judge all the sincere and solemn efforts done to “recall” the death of Christ and to celebrate His resurrection thereafter. All of that is good and noble, whether done in simplicity or in the great and ornate assembly venues of modern religions. But we ask: Is it at all necessary to bring in all the religious trappings and all the moralistic pretensions? Are these not social and psychological means for limiting our rights and freedoms? Is it necessary to bring into the picture what others may be doing instead during Holy Week?

Why, for instance, raise the issue of people going to the beaches on Holy Week? Why even inject the thought that doing something else during this “very special week” could be a dangerous trap that may separate one from the love and grace of God? That could happen any time; in fact, it is happening every minute. Why should going to the beach on Holy Week be any less desirable to God than on any other week (unless you are trying to imply that we actually displease God’s so-called priests and their laws when we violate the “solemnity” of the event)?

The Greek Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church have had centuries of debates regarding issues of what to do or what not to do during this sacred feast of theirs. Bringing them up once more only proves we have not moved on to a much higher understanding and application of the simple Gospel of Jesus. If priests and preachers are really eager for people to obey God, then they should set them free from all the rigid requirements they have imposed upon their followers. Yes, we imply the question: Do they follow Christ as their Lord, or their priests and pastors as their taskmasters? That alone says a thousand words as to whether they really are out to offer freedom to believers or not.

For by this time, after centuries of the Gospel being preached, do we really believe we have the perfect freedom that Jesus died in order to deliver to us? If so, why the attachment to His death which He Himself wished He did not have to go through? Do we need to suffer with Him in His own personal suffering in order to be pleasing to Him? Or is it not enough that we have our own sufferings to carry and to offer them to Him as our living sacrifice? He died His own death and carried His own cross. Why should we also want to take away His glory by wishing to carry His cross when we have our own cross to bear?

That desire to “suffer like Christ” could be the key we need to fully understand what is happening – or what religions want to happen, not what God wants us to do. For in trying to “bear the sufferings of Christ” or “bear His wounds”, we do things that diminish His truth and His glory. And so people literally carry a cross and have themselves also crucified. And priests sacrifice Christ over and over again in a daily re-offering of His “real” body and blood because they believe He wants us to “think of His death”. They cannot and will not outlaw the first who really crucify themselves because they also crucify Christ over and over again – in real flesh and blood! If that is not depressing – and unbiblical – today is Christmas Day.

People, the command is to “THINK OF ME” – as He is, where He is! Let us please be done with it. Let us finish the story and move on. He is coming back in all His glory and we are still stuck in the past instead of preparing the road and clearing it of all unwanted obstacles and hindrances for His arrival. We could be scattering things which will cause people to stumble and to be crippled spiritually, instead of actually helping them to meet the Lord in wholeness.

Yes, we are still arguing about whether we should or we should not fast, visit old churches, read the Pasyon or go to the beach on Holy Week, when we should already be savoring the total freedom we have in Christ to do good things for our communities, for our country and for the rest of the world by proclaiming the perfect freedom we have in Jesus in all unity and love. And what does that perfect freedom mean?

It is perfect freedom, first of all, from perfunctory tradition and religion. If you do not know what that means, you are stuck in either one of the latter.


Note: To read “Holy Week Blues (Part 1)“, please click here.

(Painting above: From Pinterest, based on a vision by Colton Burpo, as depicted in the movie “Heaven is Real”)

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