Tortured and executed. How different that is compared to the dry, passive “suffered and died” that we recite in creeds in church.
“Tortured and executed” raises questions in a way that “suffered and died” can’t. Who tortured and executed him and why?
It was the leaders of the political-religious-economic–social domination systems of his time that found Jesus’ proclamation of a new kingdom based on unconditional non-violent love and distributive justice a threat to their hegemony.
The liturgy and doctrinal creeds of many Christian churches today fail to capture that radical dimension to Jesus’ message.
This is a reflection by Fr. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy that I received in my mail box that I thought I would share with you.
Twelve frightened men, who feel that death is hovering over, crowd around the Son of Man whose hand is lifted over a piece of bread and over a cup.
Of what value is this gesture, of what use can it be?
How futile it seems when already a mob is arming itself with clubs, when in a few hours Jesus will be delivered to the courts, ranked among transgressors, tortured, disfigured, laughed at by His enemies, pitiable to those who love Him, and shown to be powerless before all.
However, this Man, condemned to death does not offer any defense; He does nothing but bless the bread and wine and, with eyes raised, pronounces a few words.
– François Mauriac, The Mystery of Holy Thursday
Jesus does not die of a heart attack. He is murdered when His heart is attacked by human beings inebriated with the diabolical spirit of justified, religiously endorsed homicide—and He dies giving a definite, discernible, and consistent response to that satanic spirit. This reality cannot be insignificant in discerning the Truth of the revelation God is trying to communicate to humanity for the good of humanity in Jesus.
The Sacrifice of the Cross is not about mere animal pain that is meant to assuage the lust of a sadistic, blood-thirsty, parochial god. It is about the revelation of the nature and the way and the power of a Divine Love that saves from an Enemy and a menace.
At which the darkest phenomena of history and contemporary life can only hint.
To consistently dismiss and to structurally ignore major historical facts in the God-given revelatory memory presented and preserved in the Gospels is to assure that a large amount of what God intended to be communicated by this costly revelation will not be communicated by it. Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches in their Eucharistic Prayers normally only employ two minimally descriptive words, “suffered” and “died,” to bring to mind what took place with Jesus on Golgotha. While “suffered” and “died” is not historically untrue , pastorally speaking they are an emaciated remembrance (revelatory anamnesis) of the historical reality of the redeeming Passion of Christ. If two words are all the time that a Church’s Eucharistic Prayer can spend on calling to mind the historical reality of Jesus’ Passion, why not the infinitely more accurate and precise words “tortured” and “murdered?” “Tortured” and “murdered” contain all that “suffered and “died” do and far, far more.
But, “tortured” and “murdered” while a less ambiguous and more conscientious presentation of the historical reality of the crucifixion of Jesus, still of themselves they do not convey the full historical picture for they leave open what the Spirit and the Way were with which Jesus responded to His tortures and murderers. The historical record shows He responded with unconditional love toward them. A perfunctory presentation, or a non-presentation of this historical truth in the Eucharistic Prayer of a Church at the supreme moment when the saving decision of Jesus is re-presented to the Community as the Greatest of God’s Great Deeds in history for which we should be thankful (Eukharistica), would seem to be a perilous form of negligence or indifference to what the Word of God (incarnate) is communicating in wisdom and in power “for us and our salvation. (Nicene Creed)”
Here is an example of what should be part of, or at least available to be part of, every Eucharistic narrative-anamnesis of every Church regardless of their metaphysical understandings of what the Eucharist is beyond its empirical presentation to the senses:
…On the night before He went forth to His eternally memorable and life-giving death,
like a Lamb led to slaughter, rejecting violence, loving His enemies, and praying for His persecutors, He bestowed upon His disciples the gift of a New Commandment:
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
Then He took bread into His holy hands, and looking up to You, almighty God, He gave thanks, blessed it, broke it, gave it to His disciples and said:
“Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.”
Likewise, when the Supper was ended, He took the cup. Again He gave You thanks and praise, gave the cup to His disciples and said:
“Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.”
“Do this in memory of me.”
Obedient, therefore, to this precept of salvation, we call to mind and reverence His passion where He lived to the fullest the precepts which He taught for our sanctification. We remember His suffering at the hands of a fallen humanity filled with the spirit of violence and enmity. But, we remember also that He endured this humiliation with a love free of retaliation, revenge, and retribution. We recall His execution on the cross. But, we recall also that He died loving enemies, praying for persecutors, forgiving, and being superabundantly merciful to those for whom justice would have demanded justice.
Finally, we celebrate the memory of the fruits of His trustful obedience to thy will, O God: the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand, the second and glorious coming. Therefore with hearts full of gratitude we offer You your own, from what is your own, in all and for the sake of all…
Poised between time and eternity and about to be pressed like an olive by what history and the Gospels tell us was religiously endorsed, rationally justified and state executed homicidal violence, to which He knows He must respond with a love that is neither violent nor retaliatory, with a love that forgives and that seeks to draw good out of evil, He proclaims, “I will be with you only a little while longer. Now I say to you, I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:33-34).
It is hard to conceive of a more dramatically powerful context to communicate the importance of a truth to people for an indefinite future. Imagine how the Church and the world would be today if this new commandment as taught on the first Holy Thursday and lived unto death on the first Good Friday was continuously remembered in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Eucharistic Prayers throughout the ages! Imagine if in all the Churches of Christianity it were universally and immediately in their Eucharistic Prayers fused to how Jesus historically loved from the moment He spoke to His last breath.
The explicit inclusion of the memory of Jesus’ new commandment given at the Last Supper—which commandment “contains the entire Law of the Gospel…and summarizes the entire will of the Father that is to be done on earth as it is in heaven”(CCC#1970, 2822)—the explicit inclusion of Jesus’ rejection of violence, love of His enemies, prayer for His persecutors, return of good for evil in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Churches at the point of institution narrative-anamnesis is not a whimsical or arbitrary insertion of haphazard events from Jesus’ life. This is what happens from the Cenacle to Calvary. To side-step these authentic Apostolic memories in order to get to a more profound or holy or “deep” spirituality is sheer folly. One has to have the humility to accept revelation as God offers it. If one does not want to prayerfully enter into revelation as presented by the Word of God, then one has no access to revelation; for who but God can author revelation?
This is the memory given to us to revere and to imitate by the ultimate historical, theological, spiritual and pastoral documents on the subject: the four Gospels. It is what the conscientious obeying of Jesus’ one other commandment at the Last Supper—“Do this in remembrance of me”—honestly, honorably and in good faith asks—so that every Christian in all nations may become what he or she consumes in the Eucharist and be what he or she is—Christ.