Liturgy of the Palms
John 12:12-16; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Liturgy of the Passion
Isaiah 50:4-9A; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-39
being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death
even death on a cross
There’s much in Jesus’s life that is about great big yeses: yes to wholeness. Yes to healing. Yes to forgiveness and reconciliation. Yes to life.
But there are a good number of noes too: no to wealth and its corruption of the soul. And no to the demons and their dehumanising manipulations, no to their destruction of people and communities. And it’s one of these noes that I will speak to today: Jesus’s no to cycles of abuse, violence, and trauma.
The crucifixion is most certainly about the trauma inflicted on a single individual, Jesus of Nazareth. But our account of the trauma inflicted on this one man is surrounded by so many other traumas. It’s not hard to imagine Jerusalem itself as a traumatized city. Jerusalem’s past two hundred years or so had seen periods of relative peace, and periods of real violence. There was the bloody persecution of the Judeans under Antiochus IV, and the bloody Maccabbean revolt in response. And in very recent memory was the three year war for independence that the Judeans lost to Herod after a forty day siege of the city.
And while there was a short-term and relative peace in Jesus’s time, it was a peace that depended on the sort of state violence that was needed during an occupation—state violence like public crucifixions. And we see this sort of day-to-day violence in the account of Simon of Cyrene, compelled as he was to carry someone else’s cross simply by being in Jerusalem in the wrong place at the wrong time. So we could speak of the whole of Jerusalem as a traumatized city—traumatized by war, and traumatized by a bloody and cruel military occupation.
And so those scribes, elders, and chief priests who hand over Jesus—and the crowds who yell “crucify him”—are already themselves a traumatized people, a traumatized people willing to revisit their trauma on Jesus.
And we could speak of the soldiers too. Roman violence was legendary, and includes such things as piles of dismembered arms serving as trophies raised to their Emperor. Add that to the experience of seeing a friend die or be injured beside you, add that to being attacked violently yourself, add that to the cruelty you were expected to mete on others in occupied territory: war and occupation is simply traumatizing, to both the defeated and the victor.
We know that unresolved trauma affects people and communities in deeply unhealthy ways. Responses to unresolved trauma can turn outward, oftentimes with violence and with other antisocial behaviour. Unresolved trauma can turn inward, and be experienced as feelings of low self worth and even by self-harm and suicidality. Unresolved trauma can result in attempts to simply numb difficult feelings and thoughts—unresolved trauma is the most consistent factor in addiction. Unresolved trauma can have deeply unhealthy repercussions within communities, too. Because hurt people hurt people. And as we hurt one another, we perpetuate cycles of trauma, addiction, violence, and abuse.
It can be hard for many of us to see Jesus’s response to the violence that is done to him—or perhaps more accurately, what appears to be his lack of response. He takes, and he takes, and he takes everything meted upon him.
But I wonder, on account of this, if we could see the passion and the crucifixion as an account of the failure of trauma to be perpetuated. Where Jesus is another opportunity for a traumatized people to traumatize others, and for hurt people to hurt people. Where the trauma of occupation is revisited on Jesus by the temple authorities and the crowds in their support of state violence and its gruesome spectacle. Where traumatized soldiers retraumatize Jesus in a cycle of violence that includes torture, humiliation, and even sexual shaming—Jesus is, after all, publicly dressed and undressed multiple times in this account, in a military culture that wouldn’t have thought much about taking sexual advantage of those whom they’d captured. But where the reperpetuation of that trauma begins to end in Jesus.
What does Jesus do? He says “no.” No to the cycle of trauma, no the cycles of abuse and violence: making Jesus not a person who, in his passion and his crucifixion, just passively receives abuse and violence. Because Jesus, as he takes and he takes and he takes, breaks the cycles of abuse and violence by not turning and doing violence to any others, neither to those who are perpetrating the violence, nor to anyone else.
This, as it turns out, is not a revenge fantasy. Nor is this a tale of a military triumph. Nor is it the story of generational trauma.
This is the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s important to say right away that this isn’t a good response for those of us within abusive or violent relationships. It is not my intention, nor is it the intention of the Gospel writers, to make a case for staying in an abuse situation in the hope of redeeming an abuser.
But for those of us who have survived trauma, and for communities that have survived trauma, it offers an answer to the question of what to do after trauma. And what Jesus teaches us in this moment is that to live with trauma in a healthy way is to say “no.” Will those of us who’ve been hurt (and let’s be honest, this includes all of us—though some of us in bigger ways than others), will those of us who’ve been hurt, hurt others in return? Will those of us who’ve seen others be hurt, perpetuate the hurt by just looking the other way?
With Jesus we say “no”: “no” to the cycle of trauma, no to retraumatizing others, no to retraumatizing ourselves, no to sustaining trauma in community.
Jesus, for Christians, recapitulates all of human experience. He carries us all within him—including all our suffering, all of our hurt, all of our pain. And today, and again on Friday, we see him carry all human trauma, we see him carry all the loss that tempts us to lash out against others, we see him carry all the pain that lead us to hurt ourselves, we see him carry everything from the smaller hurts we’ve experienced up to and including the pain of sexual violence and the psychological burdens of war and state brutality.
He takes and he takes and he takes.
And by carrying that pain for us and with us, as God’s Son, whose kingdom will have no end, he begins to heal that pain.
And he creates for us, as the community of the cross, a people with the power to end violence, the power to come to terms with our own trauma, the trauma we have seen inflicted on others, and even the trauma we may have inflicted on others. Because we are the body of him in whom these patterns are broken: the one in whom cycles of violence and abuse and trauma are beginning to come to an end.
With him we can bear the trauma of the world, and in his power break it; because as his body, we belong to the one who takes, and takes, and takes.