by Dwight A. Moody
The drama that played out in the South Pacific this week is a microcosm of the central events of the Bible. It is also a reminder of the public-private nature of the Passover-Good Friday-Easter memorials celebrated by millions around the world.
The script includes the prayers of suffering people, the courageous act of a leader, and the irritated reaction of those in power.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt was feeling the effects of the global Coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of sailors were sick and waiting to be tested and treated. Their captain, a 30-year veteran named Brett Crozier, had sworn an oath to protect those under his command; and he was desperate. No one was listening to his plea for help. He decided on a bold course of action, one that would place his own career, even his life, in danger.
The empire retaliated, rebuking him in public, stripping him of command, and denigrating him amid the stunned silence of the sailors gathered on that carrier.
We should not be surprised at this vengeful act. It is the standard response of all empires to those who value human life rather than global power, who have a higher calling than appeasing those who outrank them.
The Jewish and Christian celebrations this week cast an eternal light on this unseemly episode in current military and political affairs.
Millions of Jews will gather to ask that first of all holiday questions, “Why is this night different than all others?’ The answer will always be, in some long or short form, “We were suffering; we were desperate. We cried out to God, and God sent Moses to act on our behalf. But Pharaoh resented the audacity of Moses and sent underlings to undo his authority and restore their agenda.”
One day later, a billion Christians will read the sacred text of another leader and contemplate his act of their behalf. “Who is this man?” the crowds had asked as Jesus entered the holy city. The answer they received: “He is the Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth.”
Jesus also responded to the prayers of the people—for the One who would proclaim “release to prisoners, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and good news to the poor”.
And Jesus also violated the established “chain of command”—bypassing those who ruled the political and religious systems of his day, embracing another way, his own way, God’s way to bring Shalom to those in his care.
Roman power struck back, as we know, stripping Jesus of his freedom and ridiculing him in public with the triple-language taunt—“The King of the Jews”. It was their way of saying to Jesus, “You are either naive or stupid or both”.
But God is not so easily mocked.
The army of Pharaoh was swallowed by the sea. The stone of Caesar was rolled away. And the administrator in our own time was himself dismissed amid great personal embarrassment.
Mary’s song, recorded by the gospel writer, celebrates these surprising events:
“God’s mercy extends to those who fear the Lord, from generation to generation. The Lord has performed mighty deeds with a strong arm, scattering those who are proud, bringing down rulers from their thrones and lifting up the humble.”
The events of this week tempt us to sing some version of this song, even quietly and only amongst friends. Which is precisely the way Jews have sung it lo these many years and the way Christians may have to sing it this year, confined (as we are) to our homes, rooms, and cells. We may not have new clothes, choral anthems, and decorated eggs, but at least we have a song to sing, describing the triumph of God over the proud and the arrogant, the mean and the violent.
Our Passover-Easter song will have two stanzas about very old stories and one stanza written just this week.
I hope, in addition, the song you sing (or the prayer you mutter) has a stanza about some episode in your life in which God, the almighty and everlasting, acted on your behalf to gain for you some element of healing, freeing, saving, or believing. If so, thanks be to God.
Christ is Risen. Christ is risen indeed.