The holiest time of the church year is in three weeks. We will start that week by waving palm fronds in the air, remembering the crowds who welcomed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. And then, on Good Friday, we will see Jesus on the cross. Holy Week is an emotional week. We discover who we are. We see how we respond to the love and grace Jesus brought. We see first hand how consumed we are by our desire for control, selfishness, and greed. Holy Week is a mirror to our need to be our own god. And it’s also a week that has, historically and even today, been a week full of antisemitism.
Luther, in this passage from On Christian Freedom, called out antisemitic preaching. In his era, crowds during Holy Week attacked Jewish homes and synagogues. Passion plays (reenactments of Jesus’ crucifixion) would be so theatrical and emotional that church-goers responded with violence. Much of this violence relied on people’s pre-existing hatreds, support of local governments, and (what I would call) heretical understandings of Jesus’ story. Luther, who wrote many antisemitic statements and documents during his lifetime, wasn’t forceful enough in his denouncement of this kind of Holy Week preaching. Yet he was knew what preaching wasn’t supposed to do: encourage any kind of violence against marginalized groups.
Preaching, for Luther, is not a lesson about Jesus. Preaching is an event. It’s seeing who we are and how Jesus comes to us anyways. Preaching isn’t a series of moral lessons to help us become our best self. Preaching is about Jesus being 100% for you right now. Jesus isn’t for you as you might become. He isn’t waiting for you to make yourself right before he shows up. He’s here now. and that grace changes everything.
The grace is something we can’t earn. It’s also something we struggle to trust. As people, we’re used to wanting to do something to make us “better.” But Luther is firm that the grace God gives you is free. And it’s through that grace and love that you are made into something new.
Luther is an example of how the grace Jesus gives us helps us see more clearly. Luther saw the antisemitism in the preaching he heard during Holy Week. But he still failed to see his own antisemitic ideas and beliefs. Our prayers should always ask for Jesus’ grace to refine our sight so we can know ourselves better. And as that grace shines a light into our own darkness, it also forms us to be the followers of Christ we are called to be.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings/other readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Third Sunday in Lent, 3/11/2018.