“My people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me.
I brought you out of Egypt but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.” (1)
The “The Reproaches” continue in many Roman Catholic and high-church Lutheran and Anglican parishes, paralleled in the liturgies of the Orthodox churches. In poignant terms, God is pictured confronting his people about the death of Jesus—a theme that became central to medieval and even modern sermonizing.
Along with these verses, the fixed Good Friday prayers prayed for the conversion of the “perfidious Jews.” Such prayers played a big part in inciting holy week violence against Jews, from early medieval times until the end of the 19th century in many places.
Since the Holocaust, an increasing number of Christians have awakened out of this anti-Judaic delusion, horrified at the “final solution” the piety of centuries helped foster when the Nazis transformed it into a chillingly thorough national agenda. (2) Many liturgical churches now shy away from using them at all because of their unsavory historical associations.
Still others go so far as writing the High Priests out of the story entirely, shifting the blame entirely onto the Romans—a move which I find unconvincing and unnecessary, to say nothing of the fact that the Temple authorities take an integral role in the Scriptural drama (3). That some Jewish authorities felt that the nation was threatened by a man and a movement they perceived as bound to lead to insurrection is, quite simply, the way human authorities respond.
I rejoice that others seek to redeem and revision traditional readings, bringing out the implicit human universality in the Passion narratives, which is the way I always understood them. God’s “people” — Christians, Jews, all humanity can and does resist God’s purposes for the world. Offloading guilt onto scapegoats—humanity’s historical default category—insulates us from all the ways, great and small, that we, and humanity itself, “crucify God” and God’s creatures in our injustice, environmental degradation, and mistreatment of each other. Both the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels bear witness to this, to say nothing of daily news reports.
A fine example of liturgical re-visioning of The Reproaches can be found in the 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Worship Book, which imagines God addressing not just Jesus' persecutors, but the church: “O my people, O my church, what have I done to you?” No longer is "my people" them but us—which is how I always understood it. The new Lutheran Reproaches also include very specific repentance:
O my people, O my church, what more could I have done for you?
I grafted you into my people Israel, but you made them scapegoats for your own guilt, and you have prepared a cross for your Savior:
R. Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal One, have mercy on us. (4)
Likewise, the liturgy prays that Jews, "called and elected as Your own may receive the fulfillment of the covenant's promise,” a studiously Anglican-style ambiguity, but far from the ancient “perfidious.” I take it personally to mean that I stand in solidarity with my Jewish brothers and sisters as we both await the age of Messianic fulfillment.
Holy Week tells us we are all “standin’ in the need of prayer.” Why not stand together, even if we live in distinctly different traditions, all of which deserve respect?
1. For a complete text of the contemporary Roman Rite version see: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=1040
2. See the account of Pope John Paul II's Liturgy of Repentance in Rabbi David Rosen’s address at Georgetown University: http://www.ajc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=7oJILSPwFfJSG&b=8451903&ct=12477353
3. As in previous posts, I feel that conjectural reworking of the reported facts of the story will never have the weight in history of Scripture itself. Thus it remains crucial how we understand, preach, liturgize and teach texts themselves, which most of the Christian world believes are "revealed."
4. See Evangelical Lutheran Worship, ELCA, 2006