Today is Palm Sunday. Even as you read this I am on the road. I am traveling to Jackson, Mississippi. Monday morning I will head down to Hattiesburg to the United States District Courthouse there for a settlement conference.
I know. Pinch me. I'm dreamin'.
This will be the second Palm Sunday in a row that I will be somewhere other than inside a church. I missed last year because I got struck down with an upper respiratory virus. I was feeling much better by the time Sunday rolled around but I decided, out of an abundance of caution, not to insert my germy self into a packed churchhouse. I would hate to have caused some elderly person to keel over by Maundy Thursday. I figured that God would understand.
We have gotten progressively more churchy over there the Methodist church I attend. We even do the Stations of the Cross this time of year. Granted, you won't exactly find this at your average Methodist church in South Arkansas, but I'm good with it. How my Catholic friends view all of this high church stuff over at Pulaski Heights UMC seems to depend on where the respective person is along his or her faith journey. The cradle Catholics find it amusing. The converts are outraged. Which is as it should be. While I don't personally know any, converts to any sort of religious or political persuasion can tend to be the biggest pains in the ass about it. At least that's what I hear. And I suspect that even the most gentle and pious of priests wince whenever they see an e-mail from a convert in the "in box." After all, nobody else would even want to discuss last week's homily.
Stylistic differences aside, Palm Sunday is when Christianity puts on the old game face. Everybody recounts the familiar story about the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. The Catholics, never liturgically subtle about these things, after the reciting the account of Jesus's entry, reenact the Passion of Christ, with various members of the congregation speaking the roles of the characters in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark or Luke, as the Priest may choose. Just to give you something to think about for the next week.
The news last week gave us something else to think about when it was reported that the Gospel of Judas had been discovered and declared authentic by various learned scholars in the field. As we know, the Gospels tell us that Judas betrayed Jesus and turned him over to the authorities in exchange for 30 pieces of silver. And thus, has Judas been reviled throughout history for his greed and treachery.
Most "modern" scholars think Judas has gotten something of a bum rap. Not quite up there with Bill Buckner but close. Nobody nowadays much thinks that Judas ratted Jesus out for the money alone. His subsequent actions are particularly un-snitchlike. He returned the money and his grief and shame at what he had done caused him to commit suicide. The historian Garry Wills finds Judas's betrayal of Jesus interesting in light of what Wills describes as the almost "intimate" dialogue between the two during the Last Supper and when Jesus is betrayed. This causes Wills to walk around in Judas's head a little bit.
In his new book, "What Jesus Meant" Wills theorizes that perhaps Judas was a little impatient with Jesus. Indeed, many of the Jews believed that when the Messiah came He would liberate them from their Roman oppressors. Well guess what? By the time of the entry into Jerusalem, it hadn't happened. Wills wonders if perhaps Judas hoped that Jesus's arrest might provoke an insurrection. Maybe so, maybe no. In any event, the Judas in the "Gospel of Judas" is integral to Jesus's fulfillment of his prophetic destiny.
By way of vastly oversimplified explanation, the Gospel of Judas is an ancient text found in Egypt which purports to contain an account, among other things, of conversations between Jesus and Judas in which Jesus tells him that "He must sacrifice the man that clothes me." In other words, according to this ancient text, Judas didn't betray Christ. He was just doing what he was told.
It is widely thought that this text was suppressed by the early church as the writer had obvious sympathy with the Gnostics who were thought by the early church fathers to be heretics. And no, I won't explain Gnosticism. You can look it up for yourself. The Gnostics probably still exist. They probably have a website where you can enter chatrooms, buy stuff and everything. Just like every other nutbar organization.
Anyway, I wonder how the discovery of this document will inform our future discussions of Judas and/or the Passion. I also wonder if my Baptist aunt over in Oklahoma has heard about this. Maybe if I get bored enough on the road to Jackson I will call her up and ask her what she thinks of the Gospel of Judas. It might be fun. I guess I shouldn't fool around like this. Lent ain't over yet and that I had best be getting my game face on whether I am in in church or driving through Lake Providence.
By the way, if you get the chance sometime, go do Palm Sunday with the Catholics. They would be glad to see you. Really they would. It's pretty impressive. Better yet, go with a Catholic friend. Catholics love to explain stuff to Protestants. After all, the catechism charges them with the responsibility of instructing the ignorant. They get extra points or something.
Just be forewarned. If they do a good enough job of explaining things, you might want to join. And after that, your old Catholic buddies might not return your calls anymore.
Because at that point you will be a convert. And at that point you will be a pain-in-the-ass.