Christianity has been an undeniably creative power through history, but not always. At times Christianity has identified not with the victim but against the victim or with the victimiser. The Church itself has been at times the victimiser, often seeing the victims as guilty and therefore deserving of whatever punishment comes their way. This isn’t just a thing of the past. Consider the war in Ukraine, where the Russian Church and its Patriarch in particular not only defend the genocidal war but see it as somehow holy.
As we enter the Sacred Triduum, we say that Christianity or a Church which identifies not with but against the victim is not of Jesus. It may be driven by ideology but not by the love of Christ (cf 2 Cor 5:14). A Church which lines up with the powerful, the victimisers, the warmongers, with those who demand that others be their foot-washing slaves, is a travesty of the Gospel and a betrayal of the Cross.
It could hardly be clearer than it is tonight that Jesus identifies with the foot-washing slaves of this world; and tomorrow will make it still clearer that he identifies for ever with the victims of this world as he himself becomes the victim whose “blood streams in the firmament” (Marlowe, Dr Faustus). The foot-washing tonight is a step on the way to the Cross.
So too the Eucharist presents the truth dramatically. Jesus puts himself, quite literally, into our hands as the bread becomes his Body broken for the liberation of slaves and the life of the world and the wine becomes his Blood poured out for the liberation of slaves and the life of the world. The humility and vulnerability of it beggars description. This is absolutely not the way of the powerful, the victimisers, the warmongers of this world. But it is the way of heaven. It is the way of Emmanuel, God-with-us.
As we begin this great three-part liturgy that will take us through Good Friday to the Easter Vigil, we say a clear no to the way of this world and a still clearer yes to the way of heaven. Unless we do, there will be no resurrection. There may be the aesthetics of Easter, but there will be no real rising from the dead. We would be left with an empty shell.
The yes we speak means that we choose to identify with the victims of this world – not only with the victims of the war in Ukraine and the many other wars that shame the planet, but with the victims right on our doorstep, who are much on our mind as an election campaign begins and a vote looms – the First Nations peoples, the refugees and asylum seekers, the victims of human trafficking, of sexual abuse, of family violence. All of these are with us here tonight, and if they are not, then Jesus himself is not here.
But he is here – the innocent one who was pronounced guilty and deserving of death, just as all the victims of this world are pronounced guilty and deserving of whatever fate befalls them. But however powerless and vulnerable they may seem, however much swept away by the victimisers of this world into whose hands they fall, we say tonight, as we begin the journey through death to life, that the victims will rise from the dust with Christ and pronounce judgement on those who sought to pronounce judgement on them. Their body may be broken and their blood poured out, but theirs will be the liberation and the life. That is the promise of tonight and of these three days of Easter. Amen.