This is Love – Thoughts on the Capitol Hill Riots on this Maundy Thursday

Dear reader,

For those that aren’t familiar with the term “Maundy Thursday,” a quick search will show that it belongs to Holy Week on the Christian calendar and refers to the day before Good Friday when the church annually recalls and commemorates Jesus’ startling act of washing his disciple’s feet, the Last Supper, and his final instructions before his betrayal and crucifixion: “A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another. As I have loved you, so too must you love one another.” John 13:34.

“Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum (from which we get the word mandate), or commandment, referring to Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment.”

___________________________

This is a complicated Holy Week for me. Perhaps for you as well. I have to admit that I’m still somewhat traumatized by the socio-political events of the last 4 years that reveal the degree to which religious nationalism has penetrated the church in North America. So many of us are scrambling to various authors, scholars, historians, theologians, bloggers, podcasters, and pundits to try to understand.

Just this morning, I finished reading “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus” by Ched Myers. In it, he describes the socio-political ferment of Jesus day. At the time, Israel was brutally occupied by imperial Rome. Its nationalist leaders and elites were split down various ideological lines — from guerilla insurrectionists to fundamentalist purists, to practical collaborationists — on how to confront an unbearable situation.

Of course, each party had its own political aspirations which tainted their perspective ideologies. And hovering menacingly over the squabbling factions of Israel was a powerful foreign empire that had no qualms whatsoever about inflicting cruel humiliations and punishments on any who put up resistance. However, resistance was building anyway, especially in the backwaters of northern Galilee, where Jesus came from.

Into the Ferment

With crucifixions lining the roads, everyone could feel a bloodbath coming, as it did indeed come in the year 70 CE with the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. In the meantime, no one suffered more miserably than the poor and the marginalized.

Into this ferment comes Jesus. He was one who, they say, “taught with authority.” One who, echoing the ancient sagas of Moses, displayed a startling command over nature. One who silenced and disempowered demons; who delighted the beleaguered masses with his sharp criticism of the self-serving elite; who humanized the dehumanized and empowered the powerless. This one made the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see.

He had all the makings of a Davidic King for whom they longed—someone who would make Israel great again. Surely, in Jesus, they had their Braveheart. Surely this one could unite the factions, expel the pretenders and lethally cleanse Israel of the scourge of Rome.

And what a disappointment Jesus turned out to be. Then and now, it seems.

The Capitol Hill Riots: A Garish Parody

The recent events of January 6 and the march on Capitol Hill have so many echoes of this story. Replete with Christian/religious symbolics (signs and crosses) it functions as a garish parody of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It had a Braveheart leader. It had a beleaguered crowd with little to lose and a readiness to be whipped into a mimetic frenzy. And it had a sacred Temple (for what else is Capitol Hill to a nation that claims divine favour?) that had been desecrated by the presence of illegitimate power. How similar, on so many levels. Yet, how dissimilar the outcomes.

In the end, however, what remains depressingly equivalent is that in both cases, no one had any real interest in who Jesus actually was, or what he was actually offering; not the marchers on Jerusalem, not the marchers on Capitol Hill. For, violence (as a solution to violence), and a politics of domination (as a solution to domination), seem to be completely absent from Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God. Rather, his politics of the Cross (Myer’s phrase) is the offense for which the crowds so quickly turned on him back then, and for which his way is rejected now.

An Easter Like No Other?

In some ways, given the past year and the alienations imposed on us by the pandemic, this will be an Easter like no other in living memory. But in other ways, it will be depressingly like every other. As one of our poets has said,

Yet he shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone will cry
And every stone will cry
For thorny hearts of men
God’s blood upon the spearhead
God’s love refused again.

Richard Wilbur / Every Stone Shall Cry

Yet, hovering benevolently over our endless refusals is the unending offer of God’s Kingdom of Love already established and slowly spreading like a mustard plant over the ground, marked by a unity of means and ends, which, finally, will displace the zero-sum game of power politics and domination with the mutually flourishing, other-centered joy of God’s inner com-unity.

A Song of Prayer for Maundy Thursday

The song below loosely narrates the prayer Jesus prayed for his friends shortly before his betrayal, capture, and execution (see John 13ff). He clearly knew then that his closest companions still had no idea that his revolution wouldn’t be just another recycling of old power into new hands, but that it was, as the song says, a different thing altogether. The loneliness of the moment struck me then, as it does now.

“This is Love” came quite suddenly, early one morning some 25 years ago, while I was waiting for my coffee to brew. I had picked up my guitar to pass the time when the song, without warning, hit me like a rogue wave hits an unsuspecting surfer, knocking me off balance into a roll of tumbling waters. I still haven’t quite regained my equilibrium:

THIS IS LOVE
Music and lyrics by Steve Bell

Father, just before the hour comes
That was set aside to glorify your son
With a glory from before the world began
With a glory given to no other man

Protect the ones you’ve given me to love
I so desire that none of them be lost
They’ve yet to understand the mystery
Why the Son of God would wash another’s feet

But this is not the same
It’s a different thing all together
This is not the same
It’s another thing all together
This is love

My prayer is not for only these alone
But for those who follow after I’m gone
May they understand the love you have for me
As the kind of love that changes everything

They’ll argue who will sit next to the throne
And I cringe to hear them say “Thy kingdom come”
They think they know what they’re getting into
But we both know that they haven’t got a clue

‘Cause this is not the same…

Here’s something that they won’t like
Someone’s coming to take the Life
No one has to look farther than me
For I Am He
Some will trust in the things they think they know
They should think again and let them go
Put away the sword and get behind
And let me die

‘Cause this is not the same
It’s a different thing all together
This is not the same
It’s a better thing all together
This is love
This is love

______________________________________________________________________________________________

“This is Love” first came out on Steve’s 1997 album “Romantics and Mystics.” He re-recorded it with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra on his 2007 album “Symphony Sessions.”

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

If you wish to support Steve’s efforts, you can drop a couple of dollars in his virtual tip jar at:

Buy me a coffeeBuy me a coffee

You can also make a donation for a tax receipt at www.stevebell.com/support

5 thoughts on “This is Love – Thoughts on the Capitol Hill Riots on this Maundy Thursday

  1. Hi Steve … Many thanks to you, the fine musicians and your team, for the awesome song and video production!! I deeply appreciated it along with your thoughtful blog post. “This is not the same, it’s a different thing” indeed!! Your song and blog post resonated with me, as I’m sure they will with many others. As Jesus Christ warned his deciples in Mark 13:7-8 the violent patterns of this world would continue and be “merely the beginning of birth pangs.” Yet, we also know that through Christ the new and better IS coming! We can’t change the world, individually, but in Christ and in Love we can ‘be the change’ and collectively make it better. You and your ministry are proof of this in action! I’m glad that all is working out with your endeavors despite the challenges. God is still making it all work for good! God Bless and HAPPY EASTER to you and your family ✝️

  2. P.S. Steve, I’m thinking of your dear Dad today on his birthday. I thank God for the blessing of him. His wonderful essence lives on in Christ and in the many hearts and lives he touched

  3. Powerful – in the good disarming sense of power. How blind we are to not recognize that God’s love is “another thing altogether.” Have always loved this song, Steve, but your preceding words, our current context, tonight’s passion narrative, make it all the more poignant. And not just the song, good as it is, but the poignancy of divine love. Thanks for being a beautiful conduit.

  4. I was stirred by the words of Wilbur’s poem, ‘the sky shall groan and darken’. I could see the scenes you sung about, being greatly moved by this passionate song.

  5. Thank you for putting up this video Steve, VERY appropriate timing! I was unfamiliar with Maundy Thursday until invited to attend a service some years ago and thoroughly loved the worship, sensitivity and honor given Jesus during the service. This song makes my eyes wet just about every time I listen to it. I will take exception with your term “religious nationalism” at least for the USA church. While the Christian foundation for the US is well documented, I have not experienced any of the “religious nationalism” in any church I have attended over the past 45 years. Of course there were fringe elements in the demonstration at our Capitol Building, but the overwhelming majority of the many thousands of people in attendance were praying for the spiritual health of our nation. There is hope in Jesus and ONLY Jesus for our individual and national health. I remain steadfastly hopeful without placing trust in any politician or political process, only revival from the Bible will effect positive change. In the meantime, delivering the Gospel and encouraging repentance from sin will be my main goal. Thank you again for sharing your gift to encourage us all.

Join the Conversation, Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top