Holy Saturday, 2021
On death, Guru Nanak’s body was covered with a sheet. Underneath the sheet, his body became a bunch of flowers. The Hindus took half of his remains for cremation; the Muslims took the other half for burial. Gautama Buddha died from a bad meal, although he denied it. Moses, supposedly, wrote about his own death. But Jesus’ death is paradigmatic for Christians, for it is a death that shifts humanity’s relationship with the divine. So, on Holy Saturday, a day resounding with a violent emptiness, I’d like to frame some notions of sacrifice.
In the Incwala ritual of the Swazi, the chief or the king becomes symbolically invisible, ritually deceased. He is dead in a ritual hut: he has become powerless, and is trapped in a prison of taboo for a day. It is a time when he identifies both with the land and the people, where he remains powerless, but universalized. In the Ndembu rite of Kumukindyila, the chief becomes like a slave, and is insultingly beaten. The chief is excessively condemned for what he has not done and told to repent. He must not keep resentment in his heart and must welcome all people. These are both liminal rites, where the king is brought down to the status of slave, kept silent during accusation, and identified with humanity (who have now become equals) in order to renew the society.
There is another ritual, for the month of Toxcatl in which a war-captured slave, who has been portrayed as a god for the year prior, is sacrificed. The slave incarnated the god Tezcatlipoca—the omniscient god who had the power to forgive sins, heal the sick, or change an individual’s fate. And on the day of sacrifice, the captive treated as god would surrender his body for death. Apparently this happens more broadly, beyond just the Aztec people: the king to be sacrificed is replaced by a slave behind a thin mask of royalty. Sacrifice, here, perpetuates a lie.
In the passion narrative, Jesus was labelled “King of the Jews” by the Romans—something like a slave turned king. Yet, for others, Jesus was Lord, king, or God, brought down to the status of slave through crucifixion. Here, he fit the bill of a liminal individual, one who identifies with humanity, refuses resentment, and soon, welcomes all.
There are two narratives here: one, a thin sacrifice by an imperial system; one in which a slave is made king, only to be killed in the interests of a hungry God. It is the sacrifice of the God who demands blood, one blind to the suffering of humanity. And sure, this god forgives, this god heals, this god can change your life, but this god’s hands are forever stained with blood.
The other: God becomes a slave, and is identified with the people, and welcomes. This God bears no resentment, though enslaved. He becomes the land and its people, or just creation—all to be treated with dignity during his death. His death is symbolic, and it renews.
Jesus contains both of these narratives. So, it is up to you. You must choose which one to hold.