Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 18:15-27) transports me to an Anglican church in the British town of Dartford, Kent, circa mid 1950s, where an adolescent choirboy name Mike Jagger is sitting there listening to the rector read the lectionary passage for the week. Do you ever wonder what is going through a teenager’s mind while the pastor is talking? Well, this particular youngster hears the story of Jesus’ most avid follower, Peter, who had pledged his love so strongly that he said he would die for his Lord, now denying him three times, and here’s where I can imagine Mike’s mind wandering off to: he starts hearing a rock-a-billy guitar riff, then some vocals come in, backed by a simple bass line, drums and tambourine. He’s not sure about the verses, but the chorus rings clear in his mind: You know I used to love him, but it’s all over now. Knowing the back story as Mike does, he figures this would be a more honest and plausible denial of his love for Jesus. He used to love this Christ figure, sure, but it didn’t work out, it wasn’t what he expected. It’s all over now. You see, Peter feels he was set up. He, like all his mates, had expected the knight in shining armor savior, riding in to rid them of the hated occupying empire (Mike can resonate with this; the Brits prided themselves in a history of resisting occupying empires to the death). Jesus showed all the signs of having the divine power and stamp of approval; he could walk on water, raise the dead, cast out demons, he had command, so whipping the Romans would be a cup o’ tea. And then he strolls into the garden that night, and gives himself up. Now he’s on trial and is likely to get crucified, him and all his bloody followers. No, I used to love him, or the idea of him, but the tables turned. It’s all over now.
Mick Jagger (known to his childhood choirboy friends as Mike) wouldn’t have been far off in his imagination had this been what was running through his head. Peter and all his mates had great expectations for the conquering hero. They loved it when Jesus did his magic and demonstrated that divine power. They just didn’t understand what was going on. They didn’t understand where the real power lay. The demonstrations of super-natural power weren’t given to impress them with conquering abilities, but to show the depth of his compassion and care. And it was this compassion that took him into the mouth of the lion, the heart of the empire’s control mechanism, the cross, where he said, I’m not afraid. Jesus may have been singing to a different soundtrack: This body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still, the kingdom is forever. And he understood that he was alone, even when the authorities questioned him and he challenged them to simply go and find any of the people who had heard his teaching to answer their questions. Of course, one of those would have been Peter, and Jesus knew full well what his testimony was going to be; he had predicted as much.
Mick Jagger really was a choirboy in his church in Kent, England. The spectacle of him sitting there in the choir listening to a dry preacher week in and week out, with the lectionary passages leading his mind to wander in the direction of music, is the framework for the next mash-up musical I’m working on, Were You There When the Rolling Stones Did Pray? It will be fun, but behind the humor of it is an intention for us to look at the old story through new lenses. In this particular scene, I hope we’ll be able to discover the ways that the church throughout the ages, up to our own time, has played the role of Peter, and expected Jesus to be a conquering hero instead of a suffering servant. From the time the church became empire in the 4th century, it has generated the expectation that Jesus brings a dominating power. Then, when the prophetic voices show again and again that Jesus’ power is found in compassion, not conquest, those in positions of worldly power cry out, (if they are honest), I used to love him, but it’s all over now. It’s a refrain that comes to mind now whenever I hear people justifying concentrations of wealth and deporting immigrants and equating Christianity with American exceptionalism, while loudly critiquing calls for policies that care for the poor and welcome the stranger and love the enemy. Every sermon on any such theme sounds more and more to me like a rock-a-billy rag, complete with a simple bass line and drums and tambourine: You know I used to love him, but it’s all over now.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.