Some of you will be interested in the recently released movie The Conspirator. It is about the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination and particularly focuses on Mary Surratt, the only female charged as a co-conspirator in the trial of those accused of murdering the President. It premiered at the scene of the crime, in Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865.
Robert Redford, the director of the film, has commented on the profound silence that hung over the event as guests viewed the film’s depiction of the assassination of the President just mere feet from the VIP box where Lincoln sat. Can you imagine having been at the premier yourself and experiencing this moment? It is almost overwhelming to contemplate how the momentousness of that event could cross 150 years into the present moment in palpable fashion.
Something like that is what Holy Week liturgies attempt to create for us as we re-enact what is arguably the most momentous event of all human history, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, brought out of 20 centuries of time into the present moment. In fact, this is what happens at every Eucharist when we begin the recitation, "On the night he was handed over to suffering and death." The technical term for it is anamnesis, which means remembering, and can be remembered as the opposite of amnesia, a kind of forgetting.
Much of Christian life involves remembering some key things about God and ourselves, and much hardship and heartache comes from forgetting those same basic truths.
Whether on any given Sunday or in Holy Week, the goal of our worship is to recall these events from the past into the present in some sort of way that allows our own participation and incorporation into the event itself.
Long before the advent of film, with its powerful, evocative visual images, Christian choreography has had to rely, by comparison, upon the humble tools of word, music, and symbol to awaken and engage the imagination. The African-American spiritual "Were You There" is sound evidence that such resources are good enough for the past to speak to the heart of the present.