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Holiday Almanac: Good Friday, mourning Jesus’ death

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Mary weeps for the dead Christ in this window at Corpus Christi Church, Miami. (Photo by James D. Davis)

Christians today mourn the death of Jesus Christ as Good Friday. Despite his agonizing death on a cross, the holiday is called “Good” because Christians believe the death was a sacrifice for all humanity’s sins. “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” the New Testament calls him.

In Catholic churches, the traditional Good Friday service includes the Stations of the Cross, a series of meditations based on the 14 traditional events between Jesus’ condemnation in a Roman court and his burial. The Stations typically are represented with plaques or bas-reliefs around the church auditorium.

Catholics also hold a Veneration of the Cross ceremony, during which churchgoers approach the altar to show respect before a cross, often with a bow and a kiss.

Sometimes observed by ecumenical Protestants is Tre Ore, a three-hour service examining each of the “Seven Last Words” Jesus uttered from the cross. The service is useful for having seven or more ministers take part.

Another type of service is Tenebrae, in which a church is slowly darkened to illustrate Jesus’ death, then relighted to show his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

— JAMES D. DAVIS

Written by Jim Davis

April 14, 2017 at 12:00 am

Holiday Almanac: Palm Sunday starts Holy Week

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"Triumphal entry into Jerusalem."

“Triumphal entry into Jerusalem,” 19th century oil painting by Nikolay Koshelev (1840-1919). Public domain via Wikimedia.

Christians celebrate today as Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week on the church calendar. Palm Sunday takes its name from an informal welcome given Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on the last week before his crucifixion.

According to the Gospel  accounts, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, with people paving the street before him with coats and palm fronds. That week he preached in the Temple and celebrated Passover with his disciples. Their observance of the Seder, the ritual meal of Passover, has become known in churches as the Last Supper.

Churches commonly celebrate Palm Sunday with special musical programs and Easter pageants. They often pass out palm leaves, sometimes tied into the shape of a cross. In Catholic and some Episcopal churches, extra palm leaves are burned and the ashes saved for Ash Wednesday the following year.

Holy Week also includes Maundy Thursday, commemorating the institution of the Holy Communion ritual; Good Friday, mourning Jesus’ death; and Easter Sunday, celebrating his Resurrection.

 — JAMES D. DAVIS

Written by Jim Davis

April 9, 2017 at 8:30 am

Holiday Almanac: Palm Sunday

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Photo: Diane Groves via sxc.hu

Palm Sunday today starts Holy Week, the most solemn yet joyous time on the church calendar. The day takes its name from an impromptu welcome given Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on the last week before his crucifixion.

According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey, with people paving the street before him with coats and palm fronds. That week he preached in the Temple and celebrated Passover with his disciples. Their observance of the Seder, the ritual meal of Passover, has become known in churches as the Last Supper.

Churches commonly celebrate Palm Sunday with special musical programs and Easter pageants. They often pass out palm leaves, sometimes tied into the shape of a cross. In Catholic and some Episcopal churches, extra palm leaves are burned and the ashes saved for Ash Wednesday the following year.

Holy Week ends with Maundy Thursday, commemorating the birth of the Holy Communion ritual; Good Friday, mourning Jesus’ death; and Easter Sunday, celebrating his Resurrection.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

April 13, 2014 at 5:25 am

DVD review: ‘The Lion of Judah’

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DVD review: ‘The Lion of Judah.’ AMG Films. 87 minutes.

Beyond “children’s animation,” The Lion of Judah is hard to categorize. I wanted to like it for the eloquence it eventually shows, and the rather clever allegorization of the gospel. I wanted to diss it for taking so long to get there, beyond the dumb action and trite dialogue.

The story starts in a first-century stable in Bethlehem, home of a wise old hen, a crude pig, a matronly cow, a smart-talking rat, a rooster with ADD, and a horse who’s cowardly enough to embarrass the lion in The Wizard of Oz.

Into this motley lot scampers a spunky lamb named Judah: “I’m a lion — Rarrrrr!” Judah says he’s destined to “set everyone free,” but he is shortly boxed up and taken to Jerusalem.

Stableful of animals forms the cast for 'The Lion of Judah.'

The other animals figure out why: With Passover approaching, Judah is likely the next sacrifice at the great Temple. And they know who can decree the lamb’s pardon. See, this is the same stable where the baby Jesus was born, more than 30 years before. (Yeah, I know, but if you can suspend disbelief about talking animals, you can forgo asking how barnyard animals can live three decades.) They set out for Jerusalem to find the king.

Along the way, they meet other creatures. There’s a couple of pompous, pharisaical pigeons who can’t stand the rat. There’s a flock of ravens who call themselves the “Unclean” gang, as a side lesson on egalitarianism. And there’s a cynical, streetwise donkey colt who laments the power that humans hold over his life. It’s not hard to guess who gets to meet Jesus first.

Artistically, The Lion of Judah is a very mixed bag. The wood and stone textures are nicely rendered. The animal expressions are evocative and their actions are smooth, but their feet don’t leave tracks. And speaking of tracks, the background music often lapses into bland Christian pop. The best sequence is when the camera follows the blackbirds through the streets of Jerusalem, searching for Judah.

Voice-wise, the best is Georgina Cordova as the lamb. A veteran of other animated features, including The Tale of Despereaux and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, she adds just the right bite and perkiness. Michael Madsen, from Kill Bill and Donnie Brasco, is also good as the gruff Mafioso-like raven boss. Sandi Patty as the cow is gentle but a bit snooty. Ernest Borgnine is largely wasted as the rat.

Some of the story is interesting, for someone who can tell the efforts at recasting Bible stories allegorically. The pacing, though, is rather uneven. Much of it is unfunny and uninvolving. And whenever it slows, one of the animals jumps or trips or runs into a wall or somehow gets thrown through the air.

Eventually they find the lamb, but too late: He’s in the Temple yard, being prepped for sacrifice. Meanwhile, Jesus is being led to Calvary to be crucified. The King can’t save himself, let alone a lamb. Or can he?

The comparison of the animal sacrifice with the death of what the Bible calls the “Lamb of God” is an easy and obvious one. But for viewers who weren’t brought up in church, or may not have attended lately, will it be as evident?

Like most Christian forays into various genres, The Lion of Judah is a good first effort. But Christian producers often don’t have the time and talent and effort to compete with their secular counterparts, in this case Pixar and Dreamworks. Thus far, the main Christian group to pull off CGI is the one that made VeggieTales. And they sold out to a network, which could foot the bills, but watered down the Christian message.

After its national theater run, the film is to be released on DVD this fall by the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group. If you want to check it out further, visit http://www.lionofjudahthemovie.com/.

Written by Jim Davis

July 17, 2011 at 4:08 am

TV REVIEW: ‘Jesus in India’

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A major Christian holiday is just around the corner, and sure enough, here comes one of those revisionist “documentaries” attacking cherished beliefs. For Jesus in India, the focus is on historical gossip that has Jesus traveling east during his youth to learn from Buddhist and Hindu philosophers.

The program (9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time Dec. 22) on the Sundance Channel, looks at the “missing years” of Jesus, between his 12th and 30th years, when the Bible reports nothing about him. During those years, some say, he studied ethics and mysticism in the East before returning to the Holy Land. There’s even talk that he escaped crucifixion, returned to India, and died and was entombed there.

Author Edward T. Martin makes a brave, and apparently well-funded, effort to ferret out links between Jesus and India. With Paul Davids as director, he visits St. Thomas Mount in southern India, where Christians say their forebears hearken back to Bible times. He talks to the Shankaracharya, a pre-eminent Hindu leader. He consults a monk in a monastery, where a library is said to hold an ancient account of Jesus’ sojourn. He ventures into tense, violent Srinagar, where some locals say Jesus is entombed.

But you won’t be surprised to know that Martin finds nothing definite; otherwise, it would have been on CNN before the Sundance Channel. Nope. The Shankaracharya says he knows the story of Jesus in India, but the sourcebooks are long lost. And the monk says the head of the monastery is away, and he’s the only one who can approve a search of the books.

Some of the onscreen comments even contradict Martin’s premise. In Srinagar, a police officer and a Muslim leader vigorously deny Jesus’ body is there, saying it’s that of another prophet instead. Jesus in India notes this, then blithely moves on.

Quality control may be one of the problems here. Jesus in India quotes decent sources like a Vatican official, a rabbi from Loyola and two scholars from Georgetown. But it also recruits Elaine Pagels of Princeton, who detours onto her favorite topic, the Gnostic Gospels — a collection of third century Egyptian scrolls that she and others are trying to paint as lost Bible books. Incredibly, another source is a book by Elizabeth Claire Prophet, former head of the New-Agey Church Universal and Triumphant.

Jesus in India spends a lot of time on Martin’s background — perhaps to help us understand his viewpoint, perhaps to pad the program. Scenes abound of sleepy Lampasas, Texas, and the stark Church of Christ where Martin grew up, in a familiar portrayal of conservative Christians as crude and ignorant. However, the onscreen interviews don’t make them sound like the oppressive bullies that Martin makes them out to be.

It shows the immense shadow cast by Jesus that so many people — Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, New Agers, broadcasters, even Bible revisionists — want to claim him. But they’re mainly trying to recast him in their own image. That’s a danger for us all, of course, believers or not. But to get closer to Jesus and his teachings, it’s best to start with something better than revisionism.

Written by Jim Davis

December 21, 2008 at 6:37 am

Messianic messing

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Barack Obama as Christ? That’s one surprise on Jesus of the Week. This site, published by the Village Voice, seemingly has hundreds of images sent by readers.

As you can imagine, the pictures range from the classic to the classically stupid. Examples:

Slam-dunking a goal in a yellow Los Angeles Lakers uniform.

A reverent painting of Jesus offering bread and wine.

Twin faces of Christ as earrings, his hair studded with diamonds.

A Rasta-locked Lord on a shoulder tattoo.

A cartoon Jesus surfing on a cross.

And assorted Jesus faces on light switches, bandages, sticky notes, black velvet, and of course airbrushed onto vans and motorcycles. And on and on.

You submit the picture — or someone out there does — and the Village Voice editors add what they consider witty comments. Like the suggestion that a sitting statue, with hand to the side of his head, looks like he’s talking on an iPhone. Tee-hee.

What to make of this site? One lesson: Culture can get pretty silly, even with revered figures. Two: Ridiculing the sacred is funny, at least for some mentalities.

Conclusion three: Ignorance is no handicap online. Whoever wrote the snickering paragraph for a crucifixion painting totally missed that the artist was Salvador Dali.

Written by Jim Davis

November 23, 2008 at 5:07 am

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