Holy Week in Guatemala brings together religious spectacle with R & R. It’s a strange mix of solemn rituals, frivolous diversions, and family vacations. I expect it’s a struggle for most people to make it fit neatly together. Our kids are on school break, by the way. We’re enjoying having two teenagers from Chajul join us for the week. Kristina Pacheco and Katalyna Laynez , both from the congregation in Chajul, are scholarship students at the La Patria school in Cobán. Kristina’s studying pre-law, and Katalyna pre-medicine. The Bi-national Walton Committee, on which I serve, is sponsoring their room and board in Cobán with funds from the PC(USA).
As for family outings, we’ve kept them simple—swimming near Lake Amatitlan on Tuesday, and hiking in the mountains of Jalapa on Wednesday. (See photos)
Today, Maundy Thursday, we went to Central Presbyterian Church. Preparations for the Lord’s Supper kept Bacilia and other deacons busy, and I preached at the morning service. Afterwards, we walked to lunch as a long Catholic procession passed by. (See photo) We were amazed by the sight of an unusual alfombra (processional carpet) on Sixth Avenue. It’s a tradition in Guatemala to carefully fashion these carpets out of colored sawdust and pine needles. They’re often 20-30 feet long. The alfombra we saw today, however, stretches for 12 blocks—over 4,000 feet! The local diocese organized over 1,000 volunteers from the city’s parishes to construct this elaborate alfombra as an invitation to Pope Francis to visit Guatemala. They also hope to be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. (See photo)
On Sunday, I’ll preach at the sunrise service the Bethel Presbyterian Church at 4:30 AM. (Isn’t that too early to qualify as a sunrise service?) Then it’s off to Central Church for their annual Easter parade and worship. Finally, we’ll drive Kristina and Katalyna to the bus station for their return trip to Cobán.
My sermon this morning dealt with the slave Malchus, whose ear was sliced off by Peter during the arrest of Jesus. It’s based on Luke 22:47-51 and John 18:10-11. Here’s the essence of the message:
Jesus’ miracle in the Garden of Gethsemane was the last one he performed before his death. This miracle tells us plenty about the kind of Savior he is. It happened when the Roman soldiers and Temple guards came to arrest him. Peter quickly drew his sword to defend Jesus, and he took a swing at one of the Jewish guards. Either the guard had quick reflexes, or Peter didn’t have very good aim, for the guard lost only an ear in the scuffle.
The guard’s name was Malchus, which means “king” in Greek and Arabic. Ironically, this “king” was an enslaved Jew. He was owned by Caiaphas, the High Priest, and whatever animus Malchus felt toward Jesus was likely caused by hours of overhearing Caiaphas badmouth Jesus and his followers. Malchus had no inkling that Jesus came to proclaim release to the captives and to let the oppressed go free.
While everyone else lost their cool, Jesus kept his. First, he had Peter put up his sword. While Peter was well-meaning and brave, he also was wrong. Jesus didn’t use traditional weapons. At times using physical force might be the lesser of two evils, but it’s still an evil, and Scripture shows a strong preference for non-violence. And especially in the case of advancing God’s work, the sword has no place.
For Jesus, it wasn’t sufficient to just stop Peter’s sword fight. Amidst the chaos and brutality, Jesus managed to pick up Malchus’ ear from the ground and restore it to its proper place. Even as he was being dragged off to prison and to Calvary, Jesus paused to heal a wound and touch a life. And of all people, he touched Malchus, a slave worth so little in the world’s eyes, an accomplice to Jesus’ arrest.
Why, we might wonder, would Jesus be so concerned about Malchus? Perhaps it’s because if anyone could relate to what it meant to be a suffering servant, Jesus could. Philippians 2:7 tells us about Jesus, “who, being in very nature God… made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a slave.” Not only did Jesus and Malchus have slavery in common, they also shared something else—the designation of “king.” Indeed, Jesus was mockingly called a king by his tormentors, while Malchus was jokingly called a king by his oppressors. The very next day Jesus would hang on a cross underneath a sign that read in Hebrew, Latin and Greek “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” This means that Jesus was crucified under a sign that included the Malchus’ very name. Perhaps it was meant to be that way, with Malchus somehow representing all of us who are persecuted, hurting and confused, the people for whom Jesus gave his life.
We can’t be sure what happened to Malchus afterwards. Surely he was one of those people who Jesus had in mind when, on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’ve done.” Christian tradition has it that he became a believer. But, as in the case of all miracles, its purpose wasn’t only to change one person’s life, but to give witness to the power of God for all life, the Savior who continues to touch lives, heal wounds, and restore people who get caught up in the ways of our fallen world.