We heard a wildly moving performance of Bach’s St. John Passion last night at the Dallas Bach Society. Much of it is in the strange key of F sharp minor, which caught exactly the feeling of imminent catastrophe, hysterical grief, horror and mystical excitement that must have characterized the city of Jerusalem during that Passover twenty centuries ago.
Things haven’t changed much. In many places today we could find violent religious revolutionaries like Barabbas, overwhelmed foreign military authorities like Pilate (usually American or UN), visionaries, betrayers, saints, puppet local leaders like Herod, screaming mobs, gentle peacemakers, a huge gap between a wealthy civilization and proud, ancient, impoverished local culture–and the close presence of heaven and hell. There’s a pretty good African movie entitled “Son of Man” that sets the Jesus story in contemporary Africa.
We were recently in Costa Rica for business, research, and a change. We took a trip into Nicaragua. You could feel that same atmosphere–hundreds of beggars, open sewers, a dead kid beside a mangled bicycle on the highway with a gathering crowd, political ads and graffiti, the luxurious houses of the rich, the presence always of guys with smart uniforms toting large new automatic weapons. Yet the evidence of vital art, poetry, music, was everywhere, the simple homes painted in gorgeously unlikely colors. Costa Rica by comparison is a bit drab, but it’s clearly getting rich, has an excellent government, gave up its army 60 years ago, and is eco-friendly. Not much chance of Golgotha there.