The Good Friday story of the crucifixion of Jesus has been a central, enduring, and powerful symbol within Christianity. The story of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, the divine Son in the belief of many Christians, is ritually performed and reenacted in masses and services, in sermons, in literature, and particularly during the Good Friday commemorations in Easter week in the practice of meditating on the Stations of the Cross and in solemn Good Friday mass. In the Middle Ages, the story was formally performed, with actors on a stage, in passion plays.
The word "passion" refers to what a person suffers or undergoes, what happens to a person. Yet the word also has a much more active meaning, referring to the most powerful drives and emotions, the passions of life. In the performance of the passion play, the sufferings of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, become universal. As the Son of God carries the cross, he carries the sins
and sorrows of the entire cosmos. At the moment of his death, those who participate in the passion play die with him and are reborn three days later with his resurrection.
As the innocent victim is sacrificed, there is a moment of intense catharsis. All the fears, sorrows, and sins of the audience are evoked, called out, and purged. This is one of the most emotive moments in human experience. In performance of the Passion, time is collapsed; the event long ago and far away is made present and immediate. The boundary between audience and actors is also effaced. Those who act the evil characters in passion plays know that a quick exit from the stage may be necessary to prevent a pummeling at the hands of an audience for whom temporal boundaries and differences between event and representation have broken down. The power evoked in the passion play can be and has been used for both good and evil.
In the Good Friday mass, in the sermons that relate the Good Friday story from the Christian gospels, and in the narratives of the medieval passion plays, Jews play a central role in the death of Jesus. For those who wish to harness the emotion of the Passion for their own purposes, the charge that the Jews were the killers of Christ, the killers of the Son of God, has been easy to fabricate and manipulate. Words from the New Testament account of the condemnation of Jesus, such as "Let his blood be on us, and on our children" (Mt. 27:26) could be taken out of context and applied to all Jews, with devastating implications. From the time of the first Crusade in 1096, the charge that Jews were Christ killers was used to foment attacks on Jewish communities, attacks that frequently reached genocidal proportions. As formal Good Friday celebrations of the passion play developed in Europe, attacks on Jews became a standard feature of
Easter week, and up until World War II, Jews in Europe would stay inside during Easter week to avoid being attacked. In the Nazi-organized destruction of Jewish communities, the Christ-killer charge was also evoked; it was particularly effective in inflaming European churches and individual Christians to collaborate with the persecutions.
At the heart of the agitation by Serb radicals against the Muslims of Yugoslavia there has been a mythology which presents Slavic Muslims as Christ killers. How could members of a religion which began six centuries after the death of Jesus be responsible for his death?
The answer lies in the central event of Serb national mythology, the martyrdom of Prince Lazar. In 1389, the forces of the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Murat dashed at Kosovo with the Serb army led by Prince Lazar. Both Lazar and Murat were killed. In the view of Serb tradition, the death of Lazar marked the end of Serb independence and the beginning of five centuries of rule by the Ottoman Empire.
During the nineteenth century, Serbian nationalist writers transformed Lazar into an explicit Christ figure, surrounded by a group of disciples, partaking of a Last Supper, and betrayed by a Judas.
Lazar's death represents the death of the Serb nation, which will not be resurrected until Lazar is raised from the dead and the descendants of Lazar's killers are purged from the Serbian people. In this story, the Ottoman Turks play the role of the Christ killers. Vuk Brankovic, the Serb who betrays the battle plans to the Ottoman army, becomes the Christ killer within. In the nationalist myth, Vuk Brankovic represents the Slavs who converted to Islam under the Ottomans and any Serb who would live with them or tolerate them.
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