Holy Week changed everything forever

(By John Andrews, Centennial Fellow)  This is a special morning. Across Colorado and around the world, Christians today commemorate one of the crowning events in the life of that man whom they worship as God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth.

Author's Note: This piece first appeared on Palm Sunday, March 20, 2005, in my Denver Post column.  It's collected in my new book, Backbone Colorado USA, under the title "Hinge of History."  Eleven years later, dated references to a few politicians and pundits aside, the argument remains as fresh as ever. Order the book here.

The carpenter from Galilee had lived a wanderer’s life and would soon die a criminal’s death. But on this day he entered Jerusalem to a king’s welcome. His followers sensed glorious possibilities. His enemies felt murderous fear. Ahead lay a dark week, but beyond it, a bright victory – reports of an empty tomb, discarded graveclothes.

Many still believe those reports and live by them. I do. Others choose not to – a choice Jesus himself foresaw and accepted, though some of his followers for centuries refused, to their shame.

But no matter which side you choose, one thing is indisputable. Those eight eventful days in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday to Easter, were the very hinge of history. The Galilean’s career did more than divide BC from AD. It changed the whole course of civilization, with consequences felt to this day.

Were the consequences good? Overwhelmingly so, I would argue, though here again some disagree.

The Roman world in which Jesus was crucified was a world where might made right and rulers were demigods, where infanticide was common, women were chattel, and slavery prevailed. The world that followed upon the first Easter was a world more and more humane, as the insistence on man’s dignity under God’s sovereignty blazed up from its Jewish spark into a Christian light for all peoples.

What If?

Historical “what ifs” defy proof. Yet one can wonder whether or how, in the absence of the manger and the cross, the ideas of individual freedom, political liberty, economic rights, and equal justice would ever have found a cradle among the nations.   One can ask whether the America we’re blessed with was only possible because of the faith some now curse at.

It’s true that the American founding, rightly understood, did not make us a “Christian nation.” But it’s true as well, as commentator Dennis Prager keeps reminding us, that our founders’ worldview was profoundly Judeo-Christian. They built this country, that is to say, on the conviction that man is not the measure of all things, his Maker is.

After Justice Antonin Scalia recently called the Ten Commandments “a symbol of the fact that government derives its authority from God,” columnist Richard Cohen hooted that this is no fact, no truth, but a mere belief – and one that even the signers of the Declaration of Independence might balk at. For evidence Cohen cited the Declaration’s point that government’s just powers come from the consent of the governed. Yet he ignored its prior point: that men only delegate those powers to secure their God-given rights. Score that round to Scalia.

Humility and Humanity

Liberals like state Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, who boasted we would hear less about God in the legislature with Democrats in charge, are still hooting at conservatives like me for our proposal to restore the Ten Commandments (already on a marble monument in the Capitol’s front yard) to their former place in schoolrooms and government halls. No matter. That bill, offered soon after the Columbine massacre in 1999 and bitterly controversial until it died on the Senate floor eight months later, remains one I’m proud of.

Scoffers of all faiths or of none, go ahead and hoot if you want to. It was for your protection and benefit that our commandments poster, historical not religious by intent, would have been officially displayed in public buildings across the state. Where have the weak, the vulnerable, the powerless, and the unpopular found the best treatment, would you say – in those societies where the Decalogue’s spirit of humility toward our Creator and humanity toward our fellowman is honored, or in those where it is scorned? The question answers itself.

The distance from Jerusalem in Israel, birthplace of this Judeo-Christian worldview and scene of the first Palm Sunday, to my hometown of Backbone, Colorado, is millennia of time and nearly half the globe. Yet somehow, by the hand of divine providence, the one directly gave rise to the other. What a gift.

John Andrews is a Centennial Institute Fellow in American Thought.  He led Centennial Institute during its first seven years, 2009-2015, after having served as director of four other think tanks, president of the Colorado Senate, and an appointee of four U.S. presidents.  His latest book is Backbone Colorado USA: Dispatches from the Divide.  Order here.