Every Sunday is a special day for Christians, but today is exceptional because it marks the beginning of our brief but painful journey to Easter through Holy Week. It’s a pilgrimage that we usually begin with a procession that reenacts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and like Jesus’ first fol-lowers everybody in the procession waves palm branches and sings hymns like “All glory, laud, and honor to thee, Redeemer King”.  I’ve done it dozens of times, and it’s always the pre-lude to an astonishing reversal – an about-face that takes us from the festival palms and hosannas of Palm Sunday to the pain and despair that is Golgotha. I think those very dramatic fluctuations may be what prompt so many Christians nowadays not to attend Holy Week services.
Who needs this kind of emotional roller coaster when we already have more than enough pain and trouble in the world. A triumphal entry and an empty tomb are a lot easier to embrace than a bleeding, dying Savior on a cross. I think I understand that psychology. With all the pain and suffering that attends Holy Week, it’s unsurprising that too many Christians these days sim-ply ignore the passion of our Lord and move on quickly to Easter.
‘Corporate personality’ is a concept in Christian theology with deep roots in the OT. It affirms an organic relationship between an individual and his/her family or guild or nation. It means that individuals are never isolated from the groups to which they belong – in fact, they are often treated as representatives of these groups or even wholly identified with them. So virtues and vices are borne not only by individuals but also by the group(s) to which they belong. In our time, however, we emphasize atomic individualism and autonomy and learn to reject the concept of ‘corporate personality’ and thereby isolate our private selves from national or cultural acts and events with which we personally disagree.
Entertainment celebrities and politicians illustrate the absence of a sense of ‘corporate personality’ when they slander others in speech that divides our nation. But capital punishment comes immediately to my mind as a cruel example of how we eliminate any sense of culpability by deceiving ourselves. We say somebody has been killed, but nobody did the killing. I call it judicial homicide when we say this killing is not our doing and take elaborate steps to guarantee the anonymity of executioners. We do that by providing multiple switches or levers that are pull-ed to electrocute or release deadly gas or lethal chemicals – and firing squads always have a blank cartridge in at least one of the rifles. The only US soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War was Pvt. Eddie Slovik. A firing squad killed him on1 January 1945 and each member of the firing squad could excuse his action by imagining that he fired the rifle with the blank. If you ask ‘who killed Eddie Slovik?’ the typical answer is ‘the Army killed him’, but that’s a lie.
Currently 156 inmates are on NC’s death row. Samuel Flippen was convicted of murder-ing his step-daughter in 1994, and while a few people protested outside Central Prison he receiv-ed a lethal injection on 18 August 2006. Afterwards, most of us in NC perpetuated the myth that somebody was killed but nobody did the killing – and if you asked who killed Samuel Flippen, the usual answer was ‘the state killed him’. But that’s also a lie. Owing to our corporate person-ality, the true answer is that our army, our state – we did these killings’. Growing numbers of North Carolinians are now soberly acknowledging the fiction of saying ‘the state did the killing’ and saying that we did it and hoping that this was the last judicial killing in our name in our state.
Rev. Harmon Smith, Ph. D.
Emeritus Professor of Ethics, Duke University
Harmon Smith is an Episcopal Priest, Emeritus Professor of Ethics, and an avid golfer.