Of all the interactions Jesus has in his life, only two humans are mentioned in the creed. The first was his mother. The second is the Roman governor who granted permission and refused responsibility.
Crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried.
I read through John’s account of Pilate’s presence. Pilate interrogates and interviews Jesus, then implores the Jewish leaders to release him. Pilate permits painful punishment, first flogging, second scornful spitting, finally crucifixion.
There is no alliteration for crucifixion. Nails through flesh, slow torture, asphyxiation. That should be enough to remember without introducing the self-justifying hand-washing Roman governor. Mary? Sure. List her name. But Pontius Pilate?
But what if you want to invite reflection when you profess what you believe? What if you want to suggest two people in Jesus’ life who made themselves available for someone else’s will? Mary said to God, “Whatever you say.” Pilate said to people, “Whatever you say.” The two acts of willing surrender of choice bracket Jesus’ life. One giving birth, the other death.
We daily wrestle with the threats and expectations of others: “We will depose you. We will riot. We will oppose you. We will cause problems that your boss won’t like.” And every time we hand our responsibility for the life of Christ to the clamoring crowd, we understand the ambivalence of Pilate.
Mary’s openness brought her to the foot of the cross Pilate’s openness allowed to stand. Mary’s agony watching her son was far worse than Pilate’s agony over letting the bureacratic process run its politically expedient course. Mary’s mourning was deep. But so would be her delight.
These two names, recited for centuries, offer us the same options faced by Mary and Pilate.Because at the end of the clause, Jesus is buried, but not at the end of the creed.