Memoria Passionis

In 2021 there was a truly beautiful moment where Id al-Fitr and the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ fell and were celebrated on the same day.

In a joint blog, someone in his article brought back the dark history that had occurred in our country, namely the May 1998 riots.

“The sad story of the Yogya Klender Mall fire in May 98: “Please Ma, open the door” and “Remembering Ita Martadinata, victim and witness of the rape in May 98”, those are the titles of the articles he wrote.

Regarding the article about Ita, I found two comments as follows:

“Why be exposed again? It’s enough to be an archive. “Won’t this hurt the victim’s family?”

“In the current holiday atmosphere, it is not appropriate to expose news like that. I understand you are on duty, but think about the feelings of his family who have become victims.”

Reading the article and the comments given to it, my memory immediately focused on one of the topics initiated by Johann Baptist Metz, a theologian from Germany, in developing his political theology. The topic in question is memoria passionis (memory/remembrance of suffering).

In line with comment above, why do we have to talk about suffering?

It seems unethical to talk about or remember suffering amidst the joy of celebrating victory. However, that is Metz’s aim in initiating this topic. Metz wants to emphasize that all forms of human suffering, especially those that occurred in the past, should not be simply forgotten or considered legitimate in an effort to create a good future.

Memoria passionis is not a comfortable topic to talk about. For those whose relatives are victims, remembering the suffering will only evoke feelings of pain that are sometimes unbearable. Meanwhile, for those in positions of power controlling history, memoria passionis can undermine their status quo.

No matter how painful it is, stories of suffering must always be remembered and told so that in the future similar events will no longer happen again.

So, where is the connection between Id al-Fitr and the Ascension of Jesus Christ and memoria passionis? At what point can these two holidays cause humans to forget the suffering of their fellow humans by placing too much emphasis on the future?

Apart from being interpreted as a celebration of victory, Id al-Fitr and the Ascension of Jesus Christ also promise the same future to those who celebrate it, namely entering heaven.

Id al-Fitr means returning to nature. People return to their “state of holy (fitrah) because all sins are forgiven after fasting for a whole month. And, people who return to their fitrah, holy, clean, are believed to enter or ascend to heaven.

Jesus’ ascension to heaven also contains a message that believers will one day be with Him and see His face in eternity.

On one occasion with His disciples, the Lord Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you. For I am going there to prepare a place for you. And when I have gone there and have prepared a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may also be (John 14:1- 3).

Then, what is wrong with the future (heaven) promised in these two celebrations? Shouldn’t we as believers dream of entering heaven after our pilgrimage in this world ends?

In Metz’s framework there is nothing wrong with all that. He just wanted to warn that excessive emphasis on progress/the future (eternal life in heaven) can lead to ignoring the suffering of the past.

This neglect, according to Metz, found its origins in modern civilization. A civilization that wants to place human being as historical subjects. With this, modernism wants to oppose the understanding of history as known in the Christian tradition which teaches that God is the universal subject of history.

Because human being are the subjects of history, modernism proclaims an idealism about human autonomy: that human being must reject the existence of God, if they want to be themselves and be free.

By rejecting the existence of God, the empty place left by God is now filled by human being. This led to a belief in the early modern era that human being were the ones who would bring history to a perfect end. Modern human being with all their technical abilities will eliminate all forms of suffering.

The question is, have human being succeeded in bringing history to a perfect ending? Have all forms of suffering disappeared from the face of this earth? In Metz’s eyes, modern civilization which initially promised emancipation and progress was apparently just an illusion.

Although he does not deny that there has been an increase in the quality of life thanks to progress in the fields of science, engineering and economics, Metz also does not close his eyes to the many bad sides of modernization. Natural destruction, social injustice, the widening gap between rich and poor countries, conflict, are some examples of this negative side.

So, who should be responsible for all forms of suffering, disasters, calamities that arise due to the failure of these modern projects? What is God? Obviously impossible. Its existence has been openly rejected by modern human being. If so, are human being responsible? That’s how it should be.

Unfortunately, they refuse to take responsibility for the suffering that accompanies the progress made through engineering and industrialization. We often see a tendency where people always try to forgive themselves for all the suffering that occurs.

At that point, Metz, through his idea of memoria passionis, wanted to criticize such an ambitious modern project. According to him, in the name of progress or a better future, modern civilization actually ignores human suffering.

With his memoria passionis, Metz wants history not only to be viewed from the perspective of those who are usually called the winners in history. Specifically regarding Christianity – and I think this also applies to other religions – Metz reminds us that hope for the future must not turn a blind eye or forget the historical burden of world suffering.

In the context of our multi-religious nation, the idea of memoria passionis feels very relevant. We often see that matters of heaven often cause tension between fellow citizens.

This tension arises because there are parties who claim to be the rightful owners of heaven. As a result, other people who are outside their group are deemed unfit to be residents of heaven. Therefore, it must be removed.

The meeting of Id al-Fitr and the Ascension of Jesus Christ actually invites us to be willing to look at the faces of those who are different from us with love. And invites us to join hands and walk hand in hand, while still respecting  and honoring each other, on the road to our heavenly homeland.



Sunarko, Adrianus. 2006. Teologi Kontekstual. Jakarta: Obor.


Gambar: Johann Baptist Metz

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Gregorius Nyaming
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