My latest article from the Banner:
I’m sitting down on Wednesday to write this, and I can’t help but be reminded of the essential strangeness of Holy Week.
Sunday morning many of us gathered in worship to wave palm branches and sing Hosanna to the King. We cheered along with the people of Jerusalem as Jesus rode triumphantly into the city at the head of an adoring parade.
But as I write this, it’s Wednesday afternoon. By tomorrow that mood of joyful celebration will have changed. Many of us will gather in place of worship for an evening meal, sharing a fellowship tinged with sadness as we remember the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples. We may have our feet washed, commemorating the suffering servant who came to submit, and not to rule.
By Friday, the sadness will change to grief and outrage, as we remember that Jesus was unfairly tried, and brutally murdered by his own people, with many of those who had cried out “Hosanna!” as he rode into the city just a few days earlier now crying out “Crucify him!”
By the time you read this it will be Saturday. Christ’s body will have been taken down from the cross, and we will be in a spirit somewhere between reflection and anticipation as we look ahead to Sunday’s empty tomb, and raise our voices in glad “Hallelujahs!”
This is the cycle of Holy Week: hosanna, which means “Please save us,” to crucify him, and finally hallelujah, which means “Praise ye the Lord.”
Save us! Crucify him! Praise the Lord!
It’s a lot to happen in one week. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotion. It’s a lot for us to experience every year. Up, and down, and down, and up. Year after year we experience and re-experience the remembrance of these momentous events, events in which God was and IS revealed to us through the gracious sacrifice of God’s self in Christ.
How are we to feel? How are we to react?
Especially when we consider that all of our remembrances exist in the liminal time between the actual events, the historic events of the crucifixion and resurrection, and the final events that will come in the fulfillment of the promise of God, that the world will be remade into a place where God will “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes.” When “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more,” because the old world, this world of pain and suffering and injustice, will have passed away.
Between the “Christ has died, Christ is risen,” and the “Christ will come again.”
The already, and the not yet.
We have heard people wish us a “Happy Holy Week,” yet how can we experience this week, the commemoration of the suffering and death of Jesus, as “happy,” even knowing as we do that the week will end in resurrection?
That is the strangeness of this week, and the tension that so many have a difficult time holding on to during worship services and prayer vigils; during times of contemplation and prayer, of remembered suffering, and, ultimately, of resurrection glory.
Friends and neighbors, it would indeed be a hard thing to reconcile, this yearly recollection of the events that occurred this week, if, in fact, it is a yearly recollection of events long past in anticipation of an event that is likely yet a long time in coming.
But let me propose this: Holy Week, the services we honor during the week, from the Palms to the washing of the feet and the sharing of the supper, to the bleakness of the cross, to the rolled away stone and the empty tomb Holy Week is not a remembrance of actions that happened two thousand years ago in the anticipation of an event yet to come.
No, Holy Week is a time when we remember those events, not as ones past and one in the future, but as one that we experience constantly and consistently in the world in which we live, this week, this day, and every day: the revelation of God’s love, and the power of God’s grace.
God is not idle. God does not sleep.
Christ did not allow himself to go to the cross two thousand years ago to remain silent until the time should come for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan.
Christ allowed himself to be placed on the cross to reveal the stunning extent of God’s love for humanity, flawed and broken as we are, two thousand years ago and today and every day.