It is spring, and a time of spiritual transition as we move into Palm Sunday this Sunday, through Holy Week and to the great Queen of Feasts, Easter Day.
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and ends with the first acclamation of Alleluia! Christ is risen! It is the heart of our Church year because it connects us with the events leading up to the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, as central as these remembrances are for our Christian faith and life, Holy Week is often a difficult week for us. We don’t like it. In fact, we would rather avoid it.
And why wouldn’t we? We are dragged into a story that makes us squirm. We are told to remember not God triumphant, the King of Glory, the divine-made-flesh. Rather, we are told to remember Jesus the suffering servant, whose followers abandon him and whose enemies kill him.
For many years, I avoided Holy Week services. I had several excuses for not attending. My children are too young. All that heavy emotion ruins my mood. The service is too late. The service is too early. It’s hard enough on Palm Sunday when we have to yell “Crucify him!” – why would I want to do that again?
That last excuse was probably the most truthful one for me. I didn’t want to face the pain. Seeing God vulnerable, I recoiled from my own vulnerability. I wanted to skip right over from the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to his glorious resurrection on Easter Day.
But one year, I did attend the service on Maundy Thursday service, and then on Good Friday. When on Thursday the altar was stripped of all traces of Christian life, in an act that reminded me of my own denial of my Lord, I wept in agony over my own daily faithlessness. On Friday when I stared into the brutality of the crucifixion, I wanted to retreat deep into my soul for the comfort of God that we humans had denied to Jesus on that day.
Yes, they were difficult services, full of pain and grief – but also hope. And oh! what an Easter it was on that Sunday morning! As we pray, “Jesus went not up to joy before he first suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified.” So, it seems, we also need to carry the burden of Holy Week in order to best know the joy of Easter. The deeper we experience Holy week, the deeper we will experience Easter.
This year, we won’t have the opportunity to experience Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in all their solemnity and the totality of their denial and deprivation. The pandemic has denied and deprived us of the fullness of this week, when the church pews should be filled. Maundy Thursday will be offered at 7pm on Zoom, without of course the foot washing, the last Eucharist, and the stripping of the altar. Good Friday will be offered in person at noon and at 7pm on Zoom. (Since these services are experiential to their core—that is, needing to be lived in together and not watched passively, the staff and I felt that they could not be pre-recorded with integrity.) But it’s still Holy Week, and a time for Christians to look towards the cross that is our symbol of redemption and towards the God who redeemed us. Make this a week of mindfulness, with each step we walk in this last journey with Jesus on this earth.
Palm Sunday offers a window into Holy Week events. But Holy Week services are doors into God’s heart, as we follow God’s only Son to the cross. We stand outside in the darkness during Holy Week, looking in hope for that morning when we can finally shout “Alleluia!” But we need not wait alone. God opens the door and invites us in, on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, to wait in vigil with God. Then, once inside, when God lights up the world with “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” – oh! what an Easter it will be!
I would love to hear your reactions and thoughts! Please respond at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s have a conversation!