Today marks the beginning of Holy Week. This week is always my greatest struggle of the year for the personal miseries attached to it.
It was in this season that Mema died and when, too, another year we lost your Grandpa Wayne and a great aunt of mine one right after the next. Then my Grandmother two years later. What is it about March and April, the great spring precursor to summer's fullness of life, that suddenly steals the soul from us and carries it back to God? It's so counter to the motive of the rebirth pushing through the earth today. Perhaps these loved ones did us a great service by leaving us in the spring, this season where hope is visible, touchable, where we can find examples of growing strong all around to hold up our grieving arms.
I have always wanted to celebrate Easter in a grander way. I compare it to its Advent brother and wonder why the birth gets a month of merry, when this, this, is the raison d'être for our living. The incarnate Babe is important, nothing truer can be said, but the new kingdom that comes rushing in with the resurrection is the putting to rights that all of creation longs for. The resurrection is the crux, the strong point, and yet we give it a day, a meal.
When I was growing up we never mentioned Lent, only Easter. Sometimes there were palm branches for today, sometimes a Good Friday thought. It was about resurrection, yes of course, and our worship pastors often pulled out every instrument and joyous chorus. But it was also, in a side-by-side contention, about new clothes and ham and chocolate. As grand as we could make it, it was just one day. Easter seemed, seems still, to be something we bumped into as we went around a corner.
I don't know if you know that the Sabbath was always Saturday, the last day of the week. Yet the Church worships on Sunday because that was the day of His rising. He was crucified at midday Friday, there was sundown Friday, sundown Saturday and then he rose on Sunday morning. In a great act of (perhaps a justified?) disobedience we collectively moved the Sabbath day, the worship day, to Sunday so that each week we could touch and practice and celebrate the resurrection. I wonder what the Father feels about that. I wonder that the average worshipper even thinks it. Soon our family will move back to Sunday worship and we'll participate in that great unified voice that gives all praise to one risen God.
It wasn't until later in my life that I at least invited Good Friday practices in. When you were very young Dad would come home for lunch on Good Friday to stay with you so that I could attend our community's Good Friday service alone. The Baptists, the Lutherans, the Church of God, the Bible churches would all gather on the Presbyterian's grounds and we'd give a common expression of lament and hope and praise. It moved me in ways that worship never had. It pushed me out of that rutted way of thinking, that Easter was just one day, and left me exposed -- this story shaped more than my lone corner of Christianity. There wasn't a single believer who could sidestep the full angst, the sorrowful reflection of the death of Christ. Ecumenical, unified, together. We all knew that the only way to Easter is through Good Friday.
When I schooled you at home I made it a practice, every year, to take off the week before and the week after Easter. When people looked at me wide-eyed jealous that we took a two week spring break I'd explain, "One for Holy Week and one to plan the rest of the year." But what did we ever do for Holy Week? You never knew that I racked my brain trying to find something in the evangelical world, some tool, some idea, some observance that we could do together. I longed for a practice, a custom to mark these final seven days. All I could come up with was more silence, more reverence, more sacred symbol. All I knew, was that, as children, you would fight against it. It was easier to avoid.
Holy week, for me, is a week of solemn knowing; knowing what my Savior headed into and knowing what he suffered for me, for certain my failures as a parent, for my children and my inability to bring them to him. Holy week always feels urgent to me, like the week before a final exam in a semester when I've shirked; when no amount of study or correction or pleading will ever help me pass the test. I have the same sickness as everyone else -- stalling, avoiding, serving myself -- and it makes me want to run and hide from the Savior entering the city. Not yet. Don't come yet. I'm not ready.
Teachers can only give us opportunity to learn, but they can't make us do it. We, as a race, had the chance to learn from a great Teacher yet we still didn't understand him, his yoke, before he entered the city on the donkey. We couldn't comprehend the cross and if we miss the cross, we miss the celebration. The final object lessons of the Teacher -- the anointing, the foot washing, the supper -- were lost on us. Just niceties in a story we thought was taking us somewhere else.
I guess I think that Good Friday was the day we all failed the test. The inclusive F for all of mankind was inevitable; our work, no matter how hard, would never be enough. But Jesus doesn't just take the test for us, he takes the test away. I think that rubs raw on the Western heart that wants to do everything for itself. It chafes my ego. It embarrasses yours. We don't know what to do with surrogates. We don't know how to call them real. Yet, when the Substitute rises from the dead, we can know he's real. We celebrate the real. We rise right along with him.
Last week I flew to be with my family for a funeral and then I got back on a plane in order to come home to a wedding. I was caught in that amalgamation of chagrin and solace. This is what Holy Week feels like to me. A necessary entanglement. It's a balancing act to walk into a season that's full of both misery and joy. We feel tension and expectation, dread and hope. Perhaps it's okay that I wrestle with it every year. Perhaps that's exactly the point.
Take the two opposite things that Jesus is to you and post them in a place where you can grapple with them. Hold onto that both/and tension this full week. Let it do its work in you. When Easter Sunday comes He invites the misery to cease. Praise be to God.
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. -- 1 John 5: 11-13