When I first began in ministry, I felt the need to make sure that my congregations knew how important it was to enter into the full drama of Holy Week. I made a big, and likely annoying point, every year – that we couldn’t go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter. Instead, if our Sundays were to be filled with light, we had to experience the darkness during the week – lowlighted by the betrayal of Holy Thursday and the death of Good Friday.
I almost rejoiced in encouraging, maybe guilting is a better word, all of us to take our liturgical medicine. It was for good reason, because for far too long we Protestants have struggled to proclaim a faith that speaks to our whole lives. To put a theological word on it – we’ve struggled with Incarnation. We know how to sing the Hosannas and to triumphantly proclaim that the Lord is Risen, but we have a much harder time finding our words when life calls for confession and the world’s events demand lamentation.
Holy Week, when we experience it well, becomes a school of formation and a way to help us find the words to speak our faith in a more authentic and complete way.
During the last couple of years, however, I have come to think and speak about Holy Week in a different way. It isn’t that we don’t need to dwell and contemplate darkness and death – because of course there’s no Easter light and Resurrection without them. It is just that its more than that – I’ve come to believe that Holy Week is less about Christian education and a whole lot more about identification
That’s because beneath the dramatic and other worldly moments that fill Holy Week are emotions and experiences that are much more common. The high profile failures of Jesus’ disciples aren’t foreign to us. In fact, the reason they are so powerful is that they aren’t beyond our imagination at all, but instead mirror our own failures in faithfulness.
The hard truth we don’t want to acknowledge is that the gap between our promises and hopes for faith and the lived reality of our actual commitment to Jesus is what he himself once called a great chasm. No matter how many times we protest, most of us are always one opened mouth away from sounding a lot like Peter and one temptation away from becoming a betrayer like Judas for a lot less than 30 silver pieces.
That’s why this week is actually for us. We need this week to be reminded of Gospel’s fullness and to once again receive its grace. We don’t need to worship on Thursday and Friday to learn a little more or to have a more defensible faith. We need to hear these stories again and to live into this drama one more time so that we might relearn and take in the story God is still writing – that sin is costly but isn’t permanent, that darkness may loom but it doesn’t reign, and that no matter how bad your betrayal there is always a road to redemption.
That’s the thing about Holy Week, it never changes – it isn’t an obligation to slog through but is a gift to be received again and again.
And so, if you can recount the dark details of failing in faith and falling short of the glory of God – this week is for you.
If you are one of those people who knows what it is like to fall asleep while you are praying, or if your prayer life is so far gone you don’t even think about it before giving in to sleep – this week is for you.
If you are one of those people who shout with the crowds but haven’t yet figured out how to show up in crunch time or when the popular kids aren’t around – this week is for you.
If you are one of those people who got trapped into putting your hope in the promise that a politician or a coach or a preacher could lead you to the promised land only to be disappointed once they got your vote or your adoration or your check – this week is for you.
If you are one of those people who look at the damage and carnage in the world and are overwhelmed and paralyzed by hopelessness and powerlessness – this week is for you.
If you are one of those people who made that long walk up the aisle one Sunday morning only to return to the life you were hoping to move beyond – well this week is for you.
If you are one of those people who can’t see God’s creative genius in yourself and can’t escape the muck of depression and self-loathing – this week is for you.
If you are one of those people who long for a more real connection with God only to despair that it will never happen for you – this week is for you.
If you are one of those people who has experienced the disappointment and darkness that comes from sin and a crooked path – this week is for you.
This week is for all of us who have tried with everything we have to follow Jesus and have still failed. No matter the shape the darkness is trying to take in your life – know that this week isn’t a burden to bear or another obligation to be weighed down by. This week is what it has always been – a gift to help us, a gift to rescue us, and a gift to redeem us.
My hope is that you can experience it again this year and can receive it as it was always intended.
It is a gift – and it is for you.