I wish you blessings on this Holy Week. The journey through this week is not easy, and I admit there have been years where I took the express lane from Palm Sunday right to Easter Morning. Yet, as many of us have heard time and again – all good things take time.
I have been reflecting upon this thought – there is no resurrection, no alleluia, without a crucifixion. No Easter without Good Friday. The journey matters – the movements of this most sacred time we live year after year.
The 6 weeks before Easter, the season of Lent is a time of reflection and of prayer – a time of preparation for Easter. Yet, sometimes I wonder if I can really prepare myself to hear this story again. The mystery of Easter is a very difficult part of my faith because sometimes it seems as if it glorifies violence and suffering more than new hope and life.
Not only the violence, but also I struggle with atonement – I do honestly wonder – did Jesus need to die, and in that way? Working with children, this currently popular model of sacrificial atonement – “Jesus bled and died to pay the price for my sins” is a difficult concept to teach. While there are many who don’t mind teaching children these words of Paul, I wonder – could the death of Christ be more about love than an exchange of debt? There are many other atonement models out there (Check out the book – The Nonviolent Atonement for a great read) where theologians have pondered many questions similar to this. At the end of the day, I am one who tends to think that there is more truth in many answers than only one, especially when pondering the great mysteries of God. It’s never been for me about absolute knowing. It’s been about the process of asking the questions.
Holy Week is a process. From the excitement and energy of Palm Sunday, crowds waving – hopeful that this man – the one who has done such amazing things and says such wonderful things will bring about new life for them. Then he visits the temple and turns over the tables, questioning the current systems and angering those who benefit most from them. As he continues to minister to his disciples, on Thursday he teaches a lesson of humility and service through both an act of foot washing as well as sharing that special meal. Then quickly come betrayal, courts, beatings, questions, and soon – death. A horrible, dishonorable, “don’t be like this guy”, “we’ll show you hopeful oppressive masses the power” kind of death. Yet that is not the end.
This is the story that gives Christians hope – not the “live a good life and God will reward you in heaven” kind of hope. Hope that says – when all lives don’t matter in our world today, when people are denied needed health care, when children die of hunger and hunger related diseases, when the gap between those who have and those who don’t is growing at an alarming rate, and when our natural world is treated as something simply dispensable – I’m sure we can get some fresh water or air at a super store somewhere – Christians have hope. Again, not a naive hope that a God sitting in the clouds will say “poof, all better” – A hope that says, even on the darkest days – the day when Jesus the Christ was beaten and hung on a cross to die – that this pain is not the end of the story.
In the Easter text for this year (John 18:1-20) Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and finds it empty. Understandably upset, she goes and gets some of the disciples. After they check it out – believe her story and then… they go back home (? thought they were visiting Jerusalem…). The author gives us nothing to go off of as to their emotional state – yet the focus is on the distraught Mary who can’t bring herself to leave. After being asked first by angels “Woman, why are you weeping”, Jesus asks the same question of her. It is comforting to know, I am not the only follower of Jesus not to get things quickly. Mary doesn’t recognize her Lord until he says her name. He then tells her “not to hold on to him” because he hasn’t ascended yet and instructs her to go share this news.
Sometimes, especially when I am most distraught all I want to do is hold on to someone and be held. While this is part of the journey – some refer to this time as the dark night of the soul – I take to heart Jesus’s words here not to hold on to him, but to carry out our callings. To share the good news that Jesus, the son of God, came to earth, taught lessons of love and inclusion to everyone, preached about serving each other – especially the poor, was killed for these messages, yet rose from the dead to show the power of God. Easter is yes for celebrating (that’s one reason the season extends for the following 6 weeks!) AND also – for finding our new life and living it!!
Wherever this Holy Week finds you on your own journey – I pray for you to see the hope that Christ brought through the incarnation to earth. More than platitudes of suffering being good for us or placing your troubles in God’s care – I pray for you to hear God’s voice calling you by name, just as Mary heard her’s, and to hear what God is calling you to do to share this message of love, acceptance, inclusion, and hope. Alleluia.