Saturday, April 16, 2011
The Poetry of Holy Week
For over 2000 years, Christians have relived the events of Jesus' last week, beginning with Palm Sunday and Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, continuing into Maundy Thursday where we have Jesus establishing what we call the Lord's Supper and the giving of the great mandate – in Latin, mandatum, from which we get the word Maundy – Jesus' great command: Love one another. This is where we wash one another's feet as Jesus did. Friday, we come to the day of his crucifixion – Good Friday. It sounds odd to our modern ears, but it's the word "good" in the ancient sense of "holy." And then, from sorrow to joy: The Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night.
I think there's a huge difference between reliving an event and merely reenacting an event. If you reenact something, you're acting out something that someone else lived, like Civil War reenactments: You weren't actually in the Civil War; you're just acting out a piece of history. But since what we have in Holy Week is nothing less than the battle between good and evil, life and death, and life again, we are not acting out something from someone else's life. We are living again something that is part of all of our journeys. We are not disinterested observers: We have a vital stake in the outcome of this week. We have a vital stake in the outcome of the issues of good and evil; life and death… and life again.
As I live my own life, every year I journey through Holy Week, I can see myself as someone different. Some years, I seem closer to poor Peter denying the Lord three times, but then weeping bitter tears. Some years, I identify more with the women waiting at the tomb for the risen Christ as I wait for change in my life. Some years, I can see myself as the High Priest Caiaphas protecting my turf. Some years, I am Jesus himself. It seems that where I am in my own understanding of good and evil – life and death and life again – changes how I live Holy Week.
Now, I would love just to take a shortcut and get to Easter without having to watch Jesus suffer, without having to re-examine my own life; without having to admit that many times in my own life I would have been one in the crowd crying out, "Crucify him!" But if I look away, I won't see what it looks like to live fully human and yet fully divine as God intended. I have to look, not to see some kind of a bloody sacrifice required by God, but to see God demonstrating what it means to truly love.
Write poetry this week… Richard Niebuhr says pilgrims do that by taking journeys. We're going to be traveling some dark roads. The streets of old Jerusalem are narrow, and the crowds from all over the world are sure to grow larger as we go. There will be the chaos and confusion of other pilgrims from our day, and fellow pilgrims from past centuries. Know without a doubt that you journey this week from darkness toward the light. But we also know, you cannot take this journey… you cannot write this particular piece of poetry… and remain unchanged.