I did not grow up in a congregation that paid close attention to the church calendar. I remember the highlights (and large crowds) of Christmas and Easter, but not the journeys through Advent and Lent. I'm not sure I would have appreciated the richness and intensity of the movement through God's story as much as I do now, but I can't help but believe I missed out on something. Even with more emphasis on the journey through scripture, Holy Week is so easy to miss. As I am shifting from church planter to pastor, I am finding the observance of this "in between" week to be even more difficult. How do I move through the events of Holy Week while already preparing for Easter Sunday worship?
The reality is that those who are familiar with scripture already know how the story ends. As hard as we try to journey with Jesus through his ministry, mounting opposition, crucifixion and resurrection, we have an unfair advantage. We heard and lived through this story last year and the year before. So, why continue to mark this Holy Week year after year? What does this practice have to do with following Jesus in our day and time?
I am asking this question in part because I am striving to guide this new church into authentic spiritual quest, but more selfishly because I am a follower still finding my way. I need to know that I am not falling into practices that lend themselves too much to ritual and not enough to transformation. I know that rituals can be quite transformative, but that they can also become so routine they fail to stir, shape and challenge us. We do not have to listen hard to hear that people are leaving churches because they claim a lack of connectedness to some rituals.
Holy Week began yesterday. At The Well, we marked this day in our worship, using palms as a sign of welcoming Christ at the beginning of our gathering. I have never imagined what it would have looked like if the crowds lining the streets had laid down their palms and journeyed with Jesus as he faced his most difficult task. This year, though, as I read the Gospel of Mark's description of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, where opposition was sure, I was drawn to imagine that very possibility. What if...? Where is it that I cheer Jesus on, but never really enter in the way of Jesus? Where is it that I cheer love, forgiveness, grace and justice on, but don't risk a thing to pursue those realities here and now?
We ended our worship with a call to lay down our palms and to follow Christ into his and our neighbors' sufferings. We carried the palms we had raised as we entered worship, and laid them at the altar. I'm sure some felt pressured to participate, while others thoughtfully responded. That's human nature. Watching this response unfold and eventually participating myself reminded me of why I need Holy Week. I need it to help me remember the events that tell the story of my faith. I need it to help me travel to places where there is the slightest possibility that resurrection may not happen. Even more than that, I need Holy Week because it is not just the observance of an ancient series of events, it is my/our story. Failure, betrayal and death mix with passion, forgiveness and new life....and, when this week is over, I have a feeling new life will have the final word. I need it to have the final word and so do all those around me who wait in a mixture of hope and despair.