Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Don't Rush to Friday: Reflections on Holy Week

There is a lot of talk these days, at least among my white evangelical cohort, about the importance of Good Friday. It was a long neglected part of our liturgical culture because we don't like to focus on the death part. There's a real reclamation project going on whereby evangelicals are getting into Good Friday. It's important. For every quote of Tony Campolo ("it's Friday, but Sunday's coming" - a quote from a sermon he gave in a VERY different context), there is a counter - "don't rush to Sunday." It's a reminder that we need to dwell on the death of God a bit, to feel the horror and guilt and uncertainty. It's good for us.

I was struck this week, though, how it seems we may have moved our object of attention from Sunday to Friday and perhaps we need the reminder that as much as we shouldn't rush to Sunday, we also shouldn't rush to Friday.

I know a few communities that celebrate a service of worship every day of Holy Week - Monday through Sunday - it's a good way to keep the pace. I suspect this idea gives a lot of pastors the shivers - not only is that planning and leading a whole bunch more services, there's also the issue of what to focus each one on. When we're in that Friday-Sunday schedule, it's easy: death and life. But I'm pretty sure real life (and death) is a bit more nuanced. It's the same problem we have making Advent into "pre-Christmas;" we're terrified of the in between (you don't see many Holy Saturday services, do you?).

I've been to a number of Maundy Thursday services the last few years in a whole lot of congregations. Most of the time, though, it feels like Friday. They're different, for sure - often foot-washing and/or communion as opposed to the traditional Tennebrae of Friday, but the mood, atmosphere and focus is decidedly sad. This strikes me as the wrong tone.

I get that Good Friday is sad - it's like a funeral. We're mourning the death of God. I wonder if perhaps Maundy Thursday should be a bit more like a wake. It's heavy, yes - you can't dismiss the importance of all that's going on: Jesus serving the disciples, Last Supper, betrayal - the guy sweated blood for God's sake (well, for human sake, but you get it).

At the same time, I feel like it was a livelier gathering and ours should be, too - with an appreciation of the significance, but still a sense of celebration. Passover, which is what they're celebrating, is both somber and celebratory. People died - every firstborn in Egypt - but a people was born. Passover is as much about the formation of God's people as it is the spectre of death. The mood of the Thursday service should reflect this.

I'm thinking of the scene in Braveheart (that may not actually exist anywhere but in my imagination), where the Scots are preparing to fight the next morning; they sit up late around the fire talking and laughing, sharing thoughts and fears. Maybe a more contemporary idea: the night before a wedding. The rehearsal is over and the bride and groom have returned to their separate quarters with attendants, preparing for the big day to follow. There's nothing sad about those moments, but they are deep, meaningful, tender. There's a real importance in the air; this is not a normal service, but in a way it is, just with a little more heft.

Yes, Jesus death is sad, horrific even, but that's Friday. As much as we shouldn't rush past it, we also shouldn't rush to get there. Jesus was still alive on Thursday and it feels like Thursday should still celebrate his life. Jesus' life was about laying his life down for others - that's serious business, but it began well before his arrest. He began laying down his life for others the moment he understood and accepted his call from God - when he gave up whatever were his dreams of life or the expectations of his family to proclaim the gospel to the world.

Thursday is the culmination of all of that, especially for us still alive. Yes, Jesus death and resurrection are of utmost theological and practical importance, but it is his life that speaks most directly to our lives today. We see a group of people, disciples, who mean well, but don't always get it and certainly don't always get along, sitting around the table, eating and talking together. They're committed to each other and to Jesus, even without knowing all that this commitment entails. They know something big is on the horizon, and they might even know something will be demanded of them; choices will have to be made.

They don't eat and drink unknowingly, but in a sense they do. They don't know - not even Judas - what will happen next. It is the ultimate unknown, but they are being shaped and formed as people who can respond to that unknown - not always perfectly (for sure), but with grace and faith and love. This, too, is important.

We're a year away now, so there's time to ponder and think and dream. When celebrating Holy Week, by all means, don't forget Friday, but let's not rush to get there either.

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