Holy Week begins this Sunday. This is our opportunity to pay attention to the final moments of Jesus’s life: his entrance into the city, his instructions and teachings, his last supper with the disciples, his garden wrestling and prayer, his arrest and trial, his sufferings and crucifixion, his resurrection. Many of us know the way the narrative proceeds, the words, the characters, and perhaps even some of the meanings. But despite knowing what we know, we hunger year after year to know it more. Its the story that defines all stories. Its the story that defines all hope. Christian faith is an Easter faith. Christian faith would not exist if Jesus had not triumphed over death. Each time we gather on a Sunday we in fact celebrate, and experience, the risen Christ. Holy Week looks forward to the moment we can joyfully announce “He is risen! (He is risen indeed!)”. But first we remember the path to that triumph, the whole story from beginning to end. We take time this week to pay attention to the sufferings (passion) of Jesus.
The 19th century scholar Martin Kahler famously called Mark’s gospel “a passion narrative with an extended introduction”. He was commenting on what should be most obvious about our written remembrances of Jesus, that they were focused on his final days. We might say that as the story of Jesus is told it gradually slows until the point where, hanging on the cross, time itself seems suspended. I have often thought that the hours when darkness fell on that scene (Mark 15:33) were almost a break in the created order of time -- a timeless, eternal moment. It is then and there that the sins of time-past and the sins of time-forward are laid upon that crucified body. Jesus on the cross is the hinge point of all history. How can such be explained? Its hard to do. But so much compacted meaning requires a slower, more focused telling.
My contemplations this year have reminded me how much we need an emotional connection to this story if we ever hope to understand even a small part of it. It seems out of date to refer to Jesus’ sufferings as his “passion” (from the Latin passio (suffering), related to the Greek pathos). Of course, the word “passion” has changed its meaning over time. Where passion once meant suffering, it now means that which is deeply felt: strong emotion, strong love. But there is a connection here that I want to draw attention to, for the sufferings of Jesus were surely rooted in his deeply felt love for the world he was redeeming.
My thought as I enter this Holy Week is that deep feeling can be a way of knowing that goes beyond our usual cognitive, brain-strain, rationally over-confident ways. My thought this year is that we cannot understand the story of Holy Week, nor really experience the full measure of Easter joy, if we fail to “deeply feel” this story. How can we know Jesus without loving him? And how can we know what he has done for us without emotional connection to the whole dramatic pathway? Its fascinating too that the opposite of passion is apathy, that uncaring state of being which can only be described as flatness of soul. One simply cannot know Jesus apathetically. Flat feelings are completely at odds with Holy Week.
I would like to encourage you to consider changing up your rhythms for the week ahead. Consider intentionally setting aside time and space to interact with this story, getting into all its parts and meanings. Read the gospels, pay attention to the nuances of detail and meaning you find there. Know it, and then feel it.
This Sunday is “Palm Sunday”, the moment of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, the moment which begins the countdown to Easter. Its also a Baptism Sunday at Westside.
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this coming week, we present the Stations of the Cross in our Westhall, open from 9 am to 9 pm daily. This is a traditional Easter exercise that provides opportunity for spiritual introspection.
A special Good Friday service takes place on Friday, March 29 at 10 am. Our Easter services will be on Sunday, March 31 at our regular times of 10 and 11:30 am. For all of these services space tends to fill up so get there early.
Pay attention. Feel what you know. My prayer this year is that I would know Him better by experiencing His story in new ways. And then, when the moment comes, we can truly rejoice together: “He is risen! (He is risen indeed!)”