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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Week

The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, HarperCollins, 2006, 238 pp.

While I should have read this book earlier in Lent, to have it undergird my preparations for Holy Week services, it became my Holy Week practice to read a chapter every day, each corresponding to that day of Holy Week. The authors undertake a thorough examination of Jesus’ activities from Palm Sunday through Easter, focusing on the Gospel of Mark but often holding up other accounts to explore the differences. The book aims to provide serious and scholarly reflection on the stories of Holy Week so that those of us who celebrate them in Christian worship might move beyond centuries-old layers of theological interpretation and examine Jesus’ Passion with an eye toward what Jesus was passionate about.

The first passion of Jesus was the kingdom of God, namely, to incarnate the justice of God by demanding a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by the covenantal God of Israel… We focus on “what Jesus was passionate about” as a way of understanding why his life ended in the passion of Good Friday. (from the Preface)

I have read enough Borg and Crossan before to recognize similar themes between this book and their other works. Jesus’ passion is about non-violent resistance to the Roman empire, about peasants and villagers who are unjustly treated by the empire and its collaborators, about an alternative vision of the world that is not based on violence and domination, but love, radical hospitality and economic justice. Thanks to Borg and Crossan, along with Walter Brueggemann, Walter Wink and Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, that is how I have come to understand Jesus as well.

This book was incredibly helpful in connecting that understanding of Jesus’ life and mission with the events of Holy Week, which are surrounded by so much baggage of atonement theology, pietism and oversimplification—not to mention the baggage that comes from things like The Passion of the Christ or even Jesus Christ Superstar. As a preacher who tells and retells and interprets this story every year, I felt grounded and refreshed by reading this book. It helped me immerse myself more fully in Holy Week, (more on that here) while keeping me from lapsing into sentimentalism. While I did not ever cite the book directly, it certainly inspired and directed my preaching for the week. I highly recommend it for preachers, teachers and small groups who want to go deeper with the story of Jesus’ last week.

A picture of me on my ordination day.

Today is Good Friday. It is also the 10th anniversary of my ordination into Christian ministry. Every year during Holy Week, I give thanks with all my heart to be a part of this pastoral life.

It was March of 1989, and I was 15 years old when I first got caught up in Holy Week. I don’t remember how it started, but I was swept away by the emotional roller coaster between Palm Sunday and Easter.  I felt like I was right there on the streets of Jerusalem, bearing witness to Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. I wrote about it at length in my journal, which I dug out tonight from inside the trunk, under the pile of laundry. On Good Friday that year, I wrote with great youthful earnestness:

I was with Christ in Spirit throughout today. I learned that I have the wonderful ability to withdraw from this world and put myself in another. … Thank you, Jesus.  I am just beginning to understand Your love for me.

My journal from 1989, when I was 15.

Every year since that discovery, I have tried to recreate it—to step outside of the ordinary during Holy Week and get swept up in the ancient story. I don’t think of it as “another world” anymore, nor do I invest much energy in imagining myself in the streets of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. However, I still love to get absorbed in it, to experience its meaning anew, and to forget all other concerns. Some years there are more distractions than others, but the act of walking through the stories and services every year never fails to transport me to a holy place, with deep conversations with God and exhausting emotions.

Because of my life in ministry, I not only can throw all my energy and focus into meditating and understanding and retelling the story of Jesus’ betrayal, death and resurrection, I must. During Holy Week, with all the writing and preparation, I spend all day every day praying and thinking and writing about the story of Jesus. I abandon all other church work, give up on housecleaning, let J take the role of lead parent, and just live into the story. There is no negotiation about whether or not to attend services on Thursday or Friday or both, because I have to be there for all of it. There is no conflict over soccer games or meetings with the boss or anything else—everyone knows that, during Holy Week, the pastor has no more important task than preparing for services through prayer, meditation and writing. If I am wrought with emotions and wracked by the Holy Spirit throughout, so much the better for my preaching. What a privilege.

So today, Good Friday, I celebrate 10 years of ordained ministry. Ten years of throwing myself into Holy Week with all my heart and soul, and having no one think it strange. Did I know in my 15-year-old self where that blessed Holy Week would lead? Could I have imagined the opportunity not only to let myself get lost in Jesus’ story every year, but to devote my life’s work to getting other people caught up in the story as well? There is no better time to celebrate my call, to give thanks to God for this pastoral life, than during Holy Week. Thanks be to God. Soli Deo Gloria.

The phone message my mom wrote about the accident, and the memory ribbon we wore for weeks. Both were tucked inside my journal.

Postscript: There is another connection between the spring of 1989 and my ordination date that cannot go unmentioned. Just a few pages after my passionate account of Holy Week in my journal, the April 22 entry shares the news of a car accident that took the life of one of my dear friends, and injured several others. It was another pivotal moment in my faith journey. When I scheduled my ordination years ago, I recognized the confluence, but still cannot impart a meaning to it. Still, this year, all three converge–that transformative Holy Week in 1989; my friend’s death on April 22, 1989 (both 22 years ago); the 10th anniversary of my ordination on April 22, 2001; and Good Friday. The day feels deep, rich and complex. God sees the web of connections, and perhaps even their meaning. I, as yet, do not.

It’s the end of the night on Good Friday, and I am aching and exhausted. Just like I always am on this night. And it just feels right.

Ever since I have been in ministry, the churches I have served have participated in a long walk through the city as part of their Good Friday commemoration, in addition to a traditional solemn service of prayer and passion. On the day of Jesus’ great suffering, we draw close to the places of poverty and suffering in our own community, and pray for the ministries of healing that take place there. The walk is a physically demanding exercise at the end of a full and often sleepless week of preparation for Holy Week services.

It adds an element of physical exhaustion to the typical emotional exhaustion I feel in response to the stories of the Last Supper and the Passion. Preaching and praying and being present in the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services leaves me feeling emotionally raw and grief-stricken.

Every Good Friday night I come home and collapse, my spirit wrung out and my feet throbbing and grimy from the city. Not that my suffering should be compared to Christ’s suffering, but I feel like it’s just right for this day, like the experience somehow puts me in touch with the mind and hearts of the disciples that loved Jesus so long ago. I can’t imagine spending the day in a spa, or eating a luxurious meal, or anything of the sort. This is just the way it should be. I guess that’s why I’m in the business I’m in.

Tomorrow, like always, I will wake up only slightly more rested and journey to church to help decorate the sanctuary for Easter, then work on finishing my Easter sermon, still feeling the rawness and the exhaustion of it all. But that’s how it should be.

I love waking up on Easter morning dragging my feet and just waiting for it all to be over, then discovering when the last hymn is sung and the benediction offered on the morning service that I wish we could do it all over again that afternoon. It’s like I discover the power of God’s resurrection and new life all over again.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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