Holy Week as Dramatic Climax Apr14


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Holy Week as Dramatic Climax

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands
For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand he stands
And brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of hallelujah!
–Martin Luther

The characters in the following story will remain anonymous in order to protect both the innocent and the guilty. 🙂

A few years ago a good friend of mine shared a recent conversation she’d had with her middle school-aged kids. The older asked if they would be going away for spring break. She replied that, no, this year spring break happened to fall over Holy Week, and since their parents were pastors that wasn’t feasible. A few minutes later the younger sibling arrived on the scene. “Did you ask her yet,” she overheard him ask his older brother. “We’re not going anywhere. It’s Holy Week.” “Darn!” his brother exclaimed in disappointment. And then, a bit confused, asked, “What’s Holy Week?”

Indeed, what is Holy Week? I suspect that more folks in our churches this week – and especially those not in church this week – have the same question. I like to talk about the Church year as a drama that unfolds each year presenting us with the grand story of God’s passionate involvement in our lives and history. Advent anticipates of the coming the king. Christmas discloses the gift of the Christ child. Ephiphany reveals more deeply Christ’s identity as the light of the world. And Lent shares the mounting tension as that light is threatened by those who would resist God’s coming kingdom and live in darkness. Now, at last, we approach the climax to this awesome drama in the services of Holy Week.

Or, maybe it would be more accurate to say that the climax of this story approaches us, as the events of Holy Week sweep us up and into the tragedy and triumph that mark Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the celebration of Easter at Vigil and Sunday Eucharist. When I was a pastor, I was regularly struck by how many folks in my congregation would speak of it in just this way, of the way these days “sneak up on them” each year, surprising them again and again by their mystery and might,

Why is this?  Perhaps the change of heart expressed by the fickle crowd who welcomes Jesus on Palm Sunday and then condemns him later in the week takes us by surprise even as it forces us to wonder whether we would have acted differently. Or maybe the shared communion and stripping of the altar on Maunday Thursday portrays God’s commitment to go to any depth to reach us in a way that penetrates the numbness which can settle on us as we make our way through this cold world.  Perhaps the recounting on Good Friday of Christ’s grim fate, suffered on our behalf, shocks us into a recognition of our worth in God’s eyes. Or perhaps the silence and anticipation of the Vigil or the celebration of a festival Eucharist on Easter morning warms our chill hearts and moves us to face the challenges of every day life with greater confidence and freedom.

Whatever part of the week’s drama captures us, though, surely none of us remains unmoved by the Church’s historic witness to the God we perceive most clearly in “the man hanging on a tree.”  For in this figure — broken, yet raised; pierced, yet triumphant — we behold and receive God’s promise to hold on to us through all of our lives, and even through death unto new life.

I hope you will have time, therefore, to join a community of believers near you to participate in this ageless drama, as God stoops once again to enter into — and redeem — our lot and our lives. Blessed Holy Week and Easter!