Next week is Holy Week. I repeat, next week is Holy Week. I know, I can’t believe it either. It really did sneak up on me this year. I’m not going to say I was too busy or anything like that, but I feel like Ash Wednesday was just the other day. So now, maybe like some of you, I am scrambling to prepare myself for what is to come: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, our Easter Eggstravaganza, and Easter Sunday itself. Even as I sit here and type this out I think I can actually sense my blood pressure going up. But regardless of how I feel or if I seem too busy, the resurrection still breaks through. I mean, think about that first Easter Sunday for a second. Do you think any of the players in this amazing drama actually truly expected resurrection? Mark’s gospel records it this way, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb” – Mark 16:1-2 Everyone was doing what they had always done when something like death enters the picture and then, out of nowhere, the resurrection breaks through.
I am thankful though, that nature has an incredible way of reminding us even if we seem too busy or overwhelmed. Maybe it’s the increasing minutes of sunlight. Or maybe it might be like my back patio where the smell of blooming wisteria almost bowls you over. Or maybe it is even like the photo one of my friends from Michigan posted of a small flower fighting its way through the snow encrusted landscape. Whatever the sign might be for you, the world around us is never surprised by resurrection and new birth. It’s built into the very fabric of being of all that is. Yet for some reason we often become so busy, overwhelmed, anxious, scheduled, (fill in the blank with your appropriate adjective), etc. that we NEED the resurrection to break through in a way that reminds us that this is built into our very identity as well.
So maybe you find yourself coming into this Easter season overwhelmed. The resurrection still breaks through. Maybe you find yourself coming into this Easter season lost in grief and sorrow. The resurrection still breaks through. Perhaps you find yourself coming into this Easter season fearful of the future and the unknown. Guess what…the resurrection still breaks through. Whatever emotion or feeling or predicament you find yourself consumed with today still doesn’t stop resurrection from breaking through. For once the world was covered in sadness and sorrow from that which had taken place on Calvary and yet, Sunday morning still came and the universe was reborn because Easter broke through.
Tuesday morning I engaged in one of my yearly rituals; Easter clean-up. You see, for most pastors, Holy Week is the busiest week of your entire church year. There are extra services, extra practices and Easter Sunday itself is often composed of different elements than one would traditionally have on any other Sunday. So by the time all of this is finished, it’s usually Tuesday morning before I even begin to think about clearing out the random collection in my office or the extra pageantry from the platform. One of the most arduous tasks here in Odessa each year is the removal of our cross from the stage. I only say this because our cross is probably about 8 feet tall and made of 4 X 6 beams which amounts to roughly about 80lbs plus of wood. It’s also supported by a solid metal base into which it drops about a foot…I sometimes wish there was a hidden camera of me trying to remove this cross each year. It would probably go viral. But nonetheless, each year I put the cross back into storage until it’s time to bring it out for Holy Week again the following year.
It’s almost like it’s a sign of some of those who show up annually for Easter Sunday. This isn’t meant to be a slam at those who come to church once a year, but I sometimes wonder how they do it. How do they make it through life when you’re only here for Easter? Yes, it is the definitive day and moment in the life of the church, but it doesn’t stop there. It even gets me thinking about how I put away the cross each year, but that also doesn’t stop there (side note: luckily in our church we have a lot of other crosses as a constant reminder of our identity). The apostle Paul wrote this in speaking to the church in Corinth, “We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies.” – II Corinthians 4:10 We always carry around with us the cross in order for the life of Christ to be seen in us.
And that to me is kind of what the life of the church enables me to do. Why do I come week after week after week and not just on Easter? Because I need to be reminded of who I am. I need to be reminded that I am called to carry in me the cross/death of Christ so that the life of Christ may be lived out in me every day. And I can’t do that on my own. I need my church to help me. I need my church to remind me. And I need my church because it is a weekly realization that I am not alone in this. As we gather to worship each week we are reminded that this life we are trying to live is bigger than any one individual. We belong to the Body of Christ. So may you be encouraged today. May you be challenged to continue to carry on. And may you find yourself connected to a body of believers that weekly remind you of who you truly are.
Last night just before bedtime, a boomer of a West Texas thunderstorm began to roll in. This immediately means a few things…number one, Odessa will get some much needed rain (this is always the case regardless of how much we get). Number two; that I myself will have a potentially wonderful night of sleep as I love sleeping with rain in the background. And lastly, that no one else in my household will sleep well, so number two is immediately negated. And last night was no exception to that rule as I type this through bleary sleep-depraved eyes. But it got me thinking about control…or lack thereof. My kids are prime examples of the fear of lack of control. My ten-yr-old most recently has even begun to express his increasing fear of tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and any other kind of natural phenomena beyond his control. But control really is an illusion…isn’t it?
I guess it goes all the way back to the garden…I mean waaaay back. We couldn’t handle not being in control of our circumstances; our fate. And so we ate. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” – Genesis 3:6. And ever since we have operated under the illusion of control that sin allows us to think makes sense. If I just get this piece of my life figured out. If I just work hard enough these things will all fall into place. If I just have enough money, power, popularity, beauty, security, etc. then all will be well…except it won’t. In fact, the invitation made to us in the wake of a world broken by the illusion of control sounds more like this, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:24-25
Tomorrow is Good Friday and combined with Easter it represents the two most important days for the life of a Christian…why? Because it reminds us that we are not in control. Christ himself, in order to redeem us, showed us that life is best lived when we yield up control and just live for God. The apostle Paul described it this way, “When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:7-8. Christ gave up control of His life even to the point of death at our hands (talk about yielding control) so that we might know there is no power in control. In fact, true victory and power comes from giving up control or even realizing that we never even really had control. Perhaps this is the truth of Good Friday. That as we are called to give up the illusion of control we realize that we have a Savior who has already showed us the way. So may you give up the desire for control and the fear that accompanies it and live in the promise of Good Friday and the Hope of Easter.
For those of us in the Christian faith this next week holds special significance. We call it Holy Week and it is ushered in by Palm Sunday, celebrated with Maundy (or Holy) Thursday, memorialized through Good Friday and finds its finale on Easter (Resurrection Sunday). For those whose lives revolve around the church or for those employed by the church this is also one of the busiest seasons of the year. There are multiple services to plan or attend, there is less time for preparation and yet this is also meant to be the holiest of times in the life of the church. It can all become a bit overwhelming. And sometimes it is hard for practitioners to find the sacred space in Holy Week.
I think getting back to the definition of the word holy might help us a bit in trying to find that space. Holy, at least in the original Biblical context, referred to something set apart for God i.e. something that belonged to God. Over time because of the way we thought about God and the dualistic nature of the world (thank you Greeks), we came to see clear divisions of that which was holy and that which was profane. And this wasn’t just a discussion of good vs. evil, holiness vs. sin, but life itself took on divisions based on the type of tasks that was taking place. However, doesn’t the world/cosmos belong to God? In her book And the Trees Clap Their Hands, Virginia Stem Owens writes, “All the world is a sacramental loaf. We are not-nor will we ever be, God save us-solitary intelligences spinning in the dark void of space.” In other words, all our life is (should be) holy as all of it is infused/connected to God himself. The apostle Paul put it this way when he was attempting to speak to the Greeks about this very thin in Athens. “For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.” – Acts 17:28
Holy Week is a special time in the life of the church. But so is the week after Holy Week. And the week after that. I love the significance of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, but I also love that the same Spirit that speaks to and through us during these special times also wants to do the same on a Tuesday in July. So what am I saying? We need to be careful in categorizing our lives. With seasons like this it is easy to mark certain times as holy and others as not. Which in turn allows us to mark certain avenues/tasks in our lives as holy or not. When in fact all life is meant to point towards our Creator and His redemption story. Owens goes on to say, “Whenever we eat, drink, breathe, see, take anything in by any means, we are commanded to remember the sacrifice.” Our lives should be lived in a constant state of declaration that God is holy, we are his creations and we are seeking to reflect Him. So that not just one week is set apart for God, but life itself takes place in Him. May you find your life caught up in the Divine Romance not only this week, but for all eternity.