Saturday, March 27, 2010

Living Holy Week

The world seems bound and determined to be as stressful and as aggravating as possible, not to mention as fear-full as it can be as well. Bad news abounds -- earthquakes, floods, traffic fatalities in double digits per accident, the infrastructure is fragmented badly and there doesn't seem to be a lot to be done about it, at present anyway, political rhetoric has taken on a terroristic stridency in a time when people feel most helpless and fearful of things they don't really know or understand but have strong opinions about anyway. It just keeps piling up and short of turning off the television and radio, unplugging the computer and locking the front door, there doesn't seem to be much relief from it.

Flipping through the TV channels I've found a plethora of programs on natural disasters that are going to happen sooner or later. Yellowstone has a supervolcano under it that will erupt, Cumbre Vieja will slip a 5-mile section of the island off into the Atlantic that will start a tidal wave that will engulf the East Coast, a major hurricane will hit New York, a supertornado will hit Dallas, a megatyphoon will lash Hong Kong. Coupled with all the recent news of severe earthquakes and floods in various places perilously close to home (OK, maybe not next door but part of the same earth we all live on) and pictures of the suffering and devastation are almost too much to bear. And then there are the little local problems like the economy, loss of jobs, fear of losing jobs, mounting bills, shrinking paychecks, and the rising cost of just about everything we consider necessary for life -- food, electricity, gas for the car, funds to pay the mortgage, the whole nine yards. It doesn't take much of a push to make someone on the edge feel that there's a hand on their back pushing them toward a precipice and a fall they aren't sure they can survive.

Even in church we can't escape turmoil. Sexual abuse of children is alleged and denied, the role of all the baptized in ministry (and not just the ordained ministry), arguments of the validity or invalidity of varying interpretations of scripture, claims (often thinly veiled) of being the "one true" religion -- where does it all end?  Where do we find the actual true message of Christ and the true worship of God, not the message of this or that preacher or pope, this or that religion reporter, this or that religious writer or newscaster?

Holy Week is, at least by those closely involved in church work, either a Happy Occasion (Palm Sunday), a really down day (Good Friday) and a SUPREMELY Happy Occasion (Easter) or A Happy Occasion overshadowed with knowledge of what was to come, several days of introspection leading up to a foundational meal and followed by a dark day of penitence and reflection. It isn't until almost 24 hours later, at the Great Vigil of Easter, do things become bright and joyous and celebratory. I probably could unfavorably (and probably frivolously) compare Holy Week to visiting a dentist. You know it's probably going to involve some pain and that is something you'd rather avoid but by the time it's over you're so relieved to have it done you practically dance out of the office.

Living Holy Week, though, isn't frivolous and isn't really easy. It isn't supposed to be. Holy Week in some quarters is called "Hell Week" because the amount of work and preparation for the physical participation in services, be it sermons, amounts of freshly and perfectly-laundered linens, suitably exuberant flower arrangements and musical offerings, and even service booklets so everybody can follow along without having to juggle Bible, Prayer Book and Hymnal. It's supposed to be a time where, as we have been encouraged to do throughout Lent, we be more introspective, more thoughtful about what Holy Week represents, a lead-up to Good Friday and not just Easter Sunday.

Looking at my own life, this past week has brought a lot of stress and, at times, it has been overwhelming. I've done the time in the garden, wrestling with "Please -- can we just skip this part?" and trying to maintain a professional attitude when the inside is screaming and shaking like jello in an earthquake. There have been times when it felt like I was before Pilate and the Sanhedrin, having to be silent when I wanted to scream and feeling alone and scourged. There have also been a few moments when I could offer something of encouragement to someone in a similar situation, a word, a smile, an ear, a touch on the shoulder that reminded them that they have value and weren't alone in their fear and frustration. I can't look to the joy and release of Easter Sunday. Physically I know that the true Easter Sunday is a week and a day away but in terms of personal Easter Sunday resurrections, I'm not at a place where I can even conceive of it much less look forward to it. But that's my problem to deal with. Others have their own.

Did Jesus know he was going to die that week? Did he know what pain and suffering he was going to have to endure, mental, physical and spiritual? Did he anticipate how all this was going to take place? Did he believe that even if he died that he would live again?

Perhaps I'm at just the right place for me to be this upcoming Holy Week. As EfM teaches, we are to apply our lessons and insights to our lives and ministries and I think I've just begun mine. The insight is that no matter what I suffer, Jesus has suffered more. No matter how much fear I face, Jesus faced more of it. No matter how much hope I have that God will make all things right, Jesus had the faith that moved the mountains, not just hope they would move.

I think that this year, even though I won't be actively participating at the local parish, I will be extremely conscious of Holy Week and what it represents. I will walk through it, lurch through it perhaps, with mindfulness and introspection. Thanks be to God.

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