Holy Week

The weather can change in a moment. Until last Friday, 2009 had been bitterly cold here in the Pacific Northwest. Snow fell as late as Wednesday the 1st. Memories of last summer, a cold affair that gained the nickname “June-uary” abounded. Friday morning started the same – temperature hovering around the freezing point, a cold rain drizzling… but then it all changed. At about noon, the sun came out. Now the sun had been out before, but it was a cold and distant sun. This sun was warm and inviting. I knew then that spring had come.

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day, and Sunday and Monday were even better. Who knows how long it will last, but I appreciate it while it is here. This is more like it, you know? A cloudless sky, bright sunlight filtering through green boughs. I have wondered lately if I’m vitamin-D sensitive – when the sun is out, I am happier than otherwise.

My favorite memories of Easter and Holy Week involve sunshine and blooming flowers. The church I grew up in spent several years constructing its new building and for a while it was not inhabitable. Yet each Easter morn we would gather in the half-constructed building, surrounded by sunshine and flowers. There was still a sense of ancient tradition amongst the modern trappings.

The American Easter is about chocolates, rabbits, and brightly-colored eggs. Even the modern evangelical churches have these things in abundance. Buried are the staid Holy Week traditions of the past – Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday itself. Many people still partake in the ancient traditions but they are not in my circles. It seems these traditions are regarded as legalistic relics and meaningless papist motions.

You know something, though? Eggs and rabbits may be used to illustrate some gospel truth, but it is the Holy Week traditions that point directly to the gospel – the central truth of all human history. Ashes and sackcloth, palm branches and Lenten fasts, these are all undertaken in order to remember Christ’s death and resurrection.

In my Awana group of elementary students I have been speaking through the Gospel according to St. Mark. I find it interesting that Mark spends half the book on the final week of Jesus’ life in Jerusalem. At a pace of one chapter per week, I am able to meditate on the events of that week somewhat closely. Each moment has a sense of impending doom, the feeling that it is all leading to one important climax. And what an event – the death of Jesus Christ and His subsequent return from the dead is the most important event in all history. It changed everything.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the center of the Christian life. Like spokes on a wheel, everything radiates outward from it. It is especially important during this week as we set aside everything else to remember how Christ died, and why He died. We remember the praises from the crowd, waving and laying palm branches, as Jesus entered Jerusalem. We remember the parable of the vineyard, where the tenants murdered the messengers of the owner, until they killed his own son. We remember Christ’s righteous anger at the greedy scammers in the temple, His house of prayer. We remember the last supper, the bread and the wine, the prayer in Gethsemane, the betrayal, Peter’s denial, the trials before Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, and finally the crucifixion itself. We feel the bitter hopelessness of Friday night, and the exuberant joy of Sunday morning.

Without ritual, we forget. Without reminders, we will not remember why we have hope. It’s more than just a pretty word.

Christ is risen. Truly He is risen indeed.

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