For the last ten years I’ve been very involved in Holy Week worship services, most often leading those services, always enjoying them, but not this year. For the first time in a long time my job is keeping me from being in services this week. So, no Good Friday and no Maundy Thursday services for me. No symbolic foot washing for me this year, but is that such a bad thing?
Jesus did say, “you also should do as I have done” not “Wouldn’t this make a great annual symbol of serving?” Even as I’m disappointed this year that work is keeping me from so many of the worship services I love, service has no end. Today at work, I can serve. I can go beyond expectations and set the bar higher and higher for helping and caring for people. I can work like I’m in worship.
If the story of Holy Week and the sacrificial love and action of Jesus are to be transformational, then it must leave the pages of scripture and take root to grow in our lives. It must become our story, not just our calendar or our symbolic remembrance. Let’s go into this day, all days, wherever we work, doing our job like we’re in worship.
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you…
33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
from John 13, NRSV
And if you haven’t seen it, here’s the
Easter message from our Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
I love his quote, “Don’t be ashamed to be people of love.”
This morning I noticed that our daffodils don’t realize it’s still Holy Saturday, they must think it’s already Easter morning! And it got me thinking about Holy Saturday, about waiting, and about the goodness of human beings.
I probably should have blogged about Good Friday yesterday, but it was a full day of work getting things prepared at Church in Bethesda for the evening pilgrimage, and we also ran the boys over to Baltimore for lunch at the nearest Sonic Drive-Through… mmmmm, a family favorite!
We did host the pilgrimage, and Jesus is still in the tomb in our sanctuary. The following is the passage we read at the tomb last night…
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
I didn’t grow up with Good Friday or Holy Saturday. In fact we didn’t have a Holy Week at all and I remember preachers making a clear point to us that Easter was not a “religious” holiday for us, but only a “secular” fun day. After all, we celebrated the death, burial and resurrection every Sunday! We didn’t need these kinds of holidays. So there.
But more than anything else, I think we feared death. We feared an impression of defeat. We feared a hint of weakness to our cause. I don’t think we were brave enough or strong enough to talk of the death of Jesus without immediately moving right to the resurrection. The church of my youth rejected things like crucifixes, because “Jesus is no longer on the cross!”
Really, I can’t recall hearing a sermon on the death without an exhortation to look to the resurrection. Without a Holy Week tradition that included a Good Friday service, I was never told that “Jesus has been killed, now go home and pray and wait.” Today, I struggle every year to place his “body” in our makeshift tomb in the corner of the Sanctuary. Kneeling beside a weeping pilgrim last night I had trouble praying the usual prayers.
Good Friday is such a beautiful time to hit the pressure valve that has been wound so tight throughout the last year. Let it out, drop some defenses, be human. Jesus was human, human enough to die. The people standing at the cross were human, human enough to jeer and laugh, to weep and cry out, to be afraid, to be proud, and to be humbled. And Joseph was human enough to want Jesus’ body to be in a tomb, not disgracefully hanging in the open. The women were human enough to go home and prepare burial spices, working right up to the start of the Sabbath, then resting and waiting. Holy Saturday is a time to rest in that deflated, relaxed and waiting place.
Dang, have you ever thought how hard it was for those women to sit through Saturday looking at the spices they had prepared, imagining the body of their beloved languishing without the tender attention of their care? And yet God says, “Wait. Rest.”
Today, as I wait on Saturday for the coming morning, as I wait for the right time to get that “body” out of our Sanctuary and replace black cloth with bright white, as I rest from yesterday’s long day of work, I love that man and those women who cared for my Lord so long ago, so preciously.
I look around Starbucks where I’m writing, and I love the people I see all around me. They are diverse, loud and beautiful. They are precious. They are human like Jesus was human, human like the man and women were human, and human like I am human. Thank you, Lord, for reminding me, for making me stop and rest and wait and see.
Most days in my later life I have taken wearing a crucifix under my shirt, laying against my chest, or maybe carried in a pocket of my jeans or backpack. It’s usually near enough to touch and hold. Because Jesus is still on the cross? Of course not. Because he was human, and I am human, and I find some deep comfort and hope in that? You bet. I look at the pain, love, sacrifice and humanity of the crucifix and it helps me look with love on the people around me.
I’ve decided it’s ok for my daffodils to bloom and shine today. I look at these flowers and I think of the women watching their fragrant spices throughout the day. I will watch with them and wait with them. I will love them. And when the morning comes, I’ll go to the tomb to give what I can to Jesus.
Seven or so years ago I stated my journey with tattoos. I had a nail tattooed on one wrist, and then my dear friend (and then boss as well as newly minted author) Suzanne Castle graciously gifted me with the other wrist nail. I wanted these tattoos to mark that Easter Season and the meaning that Christ has held in my pilgrimage through life.
This week as I work on Good Friday devotional ideas and prepare for Easter Sunday, I am stuck not by the violence of what was done to Jesus, but by what a repudiation of the violence the events represent for students of Jesus.
Beginning in the garden when Jesus heals the servant whose ear is struck off in his defense, our Lord lays the foundation for a different way to do life…
Luke 22:49-51 “When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”
Wow, can you see Jesus in your mind’s eye, hands raised and eyes wide, motioning his friends to a halt, “No more of this!” No more of this! Striking with the sword was not the answer. Striking back was not the way.
Later, on trial for his very life, Jesus will again repudiate violence as he speaks to Governor Pilate. His assures the Governor that his followers will not violently storm any chambers or raise weapons in his defense or to overthrow any authority, for that is not his kind of kingdom.
John 18:33-36 “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’ ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’ Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’”
These passages have caused me to stop and reflect on the exquisite repudiation of violence that exists in the violence to be done to Jesus. That God would enter into life to bear the burden of such violence to open our eyes, to soften our hearts, to change our way, gives me pause and humbles my “wisdom” I am tempted to think I have collected.
I look at the nails tattooed on my wrists and I think that I have tended to meditate selfishly on what they mean, that I am the recipient of such love. Today I am moved to meditate on the awesome burden of love that I am live, instead of the violence that so often inhabits my thoughts, my mind and my heart.
I’m not sure I will ever be worthy of such audacious marks as these inked nails; most days I know that I fall so painfully short. As I’ve been thinking of a new tattoo for this Easter Season, I feel the need to double down on what it’s all about… maybe I read too much news, but it seems that from battlefield torture to Middle America’s children raping children, to living in ignorance of the plight of my poorest neighbor, the world needs a change of pace, a new way.