Walking into the Mystery of this Holy Week
My son, Zach, just celebrated his birthday. My kids good-naturedly make fun of me because every year, on their birthdays, I get out the photo album from when they were born, and we look at it together, they to humor me, me to remember. My son, my first child, was born on the Wednesday of Holy Week.
That year Holy Week took on a whole new meaning for me. There were some minor complications during his birth, enough to make me realize that even in our modern medically and technologically sophisticated world, the veil between death and life is still very thin, very flimsy. Once in the midst of the process of death or of birth, there is no turning back. You simply must surrender yourself to the mystery of what is happening to you, in you, and through you. You do not know if the end result will be death or life, but you do your part, resigned to the fact that something bigger is going on, and will happen whether you resist or yield. So, I yielded, surrendered, opened myself to that something bigger, come what may.
I see this same process happening when I am with people at the time of their death. My father, who died a little over a year ago, said resolutely, “Well, let’s hope this is it.” He set his jaw on that stoic Swedish face of his, and knowingly walked into the mystery of his own death. I hope I die like that.
This week is the week that Christians all around the world call Holy Week. At our church we try not to do much else during this week, except focus solely on walking straight into the heart of the mystery of our faith: death, and then…new and resurrected Life. In the gospels they say that Jesus set his jaw, set his face, and walked the Road to Jerusalem, into the mystery of his death on the cross.
Growing up in a Christian family, I somehow always thought that Jesus knew the outcome, that he knew somehow that the end result would not be the finality of death, but of resurrection. Then about ten years ago I read a wonderful book, which I have used in many classes, called Consider Jesus: New Waves of Christology, by the Roman Catholic Theologian, Elizabeth Johnson. In this book she opened me to a new possibility: that Jesus, as fully human as well as fully divine, did not know the end of the story when he surrendered himself to death. Like all of us, in our humanness, his sight was limited. He only realized what resurrection meant after he surrendered himself completely to death.
Easter morning was a surprise for him as well as for his disciples! For me, this heightens the story, intensifies it. I am always struck deeply by his prayer to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Thursday night of his arrest, the day before the cross: “Oh God, if it is possible, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine, be done.” Resistance, then yielding, opening himself to the something bigger, come what may.
Over the years, I have grown to deeply love Holy Week. I love it because we do not just read or hear about Jesus’ death and resurrection. No, we walk it. We follow the Way of the Cross. We begin with Palm Sunday, Jesus’ joyful, triumphant entry into the holy city of Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday we share a Seder Meal together with our friends from the local synagogue. After our Passover celebration, we go up into the church, and recall the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. On Friday we Walk the Way of the Cross, a Good Friday Stations of the Cross Walk through our town of East Greenwich, stopping at places of human suffering/Christ still being crucified today. Then on Holy Saturday, during our Easter Vigil, we “pass over” with Christ from death to new life.
I love Holy Week because the older I get, the more I realize that it speaks to us about the Road of this human life. Each of our lives is filled with joys and loves, beauty and blessing, celebrations and triumphs. Each of our lives is also filled with struggles and hardships, grief and loss, suffering and death. There are so many things in this life which we do not understand. There are things we resist valiantly. There are things to which we learn to yield, trusting somehow, that which is beyond our understanding, but speaks to our lived experiences, our many little deaths over the course of our lives, that lead to this moment, this ultimate yielding.
Shortly before my son was born I read a poem in McCalls Magazine, by a woman named Leslie Garcia. This is remarkable because I never read magazines. This poem affected me so deeply that I have it committed to memory, all these years later:
The day you were born
I cannot remember
whether the sun was shining
or rain slashed across the sky
confused by pain and doubt
But this I know
that I held you, gazed at you for hours
Felt the warmth assault me
Until I was not sure
Which of us
Had just been born.
This Holy Week, may the death of Christ mark your death to your old self, to those things in your life to which you need to die. This Holy Week, may the resurrection of Christ mark your rising to new and resurrected Life with Christ.
Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright March 31, 2015
Photos: Paschal Candle, Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, Abiquiu, NM; Linda about to give birth, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, 1986; Linda, birth pangs, 1986; Dad and Mom at Ted’s and my wedding, July 30, 2006; the Road to Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, Abiquiu, NM; Trees before sunrise, Casa del Sol, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; sunrise, Casa del Sol; flowers growing in rocks, Glacier National Park; Stations of the Cross Walk, Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery; Zach and Linda, newly born; Flowers, Glacier National Park