March 27, 2013

Playback: Normal

Two extra church services this week, Thursday and Friday evenings. Frankly, it can be a chore to work these nightly interruptions in to a busy weekly routine, especially if worship tends to feel more like an obligatory act than a spiritual privilege. Even so, in this week of weeks, our annual Holy Week, I urge you to take time to dwell with others in the communion meal on Thursday and to sit with others before Jesus’ stunning sacrifice on Friday.

To be sure, we share in communion and ponder Jesus’ death in many a Sunday morning service. It’s not as though this is your one shot. But one of the under-appreciated gifts of Holy Week is that we get to experience Jesus’ passion in real time. The events of last supper, passion, burial, and resurrection are uncompressed from a normal Sunday morning summary and are presented to us at their normal speed: day by blessed day, one saving event at a time. No one I know has expressed the importance of this uncompressed playback better than Alan Lewis. Reflecting on the mystery and blessing of an annual Christian holy week, especially the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday cycle, Lewis writes:

Christian faith simply would not be, did it not hear, believe, and tell what once took place between the sixth day of one week and the first of that which followed. What keeps the heart of the Christian church beating, and its blood circulating, if not the story of those days, so endlessly rehearsed, with such infinite variety and such steadfast unalterableness? Sketched out by the very first preachers, subjected to profound reflection by the apostles, extended and elaborated four different ways by the evangelists, later reduced again to apothegms by the drafters of countless creeds and confessions, the story of Christ crucified, buried, and risen continues even now to be told and acted out, year by year and week by week. The worship of every Sunday is a fleshed-out echo of what Christians have heard happened that third day, that first day of the week. Likewise the church’s hymns, when thoughtful, and her preaching, when faithful, reannounce the first proclamation of death’s death and sin’s atonement. Each act of baptism dramatizes the dying and rising again of the Savior as well as that of those he died and lives to save; and in every celebration of communion the same story is presented and re-presented with particular intensity and unique effect, red wine refocusing the savagery of execution on Golgotha and the breaking of bread re-releasing the astonished cries of recognition in Emmaus.

Since none of these retellings of the story can be anything but symbolic and abbreviated, the Christian family takes time once a year to replay the events at their original speed — to experience for themselves the somber, then joyous, sequence, moment by moment. Through a few hours of worship and many of ordinary life, they relive annually the growing tensions of the climactic week; the grieving farewells, shameful betrayal, guilty denial, and agonizing fear of the night before the end; the long, dark, deadly day of pain and forsakenness itself; an ecstatic daybreak of miracle and color, song and newborn life; and in between one eerie, restless day of burial and waiting perhaps for nothing: a day which forces us to speak of hell and to conceive how it might be that God’s own Son, and therefore God’s own self, lay dead and cold within a sepulcher.

Such is faith's story, which we are invited now to hear freshly as if for the first time; to think about with the widest stretching of our minds and our imaginations; and to make our own, as the key to learning how to live and even how to die.

-- Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday by Alan E. Lewis

Indeed, we learn together. As such, I hope to see you on Thursday and Friday, no less so than on Easter Sunday. And may the good hope of the coming resurrection bless and bolster your life’s ministry in the here and now.