As we walked out from the moving Maundy Thursday service (remembering the night in which Jesus was betrayed and met with his disciples for their last supper) he remarked, “All in all, I like Christmas Eve better.” Well, yeah. He’s not alone in that. It’s one reason attendance at Christmas Eve services is exponentially larger than Maundy Thursday. Joy and birth. Pain, suffering and betrayal. Which do you choose?
I kidded with someone else that I was a Holy Week junkie. I’ll be at every service I can possibly make. While I love Christmas Eve, I have to have Holy Week.
I missed Palm Sunday because I was away staffing a Life, Loss and Healing workshop. It’s one of those places where healing waters intermix with rivers of pain. In my line of work, I hear a lot of stories. I’ve lived a lot of stories, as most of us do sooner or later. While details may be wildly different, sooner or later most of us find ourselves in a place we’d give our right arm not to be. Standing by a bedside in Hospice. Getting a phone call. Signing the divorce papers. Cleaning out our office. Getting the call from the doctor saying we’ve got the test results back and we need to talk. Or realizing the childhood you thought was normal was nothing of the sort.
Journeying through Holy Week is the only was I can make sense of such stories. Not because we’re given some grand explanation that makes it all make sense. I am convinced that some of it never will. Not on this side and maybe not even on the other.
Here’s the difference. The journey through Holy Week reminds me that we don’t have a God who just pats us on the head and says, “I know how you feel.” We have a God who, in Jesus, became flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He lived the pain of having friends let him down when he needed them the most, friends who betrayed him by their actions and their silence. He lived being bullied, made fun of and spat upon. He knew what it was to be abused, his pain entertainment for those around him. He knew what it was to be the victim of unjust manipulation and schemes. He knew, because flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, he lived it with us. In the end, bleeding, with lips dry and cracking wide open, struggling to find his last breath, struggling to see past the increasing darkness, he looks down on us to say, “My dear friends… my beloved brothers and sisters… I know how you feel.”
No matter the stories I hear and hold and live, I know that in the end I am not alone with them. Because this God made flesh in Jesus carved out a space for them in the pain and the grace and the suffering and the life of his own heart.
And that is cause enough for rejoicing, even a muted Good Friday kind of joy.