Holy Week is just around the corner, the most dramatic week of the church year. If you love the church and its worship, you do not want to be left in the dust. Arriving at Easter morning on April 9 without the experience of all that leads up to it, starting on Palm Sunday, April 2, is like frosting with no cake–a sweet encounter but without the substance that gives it meaning.
Most of the year in church we sit passively in our chairs or pews, but during Holy Week we become actors in the story. At Grace Lutheran Church this year we are devoting Palm Sunday entirely to a celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem without the Passion narrative that, in modern practice, has come to dominate that day.
Why are we doing this? Because WE are those people hailing the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem. All we know is the joyful procession and the loud acclamations. We have no idea of what lies ahead. “All glory, laud, and honor!” and “Hosanna, loud hosanna!” we will sing, as Jesus enters riding on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah.
On Maundy Thursday (from the Latin “mandatum,” or “command,” referring to the commandment Jesus gives that night to love one other as he loves us), we join the disciples around that table in the Upper Room as Jesus he assumes the role of the servant that prepares him for the ultimate act of servanthood the next day. Allowing our feet to be washed takes us into Peter’s own experience of setting aside his pride and allowing Jesus to wash his feet.
Good Friday, April 7, then brings us the spellbinding passion narrative. We stand at the foot of the cross looking up in disbelief and bitterly lament our participation in Jesus’ death. This day is the high point of the entire church year. What God has done in Christ, for our sake, is nowhere more apparent or visceral than in the Crucified God hanging on the cross.
As we hear this narrative and see it in our imagination, we take Jesus’ suffering and death into our own bodies. Without this experience of Good Friday we cannot fully receive the transporting joy of Easter. Without death there is no resurrection. Jesus was really, truly dead, and he really, truly rose two days later after the utter stillness of Holy Saturday, fully and bodily alive – just as we too will rise on that great day when all the world is reconciled in God’s love.
Welcome, then, the invitation to become the people of Jerusalem during Holy Week as we move through these climactic days of “the greatest story ever told.” Alleluia!
Pastor Nancy Raabe