I have struggled to write this post during the last week or so. How do you write about Holy Week?! It is the most poignant, rich, dark, and important week in the church calendar.
I am writing a separate post for Easter, so this one is not the happy, miraculous, awe-some part of the story. This is the hard, painful, heart-wrenching, confusing, and uncomfortable part. I don’t do so well with those emotions.
This is the week we are invited to partake in and live through the passion narrative of Christ. The preparation, uncovering, and re-orienting of Lent is nearly over, but it is not yet time for feasting. It is the time to sink deeply into this part of Christ’s story—and our story.
This is where we connect to betrayal, abandonment, denial, abuse, pain, fear, oppression, and even death. We are called to see in this week the deep harm that we do to each other and ourselves. We are both victim and perpetrator of the darkness.
I so want to just skip right on to Easter—to life and salvation and the Kingdom of God. But it is important for us to take a good look at the darkness that comes before the light. We need the betrayal of Thursday, the pain of Friday, and the grief of Saturday before we can truly celebrate the joy of Sunday. Like a good Protestant, I like seeing the cross without Jesus on it. But the truth is, he was there. That did happen. The tomb was not always empty.
This week, before Easter ushers us into a whole new season, we need to pause in the gathering darkness. Sink into the pain—not just of Christ’s story, but your own. Consider where you have been betrayed and where you have betrayed others. Enter the pain of Jesus on cross—denied and accused by the very ones he sought to love. Join with the disciples in the grief over Christ’s death, and also find your own places of grief and where you feel abandoned by God.
These parts of the story of God matter. These parts of our own stories matter.
As we make our pilgrimage through life and through the liturgical year, allow yourself to experience the pain of a world that isn’t perfect, of people that are broken, of a journey that is not yet complete. During Holy Week we are charged to experience suffering without explanation or understanding, to step into grief without solace, and learn to here God’s song in the darkness. It is a week of thorns and of flowers, of hope and of despair, of the darkness and depth of the human spirit, and of the boundless and inexplicable presence and promise of God.
Don’t busily glide through this week anticipating Sunday’s celebration. Slow down, sink in, and take a good look at the darkness that precedes Sunday’s joy. This week’s story matters profoundly; don’t just skim to the good parts.
What happens amidst the darkness is what gives meaning, value, and context to the light.
IDEAS FOR PRACTICES
1. Attend a Holy Week service
Certainly many of you are aware of the multiple community gatherings to commemorate the different events of this week: Maundy Thursday services, Good Friday Mass, Easter Vigil. If you haven’t attended one of these before, I’d suggest finding one and being in community with others to celebrate the different parts of this week. (A liturgical church is a good place to start, such as a Catholic church or an Episcopalian/Anglican church.) If you typically don’t attend a specific church, this is a good week to find some community to draw close to.
2. Take some time for silence
Saturday is a day of silence, fear, dread, and grief. Christ has died and is in the tomb. Where are the places in your own life where you need to sink into a day of grief, fear, and hopelessness? Let these emotions have some space in your life.
One way to sink deeper into Holy Saturday is to find a church that offers the Stations of the Cross to be used for personal meditation. Many Catholic churches do this. Walk through this sequence sometime this week to really sink into the passion story.
3. Move slowly
This is the most poignant week in the liturgical calendar. It is vastly rich. Don’t let the week speed by with busyness and stress like any other week. Be intentional about slowing down and moving through all the richness of meaning that this week offers. Cut some time out of your week to reflect, to journal, or just to breathe.
What does this week bring up for you? How will you sink into the pain and grief and death of Holy Week before moving to the joy of resurrection and Easter?
PS: Download last year’s Holy Week Guide—filled with readings, songs, reflections, and prayers—for FREE here.