Today Holy week begins. When I worked full time in a church, it always meant the beginning of a mountain of work and activity as we journeyed through various worship services service heading toward the marathon of Easter Sunday. We set the worship schedule to appeal to everyone’s scheduling needs, expectations and preferred styles, ending up with as many as 12-16 worship services that week.
Family events always coincide with religious holidays so it meant weaving those celebrations into and around my work. Our kids never seemed to question why their Easter bunny always showed up on Saturday night when they were bathing or showering. I guess they never connected the dots that the Saturday night Easter bunny had anything to do with their mom always leaving for work before sunrise on Easter.
When our daughter was two, her dad brought her to the church nursery dressed in her new Easter dress which was an adorable sailor dress complete with a cute little hat. No one there seemed upset by the fact that her dress was on 100% backwards because mom wasn’t there to oversee. I’ll never forget picking her up that Easter after all the worship service asking the nursery workers if she’d been dressed like that all morning. I can still see their sympathetic smiles and nods.
All that to say, Holy Week is different for me now. I have more time to reflect, read and pray my way through that week in the life of Jesus.
Now, I’m able to see more clearly the wild and intense happenings of that week. I think I’d missed all that before in my Holy week busyness.
It starts with a strange parade on Palm Sunday. Last Palm Sunday, I was a guest preacher at a church I used to serve. It was the early strange days of the pandemic. No people were present. I preached to an empty sanctuary and it was recorded. I remember taking my disinfectant wipes, my sermon and my Bible to the filming.
It was strange last year and it is strange now to view Holy Week through pandemic eyes. Jesus rides into town on a donkey, humble and yet a king, with a hosanna, palm leaf celebration happening but underneath it all kinds of undercurrents, anger, rumblings going on. I’ve always imagined he could feel it all and he knew what was ahead of him at some level. To me it feels like our lives now, looking okay on the outside but still filled with feeling, fear, unknown rumblings from all around us.
I noticed last year for the first time at all the frantic teaching Jesus did leading up to Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday when he has the last supper and is betrayed by Judas. In those days few he teaches about God’s love, how to pray, about forgiveness, about children. He tells the rich young ruler to sell everything. He talks about justice and his own death. One mom dares to ask him if her sons can sit on his right and his left in heaven. She reminds me of some of the people I see now, only out for themselves in these shaky times.
After Palm Sunday, Jesus overturns the tables in the temple and shows real anger. He curses a fig tree. His authority gets challenged. He tells us God’s kingdom is not what we think. It is like he knows he needs to get as many words in as possible before the week ends. It is like he’s doing it all while managing his own roller coaster emotions.
When you really read it, what it feels like in that Holy week is that everything is unraveling. Everything is shifting. Writer and theologian Kathleen Norris, says, the Palm Sunday parade quickly turns to suffering, reminding us that the world can turn on a dime. Praise can turn to lament…that fast. (God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter)
We’ve lived these past months with the truth of Norris’ words. We’ve seen life shift, not just with sudden pandemic shutdowns last spring but with shortages of basic supplies and food, blows to our economy, schools closing, churches closing…a heart wrenching summer of protests followed by the strangest election season ever. In Texas we felt life shift again when those winter storms hit us so hard only two months ago. Suddenly, again, life shifted and we were trying to survive, literally, and were worried about everyone we love.
We know what it is like to have waves of events change the tone of our days, suddenly and strangely. In the past weeks it has been the rise of senseless shootings all around us that have left us with a shaken sense of security, an awareness that life is fleeting and fragile, and yes, turns on a dime.
When we really focus on all of Holy week, the emotion, the ups and downs, the turmoil and the celebration, we can identify can’t we? It feels familiar.
So what do we do as we begin this walk through Holy week 2021? Are you going to be busy and distracted by a thousand things? Are you just going to focus on Easter, the clothes, the celebrations because that feels happier or easier?
What if we do something different this year, for our own healing? What if we keep our eyes on Jesus, minute by minute, day by day this week? What if we read the Holy week scriptures and pay attention to what Jesus actually said, what he felt, what he did? He models for us how to walk through crisis times. He models for us all the emotions. He teaches. He explains. He is angry. He is sad. He is on his face in prayer. He breaks bread and washes feet. He feels betrayed by his friends. He cries out to God. He releases himself into God’s hands. He dies. He emerges, changed. Wow.
It is Holy week, a messy, emotional, roller coaster of a week. Christians consider scripture to be the living Word of God, meaning it can speak to us now, in real time, where we are. For our healing, for learning how to move forward in chaotic times, what if we embrace the whole Holy week as it really was? Eyes on Jesus.
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, breast cancer survivor and Mosa to Keller, Pace and River. Go to http://www.drcindyryanblog.com to read more blogs, see her upcoming speaking events, learn about the Jesus Calling Weekly Prayer Call she co-hosts on Tuesday mornings at 7 a.m. CST or to sign up for the Inner Circle monthly email from Cindy. Sign up by March 31 to receive her Top Ten List for April 2021.