Holy Week: A Meditation on Death

Next week is Holy Week, the culmination of Lent and the gateway to Eastertide.  During Holy Week, we remember the last week of Jesus’ life and the death that has come to mean so much.  Growing up in a prosperous Southern Baptist church, we didn’t do Holy Week, or even Lent, for that matter.  We talked about Palm Sunday, but the gist of those sermons was how wrong the Catholics were and how wrong the Jews were before them.

They were wrong, we were told, because they focused on Jesus’ death.  The Jews failed to understand that Jesus was primarily concerned about the afterlife, so they thought that his death was a defeat.  They sought an earthly king instead of a heavenly one.  The Catholics got that part, but still paid too much attention to Jesus’ death.  We were regularly reminded that there was a reason our crosses were empty.  Oh, what we missed.

You don’t just get to have Easter.  As the story of Lazarus reminded us last week, we must die before we can live again.  It is painful.  Nothing can make up for that sense of loss.  We never simply accept it or move on.  It must be named and grieved and we must allow it to become a part of us.  Loss becomes a persistent memory that is shaped and molded to give meaning to whatever comes next.  That’s why we have Holy Week.

Jesus’ death was the great loss of the movement he began, the movement that eventually became our Christian faith.  Over the last 2000 years, we have defined that defining event in various ways based on our current experience: a model of martyrdom; a sacrifice of atonement that frames our judgment; a wise teacher and provocateur that was executed too soon.  But at the heart of all of our meaning-making is death.

Jesus moved boldly toward that death.  When he came to Jerusalem, he provoked the powers.  He marched into town with a parade of peasants.  He attacked the merchants in the temple.  He embarrassed and exposed the religious authorities.  After the provocations, he retreated with his closest friends to say goodbye.  He told them he loved them and asked that they remember him.  He prayed to God, to find his final resolve and then he surrendered himself to the inevitable.

Jesus died well.  Jesus died for a reason.  Jesus set things in order before he went.  Jesus made sure that the things he lived for continued after he was gone.  Dying well means living well.  It means living in such a way that new life is possible, even after we are gone.  In Holy Week, we remember how to die well, to rehearse grief and loss, and to make it meaningful for us today.  Without that, there can never be new life.

Please join us throughout Holy Week.  We begin Sunday morning, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, for Palm Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  On Thursday, there will be a Maundy Thursday service and meal at the Shirleys’, 221 S. Edgefield Ave. at 7pm, commemorating the Last Supper.  For Good Friday, we take the show on the road with DART Stations of the Cross, a moving meditation on the intersection of the Passion and contemporary life.  We will be handing out prayer cards between 5pm and 7pm at Mockingbird Station.  On Saturday, we recommend viewing Southern Baptist Sissies, a film of a play about four young gay men growing up in the Southern Baptist Church, showing at 2:30pm on Saturday the 19th.  There will be a Q&A with the director following.  Finally, on Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection in our Easter Sunday service with a picnic potluck in the park following.  It would be wonderful to see you at some or all of these events.  Truly.

Grace & Peace,

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