Holy Week 2017
As we begin (continue, really) our Holy Week observances, I turn again to something the late Hans Frei wrote in his, The Identity of Jesus Christ. It is simply one of the best things I have ever read:
“It is one thing to hear or read a story for the first time. It is quite another to have heard it many times before and to trace it through again. It the first case the sense of an ending is in the anticipation; in the second the sense of an ending is siimply our agreement or disagreement that the end is right and proper.
We cannot act as if we did not know the Easter story’s outcome. Try as we might to provide suspense, we cannot elicit surprise about the reversal from grim failure to sublime triumph. We can only recite the story in a way reminding us of what we know: The road to Easter is by way of Good Friday and Christians have always insisted that this is the sequence and the end, and that both sequence and end are fitting and right.”
In sum, we cannot go simply from Palm Sunday’s Hosannas to Easter’s Alleluias. We cannot let our minds move too easily from “victory unto victory.” It is fitting and right, as Jesus descended from the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley–where these days and perhaps even then there were cemeteries and graves (Kidron is quite literally a valley with shadows of death)–we must *go* into this valley with him, and trace the story through to his death, before we again remember his sublime triumph. We have to recite the story in a way that re-minds us of what we know but no longer anticipate.
No, it is not possible to elicit surprise. If, most Sundays, the preacher labors under the difficulty of unfamiliarity–even believers do not well know the scriptures, the contexts, the stories and flow–on Easter the burden is quite the opposite: even unbelievers, who attend only at Easter if at all, well know the basic message to be preached: Jesus is raised from the dead. And nothing much new to say about that, other than how this story’s meaning gives meaning to other stories. Still, it is a challenge: faithful memory in a cluster of ironic dilemmas. Not to mention spring break, the call of the mountains and beach, preachers worried about appointments, and the fact that we know how it all ends: it’s the same story we told last year. And the year before.
Frei says, “…the sense of recall, reenactment and identification in the retelling of this story gains from its association with ritual performance.” Meaning, Lord’s Supper, Footwashing, ritual silence and prayer. Frei says, “The Passion Story and the Lord’s Supper belong together; together they render present the original; each is hobbled when separated from the other.”
Which is why this week we at Hawthorne Lane will take time each day to remember, ritually, the stories of Holy Week, and on Thursday, observe both Footwashing and Lord’s Supper, and on Friday, meditate on the cross as we sing and observe ritual silence. Not to elicit surprise. But to create space, a valley of space, as it were, where our thoughts can follow Jesus into his valley, and to the cross. The road to Easter is by way of Good Friday. It is fit and right that we make this journey with him to his death, in order to celebrate, in a fit and right way, his Resurrection.
Join us: today through Wednesday at noon; Thursday at 6; Friday at 7. We wish you a blessed Holy Week.
– Rev Dr. Tom Steagald