Today, as I pondered this Holy Week, my thoughts found their way back to before I was Presbyterian. As most of you know I was raised Baptist. For the most part the kind of Baptist Church I grew up in was pretty conservative Southern Baptist. However, my family was not. My grandfather was a Baptist minister in the 1920s, 30, and early 40s. He was very progressive, especially in the area of race relations, and it caused him some difficulty as he pastored in Virginia and the Carolinas.
But even as the Gladding family was on a more progressive side, Baptists did not follow the liturgical calendar and Holy Week was not observed. Instead we had Palm Sunday followed by Spring Revival and then Easter Sunday. For me this meant two really good Sundays with joyful singing and preaching about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and then the Resurrection. The week between the two Sundays was full of guilt, getting saved, rededicating your life, and plenty of hymns about the blood on Calvary, including endless verses of “Just As I Am” each night. Going to church whenever the doors were open was what we did. So I sat on the back row and held on to the pew with all my might during these hymns. I never walked the aisle to the chagrin of my pastor who served for 25 years. Thankfully, the Southern Baptists left me 37 years ago and I found a home in the reformed faith of Presbyterianism.
A central part of my faith is found in this important week we are now in the midst of. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday the throngs of followers began to disappear from following Jesus as the authorities of the church were antagonized by Jesus actions and plotted against him, leading to Judas’ betrayal. There are community services in many areas observing the particular happenings during the Holy Week of 33AD. Although these may not always be well attended, it is my hope and belief that there are those who do faithfully follow our lectionary readings as they prepare for Easter.
So here we are at Thursday in Holy Week 2016. Tonight we will have services across our Savannah Presbytery and across Christendom observing Maundy Thursday. We will see Jesus betrayed, arrested, denied, and abandoned by even those closest to him. We will see him beaten, mocked, tried, and unjustly convicted. We are lead to think that we are also complicit in his sentence of crucifixion, as were those in the crowd that day who yelled for this sentence.
Tomorrow, Jesus will die again. In the darkness of Good Friday he will breathe his last as he says “Forgive them.” His dead body will be placed in a tomb and sealed. Saturday will be spent in grief and wondering what will the future hold.
So why do we put ourselves through this? What is different about this way of looking at Jesus than the Spring Revival of my boyhood where we were pressured to unburden ourselves by coming to Jesus? My friends, I believe the difference is this. During Holy Week we observe the fully human Jesus, who had “set his face toward Jerusalem.” He knew why he was here in this world and what his mission was. He wished it might not be so, but he was “obedient unto death – even death on a cross.” We did not come to Jesus, Jesus came to us! Jesus unburdened us and so Sunday, Easter morning we will celebrate the Resurrection and the new life we are given. Thanks be to God for this amazing grace.
So as we continue this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week 2016 let us stay with these events, as if we do not know the outcome. For without these days there would be no Resurrection!