Every year Brian writes a pastoral letter to the Wine Before Breakfast community at the University of Toronto. In his letter he calls the community to a holy observance of Passion Week. This year the WBB community read Mark’s telling of Holy Week throughout the 40 days of Lent. We’re sharing that letter with the broader Empire Remixed community.
by Brian Walsh
My beloved sisters and brothers in Christ.
For the forty days of Lent we have dwelt with Jesus during Holy Week. For five weeks we have allowed Mark’s gospel to lead us deeply into one week. The week of weeks. The week that is at the heart of our faith. Passion Week.
That week is now upon us. Our Lenten journey has prepared us for this week. It has been an intense Lent for us, but now it gets even more intense.
It is all about bearing witness. Can we bear witness to these horrific events that are at the same time our very salvation? Can we “bear” to bear witness? Have we got that kind of courage, that kind of faithfulness?
This week we are called to bear witness to what Peter couldn’t bear. He couldn’t bear to stay awake in Gethsemane. It was all too much for him. That sleep wasn’t just fatigue. It was a sleep born of spiritual evasion. And the man who slept the sleep of evasion is the man who speaks the words of denial. Evasion and denial are two sides of the same coin. It was all too much for him. And it is too much for us as well.
Yet we are still called to bear witness.
To bear witness to the false witnesses at the mock trial.
To bear witness to the beatings, the derision, the violence.
To bear witness to a crowd crying “Crucify him!” knowing that we are in that crowd.
To bear witness to a crown of thorns, symbol of the brokenness of all creation.
To bear witness to the cry of anguish, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”
To bear witness to the death of God.
To bear witness from a distance, with the women, but not to run away.
But we do not bear witness alone. All of creation bears witness with us.
All of creation mourns at the cross. The light of the world has come into the world, but the world did not accept the light.
And so the sun refuses to shine. Creation marks this death with darkness.
And we are called to bear witness to this darkness.
To bear witness to our own darkness.
To enter into that darkness, the darkness that Jesus embraced … in hope of light.
So my beloved friends, once a year I write a pastoral letter. Once a year I write to the Wine Before Breakfast community and to anyone else who cares to listen a letter inviting us all to observe Holy Week.
I know that there is nothing convenient about observing Holy Week when it happens to coincide with the last week of classes at the University. But death is seldom convenient.
Jesus asked in Gethsemane if this cup could be passed from him. The answer was “No.” This cup was not up for negotiation. The cross and the week that led to the cross was not something that Jesus had much choice in.
So it seems to me to be a little precious for us to act as if Holy Week is something that we have a choice about. If we follow Jesus. If we have accepted his call to discipleship, his call to bear a cross and follow him, then we really have no choice about Holy Week. Observing Holy Week through personal prayer and biblical meditation, and through participation in the liturgies of the week is something that we should receive as a profound spiritual obligation and discipline.
I encourage you then, sisters and brothers, spend time reading the passion narratives in the four gospels this week. Read them and read them again. Pray your way through this story. And find your place in the story. Find your voice saying:
…“I do not know him.”
………“If you are the King of the Jews, then come down and save yourself!”
And perhaps you will find yourself also saying, with the voice of the executioner, the Centurion:
“Truly this was God’s son.”
Go to church, my friends. Go to church. If you have never observed the discipline of keeping the three great days of this week – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter Saturday – then I encourage you to do so. It could very well change your life.
And come to Wine Before Breakfast on Tuesday morning. Come and be immersed in the story. Enter into the story like entering the waters of baptism. It is a story of death, and we come to die with Christ. Only in so doing might we rise with him.
In the name of the Crucified One. Amen.