Pastoral Letter for Holy Week: Prayers, Tears, Funerals and Feasts

Sisters and brothers:

Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you hoped they would.

Sometimes the story takes a turn that you had neither expected,
nor welcomed.

Sometimes it all goes so terribly, terribly wrong.

Sometimes the story comes crashing down
and hits a dead end.

Literally.

Things die.

Relationships
Hopes
Dreams
Innocence
Careers

And … people.

Some people, like my mother, died this year
as the natural ending of their story,
with all the ambiguity, joy and heartbreak of that story.

And others … well too many had their story cut off
before anything like a natural ending.

Just ask Joanna Moon about what it has been like
ministering in the Dale for the last year.

Just ask Simon or Erin or anyone else from Sanctuary
about life stories being cut tragically short.

Ask anyone who has lost someone much too early.
Ask any of us who marked the first anniversary of Iggy’s death last week.
Ask the young people taking their own lives on reserves across this country.
Ask the folks of La Loche.
Ask any of us who knew and loved Adam Wood.

So what do you do when the story has gone all wrong?

Well, you could run and hide.

And I tell you, my friends, that I understand that desire to escape
better this year than I have ever before in my life.

Denial, fear and escape.

These are the dynamics of Holy Week.

And, as I just said, I get it.

The story came crashing down around them,
as it has come crashing down around so many of us this year.

This was not how it was supposed to play out.
This was not what any of them anticipated,
even though Jesus was clear about the script for this story, this drama.

I don’t know, maybe the women were braver,
maybe they could see where it was all going,
maybe their love was just deeper,
maybe they’d had deeper experiences with broken stories.
but for some reason, they stayed.

At the moment, I confess that I’m more with the men.
(No surprise there!)

And I find it more difficult this year, than in any other year,
to enter into Holy Week with my eyes wide open.

So you can imagine that writing my annual pastoral letter for Holy Week
is more difficult for me this year.

But if I were to run, where would I go?
How would I actually pull off such a denial of it all?

Would I self-medicate myself into a numbed out oblivion?
Would I just try to ignore it all?
Throw myself into my work, as if it wasn’t Holy Week?
Try to sleep the whole week away? (Now there is a temptation.)

Or … here’s an option … do the Holy Week thing,
go to all the services,
and let the liturgies either numb me further,
or at least allow me to put on a pious front
for myself and others.

No.

Such denials, such forms of escapism,
such distractions, pious or otherwise,
would only intensify the pain, the loss, the hurt.

I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in this, dear friends.

Last week I was at Sanctuary with my “Beyond Homelessness” class.
We were talking with Sanctuary old-timer Patrick Sullivan,
and I asked him how he deals with so many deaths in his community.

“Prayer,” he said. “And a lot of tears.”

Then he said something about funerals and feasts.

You can’t deal with so many broken stories without prayer and tears.
And you can’t deal with so many deaths without funerals and feasts.

Prayer, tears, funerals and feasts is how we don’t run away,
how we don’t seek escape,
but enter into these tragic stories
in grief and hope.

Prayer, tears, funerals and feasts.

That’s what Holy Week is all about.

But maybe you are too exhausted to pray.
Maybe your tears are all spent.
Maybe there have been too damn many funerals.
And maybe you’ve just lost your appetite.

But, sisters and brothers, ,
escape, denial and distraction
are the way of death.
They will only deepen the tragedy.

The story is opened up anew,
my story, Iggy’s story,
your story, Adam’s story,
Jesus’ story, the story of the world,
only through prayer, tears, funerals and feasts.

So as your brother and your pastor,
I call you, as I call myself,
to enter the story,
spend this week in prayer,
allow your tears to flow,
go to the funeral,
and then feast the hell out of it all.

Live in the story.
Read the gospels for this week over and over.

Come together for prayer as often as you can:
tomorrow for Palm Sunday,
on Tuesday at Wine Before Breakfast,
in the darkness of Maundy Thursday,
in the brutality of Good Friday,
and then from the grave to resurrection
at the Great Vigil on Saturday night or on Easter morning.

Go to your church.
Go to a neighbouring church.
Go with Deb to Church on Tap (Christ Church, Deer Park) on Friday evening.

Friends there are a lot of broken stories in our community.

I don’t offer Holy Week observance as a quick fix for any of our broken stories.

Holy Week won’t magically heal a broken heart,
bring renewal to a struggling relationship
provide resolution in the midst of a crisis,
or bring peace and faith in the face of confusion and doubt.

But my hunch is that such renewal, resolution, peace and faith
will not be found apart from entering the story of Holy Week.

In the solidarity of grief and in the hope of resurrection,

Brian

Campus Pastor

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

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