Holy Week and Bitter Tears: A Pastoral Letter


The tears were so bitter.

“No, Daddy, no.
Stop reading.
Go to the next chapter.”

She was inconsolable.
This was more than her six year old heart could bear.

The tears were welling up in my own eyes.
Couldn’t I just spare her this?
Couldn’t I just skip over
this turn in the story?
Wasn’t it my responsibility as her father to shield her?

But how did she know that things would
somehow be better in the next chapter?

Maybe it was because that’s what always happened
in the books that she had read in her first six years of life.

But she hadn’t met anything quite like this before.
No story had ever occasioned such deep sorrow.

I was reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
to six year old Madeleine.

Susan and Lucy have accompanied Aslan to the Stone Table.
The Great Lion has told the children
that they must remain in hiding and come no further.

And both girls cried bitterly (though they hardly new why)
and clung to the Lion and kissed his mane and his nose
and his paws, and his great, sad eyes.

That’s when Madeleine joined Susan and Lucy
with bitter, bitter tears.

“No, Daddy, no.
Stop reading.
Go to the next chapter.”

Somehow she knew that things would turn.

Somehow she knew that if we could just skip
what was about to come,
all things would be resolved.

But there would be no resolution
without going through the tension.
There was no renewed joy without these bitter tears.

I explained to my daughter
that jumping to the next chapter
was like having Easter without Good Friday.

This, she understood.

So I read the rest of the chapter,
where Aslan is tortured, mocked
and finally murdered,
in a monotone and with great speed.

If I was going to insist that my child hear this story,
then the least I could do was to mute the emotion
that she was already so deeply feeling.

These days, most of us are experiencing such deep emotion.
Grief, foreboding, anger, anxiety.
It is all there in the face of this pandemic.

And we know that we can’t just skip what is coming.
We struggle to live in hope,
but it needs to be a hope deep and profound enough
to stand in the face of death.

There is no monotone way to narrate our lives.
There is no quick fix, no cheap resolution.

And so, in the midst of this reign of pandemic terror,
we find ourselves at the door of Holy Week.

For the last fifteen years I have been writing a pastoral letter
calling the community to observe Holy Week.

But not in a monotone.
Not with haste.
Not with the kind of quick movement to resolution
that is necessary and appropriate for a six year old.

No, I have encouraged you to enter Holy Week
in real time,
with deep attention,
experiencing the tension,
finding yourself in the story,
joining the cries from “Hosanna” to “Crucify him!”

And I’ve encouraged you to go to church.

From Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday,
Good Friday, the Great Vigil and Easter morning,
I called you to actually attend church,
every day of Holy Week, if possible.

When I began this practice,
that was a radical and audacious suggestion.
So many of us were,
and so many of us still are,
done with church.

But I was convinced that the liturgies of the church,
especially during Holy Week,
served as an indispensable way to enter the story.

Well, friends, this is my last Holy Week pastoral letter to you.
And I can’t very well tell you to go to church.
At least not in the flesh.

So we’ve decided to bring church to you.
Expanding and intensifying the WBB-online services
of the last few weeks, we are doing Holy Week online.

Everyday from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday,
we will be posting a short service consisting of:

a scripture reading,
a hymn,
a short meditation,
a prayer,
and a reflection song.

Aileen Verdun, Deb Whalen-Blaize,
Andrew Stephens-Rennie,
Sylvia Keesmaat and I
are preparing the meditations.

And we invite you to join us
as we enter into this most holy of all weeks.

Each evening you will receive an email with
the next day’s meditation,
which will be posted at empireremixed.com
and on the WBB facebook page.

Deb, our beloved music director, has said
that hope is going to be a discipline this year.
She is right.
We’re going to have to work a little harder
to wrestle hope out of the jaws of despondency and despair.

And we know, don’t we friends,
that to have our eyes opened to hope,
we must first face the despair with eyes wide open.

Full of tears, but open nonetheless.

Let’s do this together.

In pastoral love and gratitude for all of you,

Brian Walsh,
WBB 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 cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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