A Pastoral Letter for Holy Week, 2013

by Brian Walsh

The story was going a certain way.
Sure, there were some detours along the way
and things didn’t always go totally as expected,
but the overall plot remained clear.

It was all about home.
It was all about being in exile from home
and longing for a return home.

Truth is, everything is about home.

Really, when it comes right down to it, what else is there?

And if it is about home, then it is, of necessity about story.
Stories that tell us the memories of home.
Stories that shape the contours of home.
Stories that will lead us home.

But sometimes these stories meet a dead end.

Detours along the way are one thing, but death
… well, death brings it all to a grinding halt.

I mean where is there to go after death?

You know what I’m talking about?

There’s been a fair bit of death in our midst this year.
Some of us have lost family members to the grave.
Others have lost friends – often friends from the street.
And there always seem to be too many damn funerals.

But these are not the only deaths that we’ve faced, are they?
Relationships with so much promise … have died.
Marriages … have died.
Friendships … have died.
And for some of us, our hopes and dreams have been on the ropes too.

And in the face of such death everything is up for grabs.

What is home, when a marriage ends?
Where is the dream of home when an intimate relationship collapses?
What is the possibility of home when there is betrayal?

And, at the heart of it all is the matter of hopes and dreams.
When the dreams that animate our hopes of homecoming
are shattered (or become nightmares), then what?

Where is there home, without a vision?
Where is there home, without hope?
Where is there home, when the story has come to a deathly halt?

I know, I know.
I’m talking to a lot of folks in our community.
I’m talking to myself.
I’m talking to all of us.

But here’s the thing.
I’ve just described what happens next week
in the story of Jesus and the disciples.

When those folks were shouting “Hosanna” on the road into Jerusalem
with their donkey-riding King on Palm Sunday,
they knew where this story was going.
Or at least, they thought that they knew.

This was a ‘triumphant entry’ we say.
All hail the King!
Make way for the Son of David!
The Kingdom of God is at hand!
The story, finally resolves in homecoming.

Hopes, dreams and story.

And they all come crashing down.

From “Hosanna” to “Crucify him”!
From praise to betrayal.
From faith to denial.
All in five days.

This is the story that we tell every week at Wine Before Breakfast:
“this is my body, broken for you,”
“this is my blood, poured out for you.”

And, of course, we know where it all goes:
Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again …

So we dwell at the table every week,
we come to the cross every week,
we spend some time in Holy Week every week.

But once a year, we spend a whole week in Holy Week.
Once a year, we tell the story anew, in real time.

You see, dear sisters and brothers,
we eat bread and drink wine every week,
because this is a story that isn’t just ‘told’,
it is tasted and it is performed.

This is a story of homecoming.
This is a story that taps into our deepest longings.

And this is a story that goes to places of deepest homelessness,
before it can finally come home.

In other words, no new life, without death;
no resurrection without the cross.

And during Holy Week, we are called to perform that story
in such a way that it becomes so foundational to our identity,
so central to our imagination,
that it becomes our first story,
the story that shapes all stories,
the story that makes sense of all of our stories.

Performing Holy Week means that we have to be there.
We need to be ‘present’ in Holy Week,
present to the story,
present to the drama,
present to the tension,
present to the tragedy.

In essence, we need to be present to the death:
the death of hope,
the death of the dreams,
the death of Jesus.

Only in such presence,
can hope be renewed,
can dreams be reborn,
can we truly meet resurrection.

So my friends, as a brother in Christ,
and as a pastor,
I invite you into the story again.

I invite you to ‘keep’ Holy Week.

Spend the week in the passion narratives.
Maybe read each narrative once a day.

Or perhaps, stay in one story, one gospel,
for the whole week, reading up to the evening
of the Last Supper, the betrayal, the arrest by Maundy Thursday.

Spend Good Friday in the trial and crucifixion narratives,
and then sit in silence, or perhaps read Lamentations on Holy Saturday.
And only then, late Saturday night, or early Sunday morning,
allow yourself to be surprised by the resurrection.

And go to church.
I know that for some of us, Wine Before Breakfast
is pretty much all that we can handle of church.
So be sure to be with us on Tuesday morning this week.
But I would also encourage you to allow the liturgies of the church
to shape time for you this week.

Perhaps a Eucharist every day,
but at the very least
the three great services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday
and the Great Vigil on Saturday night.

If you have never kept these three services,
then I would encourage you to make this your first year.

Jesus didn’t have an option to take a pass on Holy Week.
And I’m not so sure that we really have an option
to take a pass on this week of all weeks in the rhythm of Christian life either.

This story is about coming home.
Coming home from exile.
Coming home from crushing disappointment.
Coming home from being lost and confused.
Coming home from our home-breaking ways.

This story is about Christ crucified.
Let’s follow him to the cross.

And then … well then … let’s come home.

In the solidarity of the cross,

Brian Walsh
Campus Pastor

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.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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