Pastoral Letter: Holy Week 2014

This is my pastoral letter to the Wine Before Breakfast community calling us to keep Holy Week. As always, I am happy to share it with the broader Empire Remixed community.


Dear Friends:

It isn’t really all that surprising that some of our deepest and most powerful songs for Holy Week come from the tradition of the African-American spirituals.

Every time I think about Jesus,
every time I think about Jesus,
every time I think about Jesus,
surely he died on Calvary.

Don’t you hear that hammer ringing?
Don’t you hear that hammer ringing?
Don’t you hear that hammer ringing?
Surely he died on Calvary.

The song repeats a line three times,
holding us in tension,
waiting to see where this is going,

only to resolve with
“surely he died on Calvary.”

And so the song invites us to that place of Calvary.

“Don’t you hear him calling his Father?”
we are asked three times.

And then,

“Don’t you hear him say ‘It is finished’?”
we are asked another three times.

And somehow, you can hear that hammer ringing,
you can hear him calling his Father,
you can hear him say ‘It is finished’,
and you know that,
surely he died on Calvary.

Maybe this song can transport us back to Calvary
precisely because it is a song born of slavery.

The composer knew Calvary,
he had seen it over and over again.

He had heard hammers ringing,
getting ready for a whipping or a lynching.
He had heard so many call out to their Father,
as they were stripped from their families,
as they felt the sting of the whip.
He had heard and seen the end of too many lives,
and so he knew what ‘it is finished’ meant.

So it is no surprise that in this tradition another hymn writer
could also have the audacity to ask us,
“Where you there when they crucified my Lord?”

“Where you there when they nailed him to the tree?”
“Where you there when they pierced him in the side?

The spirituals can ask these questions,
because those who wrote these songs,
and those who sang them,
were there when they crucified our Lord.

They were there every time they were beaten.
They were there every time they were raped.
They were there every time someone else hung from a tree.

They were there and they knew
that this was Calvary all over again.

They were there and they knew
that this was the betrayal and death of Jesus all over again.

St. John invites us to be there.
From the beginning he has been pointing us there.

Indeed, one could say that John spends the first half of his gospel
setting us up for Holy Week.

This is what happens,
when the Word becomes flesh
and moves into the neighbourhood.
The neighbours get angry and want blood.

This is what happens,
when the Messiah cleans house
in the Temple of God.
The religious elite get angry and want blood.

This is what happens,
when Jesus heals on the Sabbath,
and says that this is the work of the Father.
The protectors of the status quo get angry and want blood.

This is what happens,
when Jesus tells a parched crowd,
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me.”
The religious police get angry and want blood.

This is what happens,
when Jesus utters blasphemy,
“I am … the light, the good shepherd, the bread of life.”
The clergy get angry and want blood.

This is what happens,
when Jesus gives testimony,
“The Father and I are one.”
The theologians get angry and want blood.

This is what happens,
when Jesus raises Lazarus,
demonstrating, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
The purveyors of a culture of death get angry and want blood.

And so, John takes us to Holy Week,
and dwells there.
And so, we have followed John to Holy Week,
and since February,
we have dwelt there.

This is where it has all been going from the beginning.

This is what it has meant
for the Word to take flesh,
and to dwell with us.

We’ve been there for quite a while now.
And yet, today, it all starts with a new intensity.

Today, we wave palm branches and sing “Hosanna”
warming up for the moment when we will scream, “Crucify him!”

Tom Wright has written that
“the mystery, the secret, one might almost say the cunning,
of the deep love of God” is that
“it is bound to draw to itself the hatred
and pain and shame and anger
and bitterness and rejection of the world.”

But this deep love of God
draws such brokenness unto itself
precisely to rid the world of such pain.

Wright goes on to say that Jesus
“drew unto himself the despotic fury
which was crushing the world,
and by dying to it,
without submitting to it,
he defeated it.
He remained obedient to the end,
because his love went right to the end.”

This week we go with Jesus right to the end.
We go with Jesus until he gasps out those last words,
“It is finished.”

And so, my beloved sisters and brothers,
I invite you,
no, rather, I am bold enough to ‘charge you’
to go to the end with Jesus.

As your pastor, your brother, and your friend,
I call you to keep Holy Week.
I call you to bear witness again,
to the betrayal,
to the denial,
to the trial,
to the flogging,
to the crown of thorns,
to the cross,
to the pierced side.

And I dare to call you to go to church.

Holy Week wasn’t an option for Jesus.
I don’t think it is really an option for us.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Many of us have been there,
over and over again,
throughout this year.

And this week we are invited to be there again.

This week we dwell in Holy Week with an intensity
that just might save your life.

This week we are invited to the Upper Room
for a Passover meal,
for the washing of feet,
for betrayal.

This week we are invited again
to Pilate’s court,
to an angry crowd looking for blood,
to the cross.

And I encourage you, dear friends, to show up.

Go to church.

Come to Wine Before Breakfast on Tuesday
where we will sing those spirituals,
where we will pray as dwellers by a dark stream,
where we will break the bread and drink the wine,
where we will bear witness.

And then observe the “Triduum” the Three Great Days:
Maundy Thursday,
Good Friday,
The Great Vigil or Easter Sunday.

While Graduate Christian Fellowship will have a Maundy Thursday service,
both the Church of the Redeemer and St. George the Martyr
will have services all week, and especially for the Three Great Days.

Liturgy won’t save your life.
But the story that is told and enacted this week will.

And so my friends, welcome to Holy Week.
The story is about to get a lot worse,
before it gets better.

But remember, grief is the doorway to hope.
Let us enter into the grief together.

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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