On Staying and not Running: A Pastoral Letter for Holy Week 2015

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ:

“Some will run and some will stand,
everything is bullshit but the open hand” (“Strange Waters”)

So sings Bruce Cockburn in his postmodern retake on Psalm 23.

Running or standing.
Flight or fight.

In the garden of Gethsemane we meet both postures.

Someone who is there with Jesus draws a sword,
and takes the posture of fighting,
the posture of violence,
in defense of Jesus,
and perhaps as part of the first offensive action of the kingdom.

Jesus will have none of it.
He offers no resistance,
he offers no defense.

There are those today who will still raise the sword for Jesus,
who will employ violence in the name of  “Christian” values and culture.
They don’t have a clue.
They’ve totally lost the plot.

Some will run and some will stand.

While one takes a stand, sword in hand,
Mark tells us of another who runs.

“A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”

No violent bravado here.
No ‘standing’ in the face of threat.
This young man takes flight.

Last week at Wine Before Breakfast, Andrew Asbil’s sermon called us to stop running.
Sometimes you need to simply stop, or you will miss an important moment.

Mark makes it clear that apart from one ill-advised attempt at standing,
everyone else ran:

“All of them deserted him and fled.”

But just as there is a singular figure who raised a sword,
so also does Mark focus the desertion of the whole discipleship community
on one mysterious and enigmatic figure.
One young man is stripped naked as he ran for his life.

And just as taking a stand was an act of infidelity,
so also was the running of desertion.

Some will run and some will stand,
everything is bullshit but the open hand.

Jesus did not run.

Jesus marched into Jerusalem on a donkey,
in full view of both the imperial and the religious authorities.
Jesus marched into the Temple and rearranged the furniture
as if he owned the place.
Jesus engaged in these public acts of resistance
in moments of subversive street theatre.

And Jesus did not run.

Friends, you perhaps know that on Maundy Thursday,
many churches hold vigil.
The church attempts to do what the disciples failed to do.
Stay awake with Jesus in prayer.
It is a rich tradition and an important discipline of Holy Week.

I wonder if we might also need to do something that the disciples failed to do.
They all deserted him and fled.
They all ran.

How about if we decided to not run?

How about if we decided that for this one week,
this Holy Week,
we decided to slow down our lives,
to slow down time,
and stop running?

I know that to almost everyone reading this pastoral letter,
that sounds pretty much impossible.
Truth is, it feels pretty much impossible to me, too.

But here’s the thing.
You can’t stay if you keep running.
You can’t be fully attendant to what is going on around you, if you keep running.
You will plain and simply miss Holy Week, if you run through it.

Some will run and some will stand,
everything is bullshit but the open hand.

You cannot open your hand to another if you are running by them.
You cannot open your hand, or your heart, or your eyes,
you cannot be fully ‘present’ to Jesus,
during this week of weeks,
unless you stop running.

Holy Week is never convenient.
The world of the university, the city, work,
and the overall busyness of life,
doesn’t stop for Holy Week.

Holy Week isn’t convenient for us.
But then again, it wasn’t convenient for Jesus either.

Jesus did not run.
He was led away under guard.
He was taken to stand before the High Priest and the imperial governor.
He was beaten and tortured by the agents of the security state.
He was led through a slow and painful walk (no running) to the execution hill.
He was nailed to that cross.
He breathed his last.

Can we find a way, this week, in real time,
to walk the path of the cross with Jesus?

Maybe by taking some intentional time to read
and read again, Mark’s story of this week.
Maybe by slowing down enough to pray, to meditate.
Maybe by being intentional about joining others this week,
liturgically walking, not running, through this week.

Yes, I’m really suggesting that you go to church as much as possible this week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, joining us for WBB on Tuesday, participating in a Maundy Thursday service, facing the horror on Good Friday, and then finally receiving the good news of resurrection at a Great Vigil service on Saturday night or Sunday morning. And if in all of this you can also go to church on Monday and Wednesday, all the better!

Who was that young man who ran away naked that night in the garden?

Maybe Mark includes that little vignette for the reader.
Maybe that naked body running away from Holy Week is me.
Maybe that person is you.

And so the question is:

Dare we not run, but stay?
Dare we stay and watch, stay and bear witness?
Dare we face this week with open hands and open hearts?

This is the week of all weeks.
This is the week on which hangs the redemption of the world.

Let’s not miss it because we’re running too fast.

In the solidarity of the cross,

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.

Leave a Reply