Each year drags me kicking and screaming into Holy Week. It’s a week I wish I could forget, ignore, or otherwise skip. But that’s not how this story works.
The story of Holy Week won’t let me off so easily.
Whether I like it or not, this story where loud Hosannas bleed into chants of “Crucify Him,” is upon us, is upon me, and it feels as though it’s dragging me by the ankles, reluctant disciple that I am. The story is about to climax. I can feel the rumblings of all that is to be. And as I read and listen to the story, it’s obvious that Jesus’ story is our story, and that it’s my story too.
Last week, in an email to the St. Brigids congregation, I wrote these words:
As we approach Palm Sunday and join Jesus on the painful road through Holy Week, I invite you to mark this holy season by coming to church. A lot.
I couldn’t always say this, but today I can think of no better way to enter into the central story of our faith than by immersing ourselves in it. And that’s what we do each and every Holy Week here at the Cathedral.
And so, I invite you to join me this coming week – as often as you are able – to enter more deeply into the mystery of our faith, as we count the cost of discipleship with Jesus.
I really can’t think of any better way of entering the story. There is no better opportunity to plumb the depths of the Jesus story, its meaning and implications. And it’s scary as hell.
There are still parts of me that want to run. That want to gloss over this horrendous week, and jump swiftly to the moment where Jesus is with us, our hearts are warmed, and everyone lives happily ever after. But Holy Week doesn’t give us the luxury of dwelling in escapist fantasy. It calls us into the heart of darkness itself, and invites us to join Jesus in the final week leading up to his execution. It’s hard to stomach.
That’s why everything in me wants to avoid this week. That’s why every thought turns to an escape route. Surely there’s some way out. Surely there’s some way to salvation other than self-denying sacrifice. Yet Jesus does not budge. His jaw set. His determination resolute.
I sympathize with Judas.
I sympathize with his attempted provocation. With the betrayal he assumed would force Jesus’ hand, and cause him to finally pick up the sword. I sympathize with his hunger for real revenge and retribution. I sympathize with the desire to extract blood.
An eye for an eye, amiright?
I have felt the strong desire for retaliation this week, in the face of the barbs – as minor as they’ve been – that I’ve endured. I get it. I feel like I get Judas and his ploy to provoke Jesus into a decisive display of might and force.
I’ve been having this same argument with Jesus all week. Yet, he remains steadfast in his commitment to this way, this truth, this so-called life. Asshole.
Part of the reason I spend so much time in church during Holy Week is because I need to be reminded of who Jesus is. Each Holy Week I am confronted by the disparity between the Jesus I want and the Jesus I need. The Jesus I’ve created, and the Jesus God has given for us and for our salvation.
Truth is, I need Holy Week, and I need to immerse myself in its rhythm to undo a year’s worth of conforming Jesus to my own image.
I enter Holy Week not because I want to, but because I need to. I need to be re-formed by the Jesus who takes the treacherous journey I would have him avoid. The journey I would avoid if it was up to me.
When I was 16, I was baptized by full immersion. The old has passed away. Behold! all has become new. That’s what I need Holy Week to be for me this year: A Full Immersion Experience.
And in that full immersion, I pray once again that I will die to the pink fluffy Jesus dancing on rainbows, the one who wants me to become a self-actualized, upwardly mobile individual. I pray that I will die to the sword-slinging MMA Jesus committed to making others bleed.
I pray that I will die to these, and any other idolatrous Jesus who doesn’t confound me time and again with his self-giving enemy love, and his single-minded focus on salvation. Mine. Yours. That of the whole cosmos.
St. Paul puts it this way in the fifth chapter of the second letter to the Corinthians:
18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
And so this year, I enter Holy Week immersing myself in the story, and paying attention – as best as I can – to this entreaty to be reconciled to God through Christ.
Not because I have it figured out. Not because I’m ready. Not because I can do it on my own. But because Jesus has come to save me, to save us, just as we are.
And so, in my disbelief, in my propensity to wound and betray, I will immerse myself in this story, praying that word becomes humble flesh, that the old has gone and that the new will come.
May it be so.