Holy Week Pilgrimage

*Note: This blog post is also available as a podcast on “Dan’s Sunday Preview“, a podcast by Pastor Dan Cash which can be accessed at https://anchor.fm/daniel-cash, Apple podcasts and a variety of other sites.

Growing up in a Christian home, Holy Week was a time in the Christian year when I was reminded that as Baptists, we were not alone in this journey of faith.  You see during Holy Week we came together for a series of “special services” with our Methodist and Disciples of Christ brothers and sisters to commemorate the season.

These three congregations in my home community took turns hosting one of three special services – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday or Easter Sunrise – providing special music and preaching on the occasions when they weren’t serving as host.  I found the whole enterprise to be quite interesting.  Sitting in the pews in another congregation was a new experience.  Seeing people from the greater community who were members there, or at another church.  Listening to another preacher – my favorite was the Methodist pastor because he never preached longer than 15 minutes!  In contrast it seemed like our pastor couldn’t wind it down under 30!

Even now, as we draw close to this holy season and week of the year, in which we commemorate Jesus’ passion, I so often think back to those childhood services.  The reward of getting up before God on Easter for the sunrise service was the breakfast that followed.  There were some really good cooks in our community. 

How about you, what have been your Holy Week observances over the years?

This coming Sunday, which starts off Holy week, is called “Palm Sunday”.  It’s the occasion during which we remember and celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  It’s one of my very favorite Sundays of the year.  I remember services across the years with congregants waving palms and singing praises, where children were parading (sometimes having palm frond sword fights along the way), choirs processing .  It seemed such a joyous way to start the week – very different from the more ordered and formal services we had week to week, especially during Lent.

But how quickly things turn.  Jesus’ entry parade into Jerusalem is a distant memory by mid-week as religious and political leaders collude to have him arrested, tried and killed.  Holy Week helps us remember and retell this part of the story as well.  In some traditions today, the Sunday before Easter has become more of a Passion Sunday than Palm Sunday.  Pastors and worship leaders feel pressured to pack the story of Holy Week into that day and service because so many people don’t participate in the special Holy Week services.  Yet, without hearing the passion accounts we can skip from Palm Sunday’s joy to Easter’s rejoicing without any reflection on what Christ has done for us.

This is to our detriment.  The story really does deserve an entire week of observance. 

Maundy Thursday, taken from the word “mandatum”, which means “command”, commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper with his Disciples.  It’s a time in which he washed their feet, shared the Passover meal with them – giving it new meaning as he spoke about his body and blood, broken and shed for them.  He commanded them to love one another as he had loved them.  Then he took them with him to Gethsemane to pray. 

Jesus entered into a prayer vigil like none other – wrestling with the Evil One, and submitting to God – “not my will but yours be done”. 

Finally, he would be betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot; arrested and taken to appear before Pilate and Herod.  He would be mocked, stripped, flogged, spit upon, and ridiculed while his immediate followers abandoned him and one of them, the leader of his band of disciples, denied he even knew him.

Good Friday, an oxymoron if ever there was one, commemorates the day Jesus was crucified.  Nailed to a cross and condemned to die the death of an outcast and criminal.  Rome, Jerusalem and most of their inhabitants turned their back on him as he died alone – but with a prayer on his lips and heart: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  In just a short time – much shorter than was usual – he would breathe his last breath and succumb to death. 

Taken down from the cross and hastily buried in a garden tomb because the Sabbath drew near, Jesus was placed into the heart of the earth on Holy Saturday.  In some traditions this day is a day of silent vigil, keeping watch and praying in somber reflection.  Unfortunately, we’ve moved past that in most of today’s world – again that skipping over comes into play – and Holy Saturday is all about getting ready for Easter, just not in the way the early followers of Jesus observed.

Easter wasn’t about nice clothes or big meals, egg hunts or family gatherings – all of that came later – but Easter was and is about resurrection – new life, Christus Victor. “Up from the Grave he arose” – which is still my favorite Easter hymn.  “Because He Lives” so shall we. 

Easter, far from being the end of the story – even a climatic and wondrous end – Easter is really the beginning in so many ways.  The women, the first evangelists, come back from the empty tomb just after dawn to tell the other disciples what they’d discovered, heard and seen.  At first their words are dismissed, yet after Peter and John run all the way to the empty tomb and have their own eye-witness confirmation – they believe!  

So do I.  Do you?

Holy Week is about all of this and so much more.  The meaning and depth of this week can hardly be summarized in a podcast, on a blog post, or in a couple of sermons.  It escapes the fullness of a special week of services.  It deserves our careful and prayerful observation. 

Perhaps especially this year, as we feel the hope of emerging from what has been a tragic and dark time of global pandemic; perhaps especially this year we are primed and ready to walk these final steps of the pilgrimage with Jesus.  Are we?  Are we ready to walk through the valley of the shadow of death into the hope of new life?  Are we ready to shed the grave and graveclothes?  Can we go to the empty tomb, having first journeyed amongst the palm branches, in the upper room, heard the Garden of Gethsemane’s anguished prayers, witnessed the horridness of a trial and crucifixion, and felt the silence of death, preceded by the thud of a stone rolled in place to seal the tomb?  

I’m asking you reader (listener) not to miss out on this week.  Don’t miss out on this story, because whether you know it or not – it’s your story too.  It has implications for your life – now and forevermore.  As Paul states it so succinctly in I Corinthians 15:3ff Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and he was buried and he was raised on the third day, and he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time. . . then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all . . . he appeared also to me.

This same risen Jesus longs to appear to you, my friend.  He longs to be your Savior, and the Lord of your life.  I pray that he is just that. And, if not, I’d like to invite you to make him your Savior today. It’s really quite simple. Just pray this prayer: Lord, I acknowledge that I am a sinner in need of a Savior. Forgive my sins, Jesus. I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God. Come into my life. Amen.  

May your observance of Holy Week bring you the discomfort of contrition and the comfort of redemption. 

If you are looking for a community with whom to celebrate this season, I’d like to invite you to join us at the First Baptist Church of Columbus – online or in-person as we share worship on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. If you have appreciated this podcast, please consider subscribing or rating and reviewing it. Thank you.

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Filed under Christian Faith, Dan's Sunday Preview, Holy Days, Ministry, Spiritual Formation

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