For the six Sundays in Lent this year, we have been going through each of the days of Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, when the plot thickens and the arrangements for Jesus’ death fall into place.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem to crowds of people crying “Hosanna!” as stories of his miracles and teachings spread like wildfire through the city as the faithful came from far and near to gather together for the Passover. As we remembered the Sunday of Holy Week, we wrote out names for Jesus on paper palm strips (I wrote “friend”) and folded them into crosses. After worship, we talked about what our obituaries might say someday and how to live our lives so that we could be remembered the way we want to be.
On Holy Monday, Mary of Bethany broke open a costly jar of perfume in order to anoint Jesus’ feet, even though the act of anointing feet with sweet oil is only done to prepare bodies for burial. As we remembered the Monday of Holy Week, we had our palms anointed with oil and blessed to do the work of God. After worship, two directors from our local funeral home came to talk to us about options for our bodies after death, including viewings, cremation, and burial.
On Holy Tuesday, Jesus was told that a group of Greeks wished to see him, and so he spoke to the gathered crowd about how he would only be with them for a little while longer because he was about to die. As we remembered the Tuesday of Holy Week, we lit candles to prepare for the coming darkness. After worship, our own Diane London graciously presented information and materials about advance directives and talking to our loved ones about the kind of care we would wish to receive should we become incapacitated.
On Spy Wednesday, Judas received silver coins in exchange for his promise to betray his friend. As we remembered the Wednesday of Holy Week, we wrote confessions on dissolving paper and watched the water become cloudy as it moved around in the bowl and considered the repercussions of our sins. After worship, a local attorney came to talk to us about wills and financial preparations for dying.
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus shared a meal with his friends that, unbeknownst to them, was his goodbye party before his arrest and death. As we remember the Thursday of Holy Week, we will gather in Fellowship Hall instead of the sanctuary and, like the earliest Christians who met in homes, we will worship together at tables over a meal. You are invited to bring a dish to share—fruit, muffins, a casserole, milk and cereal, waffles, quiche, something brunch-y. I will be bringing pancakes from my grandmother’s recipe that she made every single Sunday before church. All pancakes make me think of my grandmother’s pancakes in a way that fills my mouth with the taste of pancakes and syrup and momentarily transports me back to a seat at the kitchen table, covered in a red and white checked tablecloth. I imagine that after the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus’ friends would have remembered that last meal together in a similar way every time they ate bread and drank wine. Food and faith, communion and community have always been closely entwined in the Christian tradition and I hope that “brunch church” will remind us of our earliest roots. After worship, our own Doris Ann Campbell will help us plan out our own funerals, considering readings, music, and formats.
On Good Friday, Jesus was hung on a cross between criminals until he died and the light of the world went out. His cold body was carried down and buried quickly and his friends spent Saturday in hiding, silent and afraid in their shock and grief. As we remember the Friday and Saturday of Holy Week, we will gather to tell the story of the Passion, praying and confessing and stripping the sanctuary of its purple paraments and leaving in silence. After worship, our final adult ed session for the Lenten season will address Hospice care and what we would consider to be a good death.
But early on Sunday morning, the women went to the tomb to find it empty and became the first people to preach the resurrection. As we remember that first Easter, we will gather in joy and celebration to sing, to pray, and to lay down the heavy themes of Lent. There will be flowers, an egg hunt, a breakfast, perhaps some new hats, and most importantly, Christ’s promise of salvation. As we share communion, we will express our prayers of rejoicing by creating art.
The stories of Holy Week build on each other and raise the stakes as Jesus gets closer to the cross and sometimes they can get lost in the week leading up to Easter because a reality of our modern world is that most people aren’t able to attend church services outside of Sunday morning because of work and school and sports and other commitments. Easter is not about the return of the rabbit who comes bearing chocolate—Easter is about the return of the incarnation of God whom we saw die and be buried, the incarnation of God whom we couldn’t quite dare to believe we would ever see again. We wish that every day could be like Easter, a colorful festival of miracles and reunions and joys, but the reality is that all lives go through seasons, and to really walk alongside Jesus, we can’t just make ourselves comfortable sitting by the empty tomb. We walk with Jesus when we love and welcome and teach children, when we open our arms to all people, when we get our hands dirty working with soil or caring for the sick, when we give our arm to help others walk, when we carry coffins and lay them in the earth. The season of Easter means more for coming after the season of Lent, but all seasons bring us closer to God in the love of the Holy Spirit who draws us together into the Church.
shalom and agape,
Rev Leia Rose Battaglia