What makes this week more holy than any other week of the year? In our increasingly secularized cultures, to set aside an entire week to focus our minds on the events of Jesus’ last week before the cross seems excessive or even morbid. Why not just go from everyday living to the glory of Easter? After all, isn’t his resurrection our faith’s foundation?
All who have experienced soul-ripping grief at the death of a loved one would agree that time seems to stop at the sighing last breath. Nights are endless, days drag like boulders pulled by a plow. The final goodbye produces its own unutterable pain, but the days between death and funeral and burial—though filled with practical details—seem hours longer than the actual twenty-four. As we endure, and perhaps dread, the public acts of farewell, there is the incongruous something within that cries to “just get it over with.”
Could this be similar to why we joyfully anticipate the glory of Easter Sunday but do our best to ignore—or at the very least de-emphasize—the emotionally-draining events of Holy Week? To shop for colorful spring clothing is far more satisfying than symbolically wrapping a rough towel around our waists to humbly serve others as Jesus did at the washing of feet. What joy in preparation for a sumptuous Easter Sunday family reunion meal while how meager—and heart-rending—to contemplate the meaning of the bread, wine and bitter herbs that Jesus and his friends ate just before going out to the Mount of Olives. Triumphant is the music of “Christ, the Lord, Is Risen Today.” Somber are the notes of Braham’s Requiem.
New clothes, good food with friends and family and uplifting music are all rightful celebrations of the resurrection, what the Apostle Paul preaches as the bedrock of our faith. But I believe our Easter joy would burst with new meaning if we first took the time and concerted effort to walk thoughtfully through Jesus’ last days, if we pondered the emotional depths of Jesus during that Thursday, final meal with his friends, if we asked God to let us more deeply glimpse his agony of relinquishment in Gethsemane, if we wept over his human cry, “I am thirsty.”
Many churches practice what is known as the Easter Vigil where individuals gather in the darkness of Saturday night to read scripture and contemplate the sadness that surrounded Jesus’ followers after his death and burial, a darkness that represents all the meanings of darkness: hidden and secret sins, the darkness of the world and of our hearts. At a point soon after midnight, one candle is lit to symbolize Christ’s resurrection and worshipers light their own small candles from the larger one. Those who have participated in such a service of remembrance and celebration relate how their view of Easter has been forever changed.
While this vigil may not be practical or possible for all, let me encourage you to not avoid the pain of walking with Jesus through the days between Palm Sunday and Easter. I assure you that the sunrise of Easter will never be more glorious!
(If you enjoy allegories, narratives in the style of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, find a copy of Calvin Miller’s The Singer and walk through the week with fresh eyes.)