Walking with Jesus will be hard this week. It is hard to walk Spirit to spirit every day, but this week is the “discipline week” that often brings up everything that makes it hard to walk with Jesus every day. You may not think Holy Week is going to be hard, but I, and most others I think, will be struggling a bit.
At a conference full of evangelicals last week the worship leader started out a plenary session with “At the Cross” (an example sung robustly here). It reminded me of my childhood experience of Christianity. I can’t really defend our skeptical reaction, but my sister and I always lampooned this song when we sang it (robustly!) in the front row of the Baptist Church. We were tickled because of this line, “At the cross…it was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day.” Even then, we knew that most of the people in the room were not happy all the day and that the song made promises it wasn’t keeping.
What I mean is that the story of “At the Cross” should have stuck with Jesus and not included somewhat narcissistic declarations of how happy Jesus has made his followers as evidence that his work has efficacy. The burden of sin has rolled away, but I am still rising from my tomb. Dying is still easy and living is still hard. Everyone who knows me, especially my intimates, can tell you that I am generally a happy-all-the-day kind of guy who still shoots himself in the foot all the time. I will be happy to limp through Holy Week, following after Jesus, who saved me and is saving me, with whom I am suffering as he is suffering with me. That’s harder and better than pretending “it’s all good.”
We offer a Holy Week observance that is harder and better and I think that is good. I need it.
Now, I am not writing this to make non-participants feel stupid or bad. The school district has made this week a vacation and some people will take advantage of that and miss the whole thing. Some people work at night, when we are holding our meetings, and there are not that many jobs to be had. Plenty of people have not figured out how to have spiritual disciplines that actually help them connect to God and aren’t merely more things to do; they don’t need more obligation. So don’t take this the wrong way.
I am just writing to you in the spirit of Jesus, who tells people to follow him even when they make a lot of good excuses why they can’t do it. He meets people who are honest enough to admit that it is hard to follow him, and Jesus is honest enough to tell them that he knows it is hard and they have to do it anyway. We need to die, too, in order to live. Paul says he wants to share the Lord’s death so he will share the Lord’s life. Our audacious determination to follow Jesus through his last week, in whatever way we can, hopefully using the community’s observances, is the kind of focus serious disciples keep. I think it is life-giving.
Five reasons that it will be hard. That’s OK:
1) You might be called in to work or have classes. There are very few people in power and probably no corporations or universities who will recognize your obligation to follow Jesus through his last week, especially if it costs them any of your time or devotion. They are against such divided loyalty to their money. They will make it hard. The younger you are the harder it will be because the unemployment rate for the young is something like 14-20% according to Sunday’s Inquirer. Holy Week calls for focus on the master, so it brings up the other masters on whom we are called to focus.
2) We will have to work on it. Having devotion that calls for scheduling outside our “ruts” for an entire week is work. That’s why we do it. Some people honestly love the whole thing and not only look forward to Lent but also Holy Week all year. Most people don’t. Most people think good things happen to them, or not; they don’t feel like one should work for them. Their marriages disappoint them as soon as they are “work,” so do their churches, jobs, whatever. Holy Week breeds agency – a sense that we have value, that we make a difference when we show up, that doing something can build something.
3) We will do it together. The way we observe Holy Week, a lot of the process is communal, not just individual. That makes it even more inconvenient and even more subject to being messy and inept. New leaders will lead the meetings and they may be great or awful. We’ll have to deal with that. Jesus, after all, is visibly making himself subject to humankind throughout the week. We need to do that too — we’re even going to follow him as he carries his cross through our neighborhoods and experience what it is like to be observed by the neighbors! Being spiritual as people among other people is one of our greatest challenges. Holy Week breeds humility and patience.
4) The whole idea requires surrender. First, it requires surrender to love. Like David Benner says: “It is possible to know God’s love personally, beyond simply knowing about it. The fact that I am deeply loved by God is increasingly the core of my identity, what I know about myself with most confidence. Such a conviction is, I am convinced, the foundation of any significant Christian spiritual growth.” Living in that love means surrender of time, surrender of attention to other things, other pursuits, maybe even surrender of wages or visits with important people, or pleasure. Holy Week breeds waiting expectantly for the fullness of love.
5) It is all about Jesus. That makes it hard, in itself. Holy Week makes it plain that following Jesus is not an ideology one can hold in one’s brain, it is an embodied faith that happens in real time. Jesus did not die in the abstract; he died in time and space. We are called to die daily, too. During Holy Week we enact faith that is about our whole lives. Being deeply involved in doing something that is all about Jesus, that is devoted to relating to Jesus and being like Jesus, that even leads us to be public about following is hard and very good for us. Holy Week nurtures a character that can be a true self day by day.
Focusing on the master, showing up because what we do makes difference, developing humility and patience in community, learning to wait expectantly, nurturing a character that reflects our true selves – all those are good reasons to do something hard. I am trying to talk myself into it. Jesus already came to town last night. I don’t want to miss the whole thing for the nothing I somehow consider more important.