When Elizabeth and I lived in Palestine, our ministry was intentionally ecumenical. We worked with the Protestants, the Catholics, the Greek Orthodox. There were four churches in Zababdeh, our little village in the northern West Bank, and so there were four times as many Holy Week services to attend. On Palm Sunday, things began together, as all four communities processed through the streets of the town waving palm branches, stopping at each church for prayer until each congregation dispersed to their own worship service. On Maundy Thursday, there were the multiple communion and footwashing services; on Good Friday, there were several services representing the Burial of Christ. On Saturday night, the Roman Catholic community gathered until well after midnight for the Easter Vigil; on Sunday morning, the Greek Orthodox faithful entered the sanctuary around 4 a.m. singing hymns of resurrection. By the time we got through the Anglican service Sunday afternoon, we felt like we had been through the crucifixion and resurrection several times ourselves.
There is an incredible power to this rhythm of Holy Week. In almost encompasses the entirety of the Christian journey of faith. There is the celebration and victory of Palm Sunday, with its glorious ride into Jerusalem atop the crowd's shouts of "Hosanna! Save us!" There is the righteous indignation of that same day, where Jesus enters the holy Jerusalem Temple to turn over the tables of those who have defamed its sacredness. There is the intimacy of communion and a shared meal on Maundy Thursday, the betrayal of Christ by Judas, and the long hours in the garden until the arrest. On Friday comes the drawn out trial, where the high priests and Roman occupiers trade the prisoner back in forth, both wanting to be done with him but neither seemingly wanting to do what it takes to finish him. Then the brutality of the crucifixion, the death, the burial. Saturday brings its own fears and concerns, disciples cast away in hiding, terrified that they will be next.
And then comes Sunday. The tomb is empty, the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. We know once again, through our hymns of "Alleluia," God be praised, that promise of hope, of life anew, of permanent victory, of the feast of celebration around this simple table.
For each of us here, I am sure that those moments sprinkled through out the week touch us with a variety of depths. For some, that victory of Palm Sunday rings truest; it's like knowing that your team has won, that you've laid out the brackets wisely, that you've backed the right horse, or colt, so to speak. Perhaps there's some moment in your life where you know that joy of celebration most clearly, and so waving palms and singing praises is the most honest moment of faith for you.
Or maybe it is that holy anger of Jesus in the Temple that resonates most clearly. You have seen or known the wrong of an injustice, and within you is this heated burning of frustration, a desire to flip over some table as a sign of that anger. You want to cry to the world that this is just wrong, that the faith that you know in Christ is one of righteousness, one of justice, that calls people of faith to a different way of being.
It could be that moment of Maundy Thursday that draws you in; the deeply felt need for community, that intimacy that can come so mysteriously from breaking bread and sharing a cup together, from removing your shoes that someone might pour water on your feet and dry them with a gentle touch. For those who feel alone, that moment around the table can be the moment that connects us not only with the others who surround, but with those who have done and will do this for centuries, those who do this on the other side of the world or the other side of town or even the other side of the street.
Or maybe it is Good Friday which speaks most clearly to you right now. You know the pain of isolation, that feeling of Christ on the cross, crying out to God, "Why have you forsaken me?" Hope is faint, if present at all. Hopelessness overwhelms; meaning is unclear; life is uncertain; the future is dim. You know of loss, and you know it too well; you are unsure of yourself, and you're convinced that everyone else is, too.
And then there comes Easter morning. We know it mostly as a day of celebration. It brings back memories for many, memories of blessed times for quite a few, some of you for whom those memories are hard to bear these days. We sing some of our favorite hymns, we may even have lunch with family or friends, or reconnect with old traditions.
But the celebration isn't the first reaction of those in our text. It is confusion and fear. In Matthew's version of the events, Mary Magdalene and Mary arrive at the tomb to tend it; an earthquake hits, an angel descends, a stone is rolled, and the tomb is empty. "He is not here," the angel tells them, "For he has been raised." And then he tells the two, the first witnesses to this miracle of resurrection, "Go quickly and tell the disciples."
As the energy of Palm Sunday fades into the drama and waiting of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, so, too, this moment of confusion changes gears quickly into a time to be hurried. Rush off! Tell the disciples! Now is no time to be alone, or to keep this amazing experience to yourselves! Go get the others! Tell them what you have seen! Tell them that he is raised and will meet you soon!
And perhaps there is the nugget of truth for us in here. Wherever we might be in our own faith journey, whichever moment of Holy Week might resonate the strongest for us, and whenever that might be, there is a time to go through it with others. Yes, there is time to be alone; a time for solitude; but even then, it is solitude for the sake of being with our God, the one who is never absent from us, the one who knows the depths of despair in crucifixion and the heights of hope in resurrection.
That is what the rhythm of Holy Week brings us, the practice of being in this thing together, for better or worse, for good or for ill, in celebration and desperation.
There is a practice in the Greek Orthodox church related to communion. the eucharist, the bread and cup, are consumed together. And as the priest prepares the chalice, he takes pieces of the bread and cuts them one by one, placing them into the chalice. First come pieces representing the patriarchs and matriarchs of the story of faith; then come pieces representing the prophets, the angels, the saints. And then come the prayers of the people, their joys and concerns, each offered up as a piece of bread dropped into a cup. And this mixture of bread and wine then becomes the common feast that they share, the body and blood of Christ brought into their own lives of celebration and desperation.
Friends, that is what we do at the table; we proclaim that we share one anothers burdens, and that we celebrate one another's triumphs. We are in this thing together, and we are in this thing with God at our side.
Wherever we might be on our journey, whatever day of Holy Week might hold our imagination at this moment, it is Easter Sunday which has the final word in our story. No matter how dark before us the way might be, hope still burns; even if only as dim as the breaking light of an early dawn, it will soon burn as bright as the noonday sun.
The Lord is risen; he is risen indeed. Let us not wait here in this place, staring at the open tomb; let us go quickly to share this news, this hope, this celebration with others, inviting them to this table, to our feast, that we might face this journey together.