by Rev. Bryan Jackson for The Christian Citizen
My take on Holy Week is this: God, do we ever need it. It also reminds us of one of the main tools on our Christian belt: hope.
I was raised in the Episcopal Church and participated in church leadership. My wife and I were married there. Following my Baptist ordination, I was even on staff in an Episcopal parish. I miss certain things about it. For one, Anglicans follow a close, prescribed cadence of the church calendar, and few serious Episcopalians are in doubt about what season of the church year they happen to be in. There is beauty in that. My spouse is a leader in the Episcopal Church, and part of her exquisiteness is that she is far more in tune with the rhythm of the church year than I am now. Some of that for me is a Cherokee thing, the other part might be a Baptist thing. And that’s okay.
This particular Holy Week is crying out for God’s people to recognize the vitality that has always been there. Is it possible that we have never needed Holy Week more? People everywhere are yearning for a resurrection. We certainly do not have to be rigid followers of a church calendar in order to find meaning in Holy Week. As Christians, we have to be where Christ can find us, and he can find us, searching for him, during the precious days leading up to Easter. No one escapes suffering. To be human is to endure.
Paul’s observations on suffering and hope can bring us comfort during the reality of a pandemic (see Romans 8:18-27). During this prolonged international crisis, we have groaned on multiple occasions. The half-million plus deaths here in the United States alone has been enough to turn the groaning into wailing. To what, among the many and horrible losses, are we giving birth? We are suffering birth pains – together. The whole creation begs for liberty as Holy Week descends upon us. We must work toward commonality.
Again, in episcopal-led traditions (in essence, bishop-based), one is automatically cognizant of the specific days of Holy Week, and the active Christian observes those days with the reverence due them. That’s not to say that Baptists do not, but one will find a more universal conformity in some traditions. The long-term suffering and endurance brought about by COVID-19 might cause one to view Holy Tuesday or Maundy Thursday differently this year. The poignant Palm Sunday that takes us into this Holy Week is celebrated with vigor in the aforementioned traditions, and I pray that those who await their savior—who rode in on the foal of a donkey—will receive the glorious resurrection they deserve.
How we observe each day of Holy Week might help us come to terms with the pain of recent times. We must believe, as Paul said, that the present suffering is nothing compared to the kind of glory that will befall us in time. That hope is what has propelled Christians before us to “hang in there.” Better times are coming. Until then, opportunities abound for self-examination beyond the Lenten season. We can borrow a page from the book of our Anglican brothers and sisters who so faithfully commemorate the days of Holy Week.
Palm Sunday will allow us to reflect on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem—the beginning of the hope to come. The template of Christ’s activities during that week is debated by scholars, but we can choose what to reflect on based on our experiences during this sacred period. Holy Monday, we might recall how Jesus cleansed the temple and cast out the moneychangers, perhaps to bring about a more harmonious and just existence. On Holy Tuesday, one may ponder Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree. Holy Wednesday could be a time of rest and quiet reflection. Maundy Thursday’s remembrance of the Last Supper can be a solemn day of gratitude. Good Friday is apt to incite us to pause and take in the magnitude of what Jesus did for us. As we await resurrection and restoration on Holy Saturday, what might be our questions? How can we more fully appreciate and embrace the coming Easter season?
Whether one accommodates the idea of singular and day-specific observance of Holy Week or chooses to view and participate in it within the context of the whole, the general theme of expectation following such a difficult and painful year should give us the hope that Paul communicated in Romans 8:24:
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?”
The Rev. Bryan D. Jackson is an American Baptist minister and a member of the Mount Hood Cherokees, a satellite community of the Cherokee Nation. He lives on Vashon Island, Washington and is the author of Chattahoochee Rain: A Cherokee novella.