Friday, March 18, 2016

Holy Week Journal, 2016 - A Preface

Holy Week: Two words which stand for an experience of immersion into God's own work of drawing all of Creation, all of humanity, from the Kingdom of Death in to the Kingdom of Life. This is the "Great Week" at the core of all Christian faith, all Christian truth.

To enter into Holy Week authentically in our era means confronting a difficult fact: for modern, Western humans there is a wall between life and faith, between worship and reality. We have become so used to distancing ourselves from what we "view" that we have effectively become a society of voyeurs rather than participants, consumers rather than sharers. Thus, the liturgies of Holy Week are extremely difficult for many to penetrate today. No matter how carefully "planned" or earnestly made "relevant," the fact is that what is real, all too often, is what happens before and after the services, not what occurs in them and through them.

Because of this, worship for Western Christians is often held at arm's length. It is curated rather than offered to God, the product of a committee or an ideological process instead of a living, organic tradition.  Such worship cannot be timeless and eternal because such an outcome is undesirable, as it cannot be held firmly under the control of our sensibilities and preferences. Such worship is really more about us than it is about God and remains on the page, not in the heart.

Where Holy Week is alive and real the liturgies beginning with Palm Sunday are not some sort of spiritual diorama to be inspected in the cool light of the intellect. They are more akin to a pool of life-giving water eagerly jumped into by thirsty pilgrims. For those who seek New Life in Christ, there is a profound desire to be immersed in God's will and actions this week, not our own safety and comfort. And this is the difference between dead "churchiness" and living liturgy.

To be "churchy" and fastidious means we never lose ourselves, never open ourselves to the truth of our poverty or the power of God's love. Such worship is deeply concerned with confirming our expectations, being convenient, undemanding, and efficient. True and living liturgy is a body-mind-spirit offering of the whole people of God who know that convenience, comfort, and efficiency are the hallmarks of death, not life, and certainly not the Life Eternal that God in Christ has given us without reserve or stint.

In order for us to receive with anything like true faith and understanding the message that "Christ is risen!" on Easter, we must at the start of this week do what Jesus required of all his followers: "Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me." There is no other way, and no amount of pandering or packaging will change this. It is for us to conform to Christ, not he to us. His way is Life; our way is death.

Only by following as he calls us may we experience the freedom he gives. This is an essential part of the Holy Week encounter. Communally, we take up our individual crosses and follow Christ through this week, holding nothing back, and are transformed by God's grace more and more into the restored image of God we were meant to be. Participating in and witnessing to the Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit refashions us into people eager to do God's will, sharing in the water springing up to eternal life promised to the Samaritan woman. This beautiful gift awaits those who worship the Living God through the gift of time, attention, longing and love. When worship is offered to God and not ourselves, the doors of the Kingdom open wide and we may enter into the nearer presence of heaven itself.

Thus, the liturgies of Holy Week are much, much more than a long series of didactic "events," artistic "happenings," or infomercials for God. They are the lathe of the Kingdom, the birthing-chamber of the Parousia. In that spirit, we arrange our calendars, schedules, vacations, and priorities each year so that nothing but the most serious "absence worthy of a blessing" will keep us away from the crowning glory of Holy Week and Easter.

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