Easter All Week

April 18th, 2011

Sometimes I think we get Holy Week all wrong. It shouldn’t be this way, but some churches have essentially isolated the message of the resurrection to one Sunday a year. And congregations that rigidly observe the liturgical calendar are most likely to be among the worst offenders.

I mentioned last week that Sundays in Lent are technically not part of Lent-- they are supposed to be “mini-Easters”. But I never realized this when I was growing up, and I suspect most people don’t realize it now. I believe if we really understood what happened on Easter, every Sunday would become a mini-Easter. Every day would become a mini-Easter, even Good Friday.

We take our churches through the seriousness of Lent and the drama of Holy week with the best of intentions, but we shouldn’t take for granted that everyone understands what’s going on. We’re not reliving everything, we’re commemorating it. The fact is, the risen Jesus is just as much at work in the world and in our lives during Lent as he is during the Easter season. He’s always working miracles-- throughout Advent, Christmas, Kingdomtide, and Ordinary Time.

What... you don’t think Jesus puts his mission on hold to accommodate our church calendar, do you?

Don’t misunderstand me... Holy Week services can be powerful. But casual attendees don’t pick up on everything. For example, in a Palm Sunday discussion online last week, someone mentioned that people who show up only on Sundays (especially those who show up only on Easter) likely miss the whole narrative of the Passion. Well, consider the flip side of that. There must be an occasional visitor to a Good Friday service who doesn’t make it back for Easter. That’s no big deal if they were brought up in church and have a basic understanding of Christianity. But what if they weren’t? How depressing Good Friday would be if that’s where the story ends!

I grew up in church, and to this day, I have bad memories of the Good Friday Tenebrae service. But part of the reason is I didn’t understand until recently that there’s a hint of Easter at the end of it.

The hidden candle that’s brought out at the close of Tenebrae represents the hope of the resurrection. Good Friday isn’t the last word. But for years, that symbolism was lost on me. Apparently, I’m not the only one. The United Methodist Q & A at the denominational website tells us: “The service concludes in darkness, sometimes with a final candle, the Christ candle, carried out of the sanctuary, symbolizing the death of Jesus.”

No, hiding the candle symbolizes the death of Jesus, but we bring it back out to foreshadow the resurrection. And if we don’t bring it back out, I believe we should. We know that on the first Good Friday, the original followers of Jesus didn’t totally get the forthcoming resurrection. But considering we’re living on this side of the resurrection, is it really necessary for us to reenact their lack of understanding and the accompanying despair? It might make for good theater, but it opens the door to lousy theology.

This week, when you’re experiencing the Scripture accounts of the Last Supper, arrest, and crucifixion of Jesus, remember to look at all of it in light of the coming Resurrection. On Good Friday, be sure to read and emphasize the Lectionary passages from Hebrews-- they present the crucifixion in the context of what it accomplishes in our lives. And in those passages, you get hints that Good Friday isn’t the end.

Don’t let people leave any service this week without seeing the hope of the Resurrection.


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