Monday, April 9, 2012

Assimilating Holy Week

It is Easter Monday, the day after Easter Sunday, the second of the Fifty Great Days of Easter.

I decided that this year I would begin a new tradition of using that day to pray, to reflect, to recover, to regroup, and to do some gardening.

It’s all about assimilating the experiences of last week into my life and I hope that you will spend some time doing that, too. I’m thinking about all that the disciples of Jesus had to assimilate when they woke up on the first Easter Monday; it boggles my mind—but not as much as it boggled theirs, I’m sure.

Two related words are haunting me: “follow” and “participate.” I am struggling to think about and to live in light of the fact that to be a Christian means to follow Jesus Christ and to participate in the life of Jesus Christ.

During Holy Week I found myself thinking and preaching about following Jesus wherever he goes.

So on Palm Sunday we imagined Jesus riding toward us and then away from us and we pondered the questions “Where is he going?” and “Will I follow him, go the other direction, or just stand right here?” Those are vital questions, I think. Answering them requires getting to know him and getting to know ourselves—both are difficult and necessary processes.

On Maundy Thursday we imagined Jesus washing our feet and telling us that we are to love each other in the same way that he loved us and we pondered the question of whether we in our lives exhibit a love that looks anything like the love he showed in stooping to do a slave’s service to his disciples. That’s a vital question, I think. There is no way—absolutely no way—to separate loving, sacrificial service from the practice of Christian discipleship.

On Good Friday we imagined ourselves watching the crucifixion of Jesus and we pondered the question of whether we follow the teaching of Jesus that to be his followers means taking up our cross and following him and that of Paul that we are to have the mind of Christ which means emptying ourselves completely and utterly in willing sacrifice. That’s a vital question, I think. After all, to be “Christian” is to be “Christ-like” and the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that being Christ-like is all about giving up self for the sake of God and for the sake of other people and not about a lot of the things that we try to make it be about.

On Easter Sunday we imagined ourselves hearing the testimony of that first witness to the resurrected Christ, Mary Magdalene, as she breathlessly shared the news with us that Jesus is alive and we then imagined ourselves being in the room when Jesus made his first appearance to the gathered disciples and showed us his wounds and breathed on us the Holy Spirit and told us that he was sending us out to continue his mission. We pondered the question of whether we are really able to see Jesus—we’re not, except in our faithful imaginations—or whether we are numbered among those who have not seen yet believe—and we are, which is all right, since Jesus said such ones are blessed. That’s a vital question, I think, because the fact is that our following of Jesus, while based in a personal relationship with him through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, also depends—at least for its beginning--on the testimony of others, be they biblical authors or contemporary Christians.

What passes for “proof” in our modern Western scientific mindset will not come to us in a life of discipleship. The “proof” of our relationship with and following of Jesus comes in our willingness to accept that it is in Jesus’ wounds that his faithful service is seen—even after his resurrection his wounds were still visible—and that it is in our willingness to be wounded and to bear our wounds for God’s sake and for love’s sake that our following is given validity.

Given that Paul said that our resurrection bodies will be like of Jesus, I wonder if we must place alongside the truth that there are no tears in heaven the possibility that the wounds we accept or that are forced upon us in our service to God and to others will be visible.

The ongoing accumulation of wounds as evidence of our love is the closest thing to proof of our relationship with Jesus that we are likely to get.

As we follow Jesus, then, we will find ourselves participating with him in his life; we will find ourselves living a life like the life he lived, and that life is a life of love, of service, and of sacrifice.

Perhaps I can distill what I learned this Holy Week into this: whereas I have always prayed, thought, and preached about what it means that Jesus suffered, died, and rose for us, this year I found myself praying, thinking, and preaching about what it means that we suffer, die, and rise with him.

The challenge now is to assimilate into my day-to-day living what I have been assimilating into my prayers, thoughts, and sermons…

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