One of the marks of Easter Sunday in most churches is reciting together the words, “He is risen. He is risen indeed,” then singing the hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”
I remember attending my first Maundy Thursday service and being immersed in the heart-rending story of Jesus’ death and the shock and anxiety of his disciples. I even attempted to participate in Lent on my own – a number of times.
But this year, we began attending a church that practices the liturgical year. As our pastor, Paul Hill, teaches: “The Church Year gives us glimpses of God. In and of themselves, these are not complete pictures. But when taken together, over time, we see a more and more complete picture of who God is, what God is like, and it is all portrayed through the lens of Jesus’ life.”
He is Risen – Tell the Slant
It’s as if we can’t take the full picture of Jesus’ glory all at once. Pastor Paul says we must pace ourselves, and the church calendar helps us do that. He shares from Emily Dickinson, “The truth must dazzle gradually – Or every man be blind.” As we go through the liturgical year, we gain glimmers of the life of Jesus. The pieces work together to help form us, and every year we cycle again, going deeper and deeper, if we allow ourselves.
So, this year, Lent was fully emphasized. Both my husband and I participated in our own ways, and we were buoyed by the new community who encouraged us through the weeks of letting go and identifying with the sufferings of Christ.
Now, we come to Holy Week, with its beginning on Palm Sunday. Pastor Paul says Palm Sunday and the rest of Holy Week are the two halves that remind us of the kind of King we worship. “Palm Sunday is strange because we celebrate his Triumphal Entry in one moment; and in the next, we observe his suffering.” The liturgy of Holy Week brings us face to face with a King who is acquainted with suffering, and who “lets us do to him, what happened on the cross.”
What does it ask of me?
The liturgical service confronts me with not only the risen Savior, but the suffering redeemer. What does it ask of me? To passively observe? To allow the facts to seep into my mind? To allow its truth to bore into my soul? It tells me that any suffering I may experience allows me to share in the sufferings of Jesus — that suffering is part of my transformation into the likeness of Christ. That I must allow suffering to do its work in me. That I must not run from it, but I must consent to the task it must perform.
Pastor Paul shares the story recounted by the nun, Joan Chittester*:
A great army invaded a country and created a path of destruction where every they went. Their greatest wrath was reserved for the holy people they found, particularly in the monks.
When the invaders arrived in one of the villages …the leader of the village reported to the commander, “all the monks, hearing of your approach fled to the mountains.”
The commander smiled a broad, cold smile, for he was proud of having a reputation for being a very fearsome person. But then the leader added, “All, that is, but one.”
The commander became enraged. He marched to the monastery and kicked in the gate. There in the courtyard stood the one remaining monk. The commander glowered at the figure.” Do you know who I am?” the commander demanded. “I am he who can run you through with a sword without batting an eyelash.”
And the monastic, fixed the commander with a serene and patient look and said, “And do you know who I am? I am one who can let you run me through with a sword without batting an eyelash.”*
Can I stand and let suffering run its sword through me, knowing that life is on the other side, or do I run like the other monks, away from changing, away from hard questions, away from intimcacy with the Savior who knows me and knows suffering.
The Liturgy asks this of me, and so does the One who endured it all for me.
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
by Kathy Wiebe, Director of Marketing, Barclay College
*From “The Life God Blesses: Weathering The Storms Of Life That Threaten The Soul” by Gordon McDonald.
Paul Hill is pastor of Wheatland Mission in Wichita, Kansas.