The End Just Might Not Be the End!

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Pastel art “Resurrection Morning” by James R. C. Martin

“What do you know about Holy Week? You’re Baptist!”

It’s a common question for those who do not understand that Baptists are of many and varied sorts. And some of us Baptists do indeed walk through Holy Week with our soon-to-be crucified Savior. It is a holy walk that I would not want to miss. To miss it, to rush past it without reflection, is to miss the full glory of Christ’s resurrection and our own.

My dear friend, Guy Sayles, writes of the need to “lean in” to the passion of Holy Week.

I have leaned-in to the dramas, paradoxes, betrayals, denials, love, grace, losses and gains which characterize the wild, careening journey from Palm Sunday to Easter. The stories and events of these days reveal so much about the human condition and the divine character.

As for me, I will listen intently this week to the laments of Jesus. I will keep vigil as he prays in Gethsemane. I will try to understand the betrayal he endured. I will witness his arrest. I will cringe at the abuse inflicted upon him. I will hear his cries from the cross asking why God had forsaken him. I will watch him take his last breath. And I will understand all over again that his suffering was for me and for us all.

I will understand all over again that the Christian life is filled with little deaths and big ones, deaths that knock us to our knees, deaths that are a part of living. I will understand all over again that a Christian’s suffering and angst, that most assuredly comes to us, is the necessary preparation for our resurrection. All over again, as I have done for so many Easters, I will understand and celebrate the miracle of my own resurrection, giving thanks to our God of rebirth.

Again, I share Holy Week thoughts written by Guy Sayles.

I’ve particularly come to resonate with the silence of Holy Saturday, a silence in which the shocked grief of disillusionment and death mingle with the wonderment and anticipation that the end might not be the end. Many of our days are like this shadowy Saturday: we’re in-between the worst and the best, the bitterest last and the brightest first. Because of Easter, Saturday bends toward life and hope, and so do our lives.  We sense a shepherd in the shadows and glimmers of light in the darkness.

I hope that each of you will journey through these Holy Week days and experience both the bitterness and the brightness. Most assuredly, the message of Resurrection Sunday is about new life and hope, rebirth and resurrection, the glorious reality that the end just might not be the end. Thanks be to God.

Holy Saturday . . . Nothingness

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The feast of Holy Saturday is also called The Great Sabbath. It is said that on this day Christ “rested” in the tomb, in death.

In the Greek Orthodox Church, the first service of Holy Saturday takes place in the morning and, while it somewhat breaks the somber spell of Friday, it holds an uneasy time of waiting while Jesus lies in the tomb. Some have called it a time of silence, a time of nothingness. Guy Sayles writes of his experience of this day.

I’m especially drawn to the silence of Holy Saturday: the uneasy, uncertain quiet of the sealed tomb and the still, stagnant air of nothingness. There are no more cries of agony from the cross but not yet any shouts of “Alleluia” either — only the sheer silence of the unknown and the in-between. That place of non-existent existence is where we sometimes are; knowing that God-in-Jesus has endured it assures us that there really is “nothing which can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Guy Sayles

What an awe inspiring sight I experienced as a child when I was taken to church on Holy Saturday and we stood before the symbolic tomb of Jesus.

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Greek Orthodox Epitafios, England

Called “Epitafio” in Greek, the symbolic tomb was covered with flowers.

Though the symbolic tomb was beautifully adorned from top to bottom with flowers, it still held a strong sense of death. Compared to the observance of other days in Holy Week, Saturday did feel like nothingness, stagnant, still, uncertain.

It mirrors real life, does it not . . . those times when we stand empty, without answers, filled with uncertainty, wrapped in nothingness.

But Sunday’s coming! Walking through Holy Week with spiritual awareness also carries us through our own messy lives and brings us closer to a true understanding of life, death and everything in between. The “nothingness” of Holy Saturday cannot compare with the hope of the rebirth and resurrection to come.

Pay Attention

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Pay attention. Pay very close attention. For the day we call Good Friday brings us face-to-face with the trial, crucifixion, death and burial of Christ. We are placed within the awesome mystery of the extreme humility of a suffering God. This day is at once a day of deep gloom as well as a day of watchful expectation, because the Author of life is at work transforming death into life: “Come, let us see our Life lying in the tomb, that he may give life to those that in their tombs lie dead.” (Sticheron of Great Saturday Orthros)

Christ’s death is the final and ultimate revelation of His perfect love. He suffered the excruciating pain of absolute alienation when he cried out to God, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!” (Mark 15:34). And finally, Jesus accepted the ultimate horror of death with the agonizing cry, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

In my memories of what we called Great and Holy Friday in the Greek Orthodox Church, I understood, even as a child, that the profound event of the death and burial of God in Christ Jesus was marked by an eerie kind of silence. There was no eucharistic celebration. In fact, Great Friday and Great Saturday are the only two days of the year when no eucharistic gathering is held.

On Great and Holy Friday, we commemorate the sufferings of Christ: the mockery, the crown of thorns, the scourging, the nails, the thirst, the vinegar and gall, the cry of desolation, and all that the Savior endured on the Cross. The Friday afternoon Vespers left an indelible mark as I remember the un-nailing of Christ from the Cross and the placement of His body in the tomb.

Great and Holy Friday. Pay attention!

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

– Isaiah 53:4-5 King James Version (KJV)

Pay attention.

Pay attention to what goes on around you and within you. Pay attention to the water on your feet and the roughness of the towel in your hand. Pay attention to the softness of the bread and the sting of the wine in your throat. Pay attention to the brusqueness of the kiss and the splinters of the cross. Pay attention to the coldness of the tomb and the terror that clutches your heart. Pay attention to the brightness of the dawning light and the life that bursts forth.

– Br. James Koester
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Remembering Everything

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As a young child, I remember the very, very long Greek Orthodox liturgies of Holy Thursday. We called the day Great and Holy Thursday. Other faith traditions name it Maundy Thursday; others the Thursday of Mysteries. The worship service seemed endless to me, and it was about everything: the washing of the disciples’ feet, the Last Supper, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas.

On Great and Holy Thursday, light and darkness, joy and sorrow are strangely mixed in the light of the Upper Room and the darkness in Gethsemane. The light of the holy kingdom and the darkness of hell capture us simultaneously. The way of life and the way of death converge on this one Holy day.

It is a portrayal of our very lives, for on our journey through life we meet up with both life and death. We cannot avoid either, though we cling ever so tightly to life and fight with all our might to conquer death.

Here in the remembrances of this day, Jesus shared a sacred meal with his disciples, washed their feet in an act of love, experienced the harsh agony of Gethsemane and endured the pain of betrayal by one of his own. Yes, Great and Holy Thursday is about everything.

The Epistle to the Hebrews wraps up the Gospel in a sacred package that is God’s Final Word in His Son.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.

When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

– Hebrews 1:1-3 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

What an act of worship it is when we remember everything — the central events of the final week of Jesus’s life — on Great and Holy Thursday.

Be Still for the Mystery

IMG_5151Holy Wednesday brings us a respite in the midst of our journey with Jesus to the cross. This day asks us to wait, to stop, to receive what we will most need for this journey.

My memory of Holy Wednesday as a Greek Orthodox child is a memory of the gentle touch of the priest as he comforted me with a holy and healing touch. It was the Mystery of Holy Unction, which is offered for the healing of soul and body and for forgiveness of sins. At the end of the service, the priest anoints the faithful as he makes the sign of the cross on the forehead and on the top and palms of the hands saying, “For the healing of soul and body.”

When we journey with Jesus on the way of the cross, Holy Week becomes a profound reminder of our commitment of life, heart and soul to God. We would be wise not to rush too quickly to the empty tomb. Instead we must sit with Jesus at Gethsemane. We must mark our every step as we walk with him to the cross. We must wait patiently with the women as Jesus is suspended between heaven and earth.

Holy Wednesday bids us be still for the Mystery, receiving the sign of the cross made with oil upon our foreheads, experiencing healing of the soul and body, waiting with Christ in his agony, and, at last, casting our eyes with wonder on the empty tomb.