I was invited by my pastor to present a “reflection” on the scripture readings for tonight’s church service, like a short sermon. Our Episcopal parish has a service every day in this week before Easter, and we have a tradition of laypeople giving the reflections on the Monday and Tuesday–probably partly so that our pastor doesn’t have to write that many sermons! I really appreciated this opportunity to write and speak about some of my ideas and to learn more about the process of writing something like this. One of the things that originally attracted me to The Episcopal Church was the quality of the sermons and the fascinating way they often tie together readings that at first hearing don’t seem related. The only guidance my pastor gave me about what to say was that it should be about Holy Week and that it should relate to at least one of the readings. I was awed at being given so much leeway! I printed out the readings and put them on top of my dresser and stared at them several times a day, and after a few days it all started to come together. Everyone seemed to think it turned out pretty well, so I’m posting it here.
Non-Christian readers, I hope you will find something useful here. Please realize that this is a Christian reflection written for a Christian audience and thus inevitably gives the impression that we think we are right about some stuff! If you are Jewish, please recognize that I’m appreciating and respecting the heritage and tradition that I share with Jesus.
This is the last week:
the last time Jesus spent with his friends, walking along with them like an ordinary human being;
their last chance to be with him before he was taken away.
They could sense the end coming, but this was no time to grieve.
This was the time to appreciate Jesus while they could.
It doesn’t feel that way for many of us, now.
We tend to experience Holy Week as a time of foreboding and growing sadness.
Because we know what’s coming.
We’ve heard the whole story.
This Monday is filled with the gathering gloom that pulls us toward the devastation of Friday.
We know the day and the hour when Jesus will be taken away.
We know all about the betrayal and denials.
We can’t change history.
We can only remember.
It’s so easy to slip into thinking of this whole week as a time when Jesus is already gone.
Of course, this Monday also pales by comparison to another day we know is coming: Sunday!
It’s not time to celebrate yet–we’ve got to hang in there for one more week with our Lenten disciplines–
but the end is in sight; our feast day is coming!
We are ready to endure six more days for the sake of the joy that is set before us.
We know just when to expect it.
We know we have almost reached that day when we can lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.
In our anticipation of Sunday, and of Friday, we may almost forget to experience Monday.
Jesus also knew what was going to happen,
yet he made the most of every remaining day.
He spent his last week teaching new parables,
reaching new people,
preaching even more daringly than before,
opening eyes that were blind,
drawing out the people who sat in darkness.
He could not grow faint or be crushed.
He ran the race that was set before him,
and on each day of his last week, he drew closer to his goal.
In the year that Jesus died, Passover began on Thursday.
This year, it begins tonight.
Jews around the world are celebrating Passover in much the same way Jesus did.
I’m sure the traditions have evolved over the years, but when I attend a Passover seder,
I like to think of it as the same kind of gathering Jesus had, with his twelve best friends, in that upstairs room.
Even as he imbued the bread and wine with new meaning,
he also kept all the rich meaning already wrapped into the Jewish ceremony:
“Praised be thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has given us the fruits of the Earth.”
One tradition of the Passover seder is a reading called “Dayenu!”
This Hebrew word means something like, “It would have been enough.”
The reader lists the many blessings God bestowed upon the Israelites, and after each one, the people exclaim, “Dayenu!”
If God had done only that much, it would have been enough, yet God did more.
Yes! God did more!
After all the wonderful things in the Old Testament, God provided something better.
It seems to me that if God had created the heavens and stretched them out,
parted the sea and led the oppressed people out of Egypt with a pillar of fire shining forth in the night,
and been to us the God of the Psalm,
the well of life in whose light we see light,
the God whose love reaches to the heavens,
the God who lets us drink from the river of his delights
and take refuge under the shadow of his wings . . .
But if, in addition to all that, God had declared new things to spring forth–
had God merely created a person who spoke the wisdom of Jesus of Nazareth,
who walked this world showing the compassion and mercy Jesus did,
inspiring people forever after to love one another as he loved them . . .
And then, if the teachings of Jesus are not just inspiring but true–
there really is a God who knows every hair of our heads,
who loves even the strayed sheep,
who is ready to welcome anyone who has ears that hear . . .
If not only that, but also Jesus was a miraculous healer,
a person who could turn a few loaves and fishes into food for five thousand,
who could show us that our daily worries are needless if we trust in the God with whom all things are possible . . .
If not only that, but also that great teacher was God’s own son, walking among us,
humbled into human form out of love for us . . .
Any part of it would have been enough.
Every step in the journey of Jesus is an amazing gift to us.
And there is still more!
It’s only Monday.
Every day this week will bring us new gifts, new things springing forth,
new perception of the Way,
new understanding of the Truth,
new determination to live the Life.
It’s only Monday.
Each day this week, if Jesus had gotten only that far . . .
UPDATE: During Lent 2014, I linked this post to Finding Motivation for Health & Spirituality at Live Renewed and to the Personal Faith Linkup at Mums Make Lists.