Dear Folks at Zion,
We are now into our third week in Lent and later this month, starting on March 25, we will begin what is known as Holy Week. We are accustomed to Lent being a busy time of the year, and there is no single week in the entire church calendar busier than Holy Week.
Here at Zion, Holy Week begins with the procession on Palm Sunday and continues with two major services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In addition, we have the prayer vigil that extends from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday and the Stations of the Cross observance on Good Friday afternoon. And there’s more: after the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, the altar guild has to clean everything, put it back, and fill the church with Easter lilies on Holy Saturday so everything is ready for Easter Sunday. Is that busy enough for you????
This is probably a good place to stop and say “Thank You” to the altar guild and members of the worship and music committee who work harder this week than at any other time. Every single service during Holy Week requires both a different kind of worship and a different set-up on the altar. There is also plenty of moving things around, taking things down, and putting things up during Holy Week – not least the change from the Lenten cross to the Easter cross by the baptismal font. And, of course, every effort is made to make sure that the sanctuary is resplendent with God’s glory on Easter Sunday morning.
So with all this work, busyness, and activity, how can we be expected to set aside time to sit in church for a week of worship services? It took me a while in this letter to get to the main point, but here it is: why should we take even more time out of an all- consuming week to sit in church for service after service? I can think of three reasons why being in church this week of all weeks really matters.
First, the week that starts with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ends with his death is far and away the single-most important week of Jesus’ life and the culmination of everything He came to do for us. Nearly half of John’s Gospel is devoted to this one week of time. The other three Gospel writers also devote a disproportionate amount of space to recounting the events of Holy Week. When you consider that neither Mark nor John even records Jesus’ birth but devote multiple chapters to Jesus’ final week, clearly this week matters considerably. By being in church we can hear again the stories of what God accomplished for us during this very week.
I realize, though, that that’s kind of an academic answer to why Holy Week matters; it’s not an answer that penetrates to the heart. A second and more telling reason why Holy Week worship matters is that our world needs it. We need to hear and experience the message that God cares about the kind of violence that is ripping through our world and destroying the lives of innocent children in school shooting after
school shooting. Even those who don’t lose their lives are sadly losing their innocence. But there is a God who can do something about the violence and the death that permeates the very fabric of our society. By sending His Son to suffer and die for us, God is telling us two things: first that He feels the pain of our loss and stands with us in our loss, but more than that, by allowing His Son to die for us, He has taken away the sting of death. Because Christ rose again from the dead, we know that death is not the final word, that death has met its match in God. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The third reason why we need to be in church during Holy Week is that we need it. It is precisely because we are so busy and are so preoccupied with our schedules and with our workload and with our priorities that we need to hear God say we can’t do it by ourselves. We are saved – which is to say our relationship with God and with others is created – not by our busyness but by His grace. By grace alone. That, in a nutshell, is why Holy Week really matters. It matters because we need to hear and be reminded of a God who endured unimaginable suffering so that we might be saved by grace.