I have been thinking a great deal about what Holy Week means to me as a Christian, as a deacon, and as a person. I separate those things because like God, we are multifaceted. God is always the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; they are always the Mother, Child, and Spirit; they are always the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, as well as so much more than we can imagine. I am always a person and all that being so entails; I am always a Christian, I am always a deacon, I am always many other things as well, and sometimes these things blend well and sometimes they don’t, but all are true regardless.
As a Christian, Holy Week gives me great joy. It is when I am reminded of the awesomeness of God’s power, that nothing is beyond them and that their Love for me, for us, extends even beyond death. As children we are taught that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter after having died on the cross for our sins and because of this we will get to go to heaven.
As a deacon, Holy Week reminds me of my call to leadership within the Church and the tremendous weight that brings to the shoulders of all clergy. I am very conscious of the many weeks of preparation it has taken to plan this one week to ensure that the liturgies are meaningful for us all and that they will hopefully help us connect with God in both comfortable and new ways.
As a person, Holy Week reminds me that I am fallible and for that I am incredibly grateful. We tell our children that we don’t expect them to be perfect, but then judge and punish them when they are not.
Hidden within the texts of Holy Week is an arc that we can only see if we experience it all. On Palm Sunday we heard of the celebration and joy of Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem, this fits with my excitement as a Christian because I often find liturgy to be joyful. On Maundy Thursday we heard about the last supper, but more importantly we heard about humility. We heard about the humility of a great man who knelt before the people who had faithfully followed him for three years. This story fits well with my feelings of responsibility as a deacon and church leader. On Good Friday we heard of the betrayal, crucifixion, and death of Jesus, which jives with the many times I have felt unable to achieve the perfection we all pretend we don’t seek. Tonight, we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, which goes well beyond the restoration of life, it is a restoration of hope. So, we began and end the week with Joy, which again fits with that part of me that is a Christian because Sunday morning is almost always joyful.
As a deacon I have not felt a great deal of joy this week. I have been very nervous, often not knowing exactly what to expect. As a person, I experienced a similar thing because my deacon self and the part of me that clings to the Christianity of my childhood were coming into conflict. As a deacon I am called to serve with humility, as Christ did at the last supper. As a Christian I am called to Love God and my neighbor as I love myself, and my experience of this as a child was always joyful, but I have not felt much Joy in the past week.
Last night, we were asked to place a stone near the crucified Christ to symbolize the things that we hoped God would help us with and as I placed my stone on the altar I thought and felt nothing. I knew it was an important thing to do, and as I sat right there and reflected, my mind was blank. I know that Good Friday is important, it is, in fact, very important to me personally because I do not believe that you can truly experience Easter unless you have experienced Good Friday; yet, when in the midst of it, I was not able to ask God for anything. I was not able to place my burdens on the crucified Christ. The human part of me, truly the American part of me, wonders how I can ask someone else to carry my burdens because they are mine, I made them, and it is my responsibility to deal with them, but that is a topic for another day.
As I reflected on this experience in preparation for tonight I realized something. I realized that loving God as I love myself means that I need to let God love me. Allowing God to carry my burdens is an act of love for both of us and it doesn’t mean that God is taking my burdens away, it simply means that I am accepting their help in carrying them.
As a parent, a husband, a colleague, and all of the other things that I am, I don’t want other people to carry any burdens, especially mine. So, I do my best to ensure that they don’t have to, but the problem with this is that it keeps the people around me and God at arm’s length, even though the opposite is the goal. Shielding friends and family from our pain and anxiety is not an act of Love, it is an act of fear. Fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of rejection.
Loving God and our neighbor does not only mean that we do nice things for people, it means that we share our lives with them and allow them to do the same with us; and most importantly it reminds us that the joy we experience as a follower of Christ is not hollow, there is meaning behind it and the meaning is found in the dark and lonely moments we encounter in between the moments of joy. Last night many of us placed a stone on the crucified Christ and with it we asked God to carry away our burdens, tonight those stones are gone and the stone that blocked the tomb has been rolled away, the tomb is empty and our burdens are hopefully lighter.
You see, Easter is not about Jesus dying to pay some cosmic debt to God on our behalf, it is about the joy of love. Jesus died so that we can understand that God’s love is so encompassing and powerful that not even death can contain it, but to understand that love, we must stop compartmentalizing our lives. We must view our existence only through the eyes of Christ and stop dividing ourselves into the different roles we play because God sees only one thing and that is a beloved child who, deep down, truly wants nothing more than to be loved and the truth, the real truth, is that we were loved before we were born, we are loved now, and we will be loved until the end of time. By embracing God’s love, by immersing ourselves in it, the barriers we erect between ourselves and God; the stones we place between ourselves and the world, will be rolled away, one by one, until in the end we know nothing but love, but to get there we first need to be willing to allow God to love us, as much as we love them. Amen. Alleluia, Christ is Risen!