This week is the week that the Church has traditionally called “Holy Week.” It is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, when we enter into the journey that Jesus took to the cross – through his anger at the Temple, to the last supper with his friends, to his arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial. We enter into the grief and pain of Jesus’ journey through this Holy Week. It is a week of lament and heavy hearts, remembering the depth of the story and what it means for us. The grief of Holy Week is turned to joy on Easter Sunday, when we remember how the story ends – resurrection, hope, new beginnings.
I have long loved Easter. I usually say that it is my favourite holiday. What is NOT to love about the day that shapes my entire life story? Why wouldn’t I love celebrating that death didn’t win, that it won’t win, that there is hope? I have been known to be a little giddy on Easter Sunday. I like to laugh and cheer and lead worship services full of both of those things, too. It makes Holy Week worth it, getting to Easter. The heavy heart is a little lighter knowing it will soon be lifted.
Easter feels different to me this year, almost one year since my sister died. I know the right thing to say is that it feels different because now I really get the importance of Easter even more. That it should feel different because now I appreciate the gift of eternal life in an even deeper way. I think I am supposed to say that Easter fills me with hope for my sister and gives me comfort that she is in a better place. But that is not how Easter feels to me right now. This year I feel a whole lot more Holy Week than Easter.
I realized a few days ago that this week is a “grief trigger” for me. Holy Week (though it fell at a different time last year) is full of sad memories. Today is one of those days. It was the Monday of Holy Week that my sister went to the doctor and he told her to go home and prepare to die. She went to a night class that night, did a final presentation (she was a trooper like that) and then she got in bed and it seemed like everything had changed. She became a person dying of a cancer to me at the start of Holy Week last year. Holy Week 2013 was hard and scary and filled with sadness. It was awful The truth is that all that got me through last Holy Week was Easter. I played “Christ is Risen” on repeat.
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling over death by death.
Come awake, come awake.
Come and rise up from the grave.
On Easter Sunday I pushed through a sermon. I talked about Christ defeating death. I held it together. Until after the sermon. I had laid flowers at the front of the church and talked about how we lay flowers on graves. As a reminder to us that Christ had changed the story I invited people to come and TAKE BACK a flower. “Today, we are not going to lay flowers down,” I said. “As people of hope, we are going to pick them up.” I invited people to either keep the flower or pass it on to someone who needed resurrection hope. And then person after person walked onto our platform and handed a flower to me. I can honestly say I didn’t see that coming and I was totally overwhelmed. I stood there and received flower after flower. Hope after hope. It is one of the most powerful memories of my life.
(Easter flowers, 2013)
Now here I am in another Holy Week. And the truth is, it is comfortable here. I am all over Holy Week. I get grief. I embrace the heavy heart. It’s kind of a relief for the world to join with me and for all of us to lament together. Holy Week is a gift of grace for the grieving. But I am a little fearful – because the week has to end in Easter. That is how the story goes. And while I don’t like living in the season of the heavy heart, I’m not sure I’ll be ready to celebrate come Easter Sunday. I will definitely need a week to get ready. I hope a week will be enough.
So this is my vulnerable invitation to you this week – would you join me on my Holy Week journey? I will post some thoughts each day on my Holy Week story, of my journey to (hopefully) Easter joy. I would like us to journey together. Share your stories and your questions and your thoughts, too.
Today I think of the prayer of Jesus, as he wrestled with what was to come in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father if it is possible, may this cup by taken from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26: 39)
That is a prayer I am tempted to pray. “Father, maybe for this year you could take this happy Easter expectation from me. Take the service. And the sermon. And for this year I’ll stay in Holy Week with my memories a little bit longer.”
I was tempted to hand it all off. There is a wonderful second pastor right here that could do all those things in a heartbeat. But I sensed God’s heart for me in this one: “Do it anyway.”
Preach hope anyway.
Because when you do, hope comes anyway. Flower after flower.
And I’ve got a week to get ready.