Rev. Dr. Pat Youngdahl, a Presbyterian minister and a writer, once reflected on her discomfort that as Christians we celebrate one Holy Week during the year, “as if,” she says, “the holiest things that have ever happened in our faith tradition happened then.” What happens to the rest of Jesus’s life, “the fifty-one weeks left over,” as she says. Is there not holiness in the rest of the story? The healings, the laughter, the community, the justice-making, the welcoming of women, the lifting up of children, the challenge to oppressive power, the puzzling parables, the breaking of bread – is there not holiness in every moment of Jesus’s life?
She has a point. There are some versions of Christianity that focus so entirely upon the death of Jesus – as if the only thing that mattered was that he died – that they forget that he was killed, executed by the imperial power, precisely because of the way he lived. Everything that Jesus did, everything that we remember about how he tried to follow God’s way and teach us to do the same, was holy. In that sense, every week in the Christian calendar is Holy Week…
…And yet. We would do well not to skip lightly over this week, and in particular this day. Yes, every other week is holy, but it is the particularity of Christian tradition to ask us to stop, and consider, and sit in the stark reality that is the pain and trauma of human existence.
That it not what we like to do in our culture. We’d much prefer to skip lightly over the pain and betrayal and reality of death and violence and head right to an Easter with the wrinkles smoothed away, the wounds covered up by smiley-faced Band-Aids.
But our liturgical year does not let us escape. We are compelled to sit here. At the foot of the cross. And stare death in the face.
It is all there in John’s story, just about every kind of human brokenness you can imagine, all leading to a horrifying, tragic end.
Religious leaders sold out to the state.
Twisting the meaning of words.
An unfair trial.
An unfair judgement.
Lies. And more lies.
Authority figures abusing their power.
The people with (seemingly?) little power.
Manipulation of people.
Manipulation of systems meant to protect the less powerful.
The loss of a child.
The loss of a friend.
Watching your loved one suffer.
Watching your loved one die.
Not knowing what happens next.
On this day, we remember the pain and violence that can be human living. We remember the pain and violence we bear in our own lives. And we remember our brother Jesus, his life, and particularly on this day, his death.
We sit at the foot of the cross. We sit at the entrance to the tomb. And we grieve.
And we may wonder, as the disciples did: Is this the end?
And we wait.
Rev. Anne Dunlap is an ordained United Church of Christ minister serving as a “street pastor” for racial justice and solidarity in the Denver, CO area. Rev. Dunlap is committed to the work of collective liberation, working in freedom movements with folks across race, gender, and class lines for more than 25 years, with a particular passion for solidarity with Black, immigrant, worker, and indigenous communities. Anne also serves as adjunct faculty at the Iliff School of Theology, and loves herbal practice, tending goats, and hanging out with friends and her beloved of over 20 years. .