IVP - Strangely Dim - The Whole Picture of Holy Week

April 7, 2009

The Whole Picture of Holy Week

At dinner last Sunday--Palm Sunday--friends and I looked out the window and saw snow falling to the ground, sticking to green grass and budding trees, and covering our cars. Months ago, I would have been delighted--I love snow in winter. But this time, after we'd had a taste of spring (a seventy-degree day and several nice, mild days in the sixties), I was ruined. I long for "real spring," not this "fake spring" which brings back freezing temperatures, cold rainy days and more abominable snow. Several of us present at dinner uttered collective sighs of dismay. Snow in April. It's just not right!

     Before the snow began to fall, Palm Sunday had held much joy for me. At last, a respite from the gravity of Lent! The morning rain had let up and the sun was shining as our processional (which consisted of musical instruments, a choir, prayer and eucharistic ministers and clergy, preceded by incense and the cross and followed by the children of the church) walked up the hill to the building where we gather for Sunday services, met by a palm-waving crowd that joined us as we sang. Here we remembered the day Jesus traveled into Jerusalem on a donkey and was met by crowds who greeted him with palm branches and praises, and threw their cloaks on the ground to honor him. We remembered the hope of Easter--both Christ's actual resurrection and the coming celebration of his saving work on our behalf. We remembered the people's joy at his presence in their midst.

     But this week we again plunge into darkness: Tenebrae, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday. Easter is coming soon, but first we must remember: Christ was tortured. He entered the city in triumph, but he was arrested, betrayed, tried and convicted. He was humiliated. He died and was buried, and the world was plunged into darkness for a time. This week we walk with him through that time of abandonment, pain and grief. We remember, as one, the present hardship and the hope to come. We recall the bleakness of the winter of our Lord's crucifixion even as we wait expectantly for the joy of the coming spring--his resurrection.

     This sequence is more than just a mere remembrance, though. This is our opportunity to participate in the resurrection story in a concrete way. After years and years of remembering Easter, it's easy to take for granted the very reason we come together each week for worship, why we celebrate Christmas, why we pray, and why we observe Lent, Palm Sunday and the rest. We experience things in cycles: seasons of nature, of life and longevity, of health, birth and death. We see many beginnings and endings in our lives, so it's intensely difficult to comprehend such things as the end of suffering and the infinite love of our Savior, whose sacrifice is the beginning of our eternal hope and joy.

     My church has a practice which I find both moving and beautiful: after Palm Sunday, the palm leaves are burned and the ashes collected for use in the following year's Ash Wednesday services. Next year, as the ashes are placed on my forehead in the shape of a cross (itself a symbol of death and new life), I will remember that they came from a day of celebration of Christ's coming. Here, too, is a reminder that even as our joy turns now and again to grief, winter turns to spring, and our sorrows will turn to dancing. And we can say with confidence and thanksgiving: Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again!

Posted by Christa Countryman at April 7, 2009 1:19 PM Bookmark and Share | TrackBack

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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