Way back when Lent started I attended an Ash Wednesday service at St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Fr. Bob Marone started his homily in a brutally honest way by stating: “I am not in the mood for Lent.” He went on to say he was angry, hurt, and grieving about the closing of the church, and he was in no mood to be repentant.
And in preparing for today I wondered how many of us, having just gone through Holy Week and Easter, might not have been in the mood. I suspect that, despite the spring weather and the beautiful Easter Service, some of us might still be in Maundy Thursday, or still living in the anguish of Good Friday, or maybe still waiting in the tomb of Holy Saturday.
Holy Week is more than a commemoration or remembrance of what happened to Jesus and his followers. The four holy days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday are the mysterious heart of our Christian faith, the Pascal Mystery, and as such they provide a paradigm for our Christian lives.
Christians are more than cheerleaders for Jesus. Sometimes it feels we cheer Jesus on every year as he races off again to first base with Maundy Thursday, rounds second on Good Friday, stretches to third base of Holy Saturday, and finally heads home for Easter. And we’re shouting on the third base line: Go Jesus, Go for Easter! Score an Easter run! Yet I imagine that once Jesus steps on home plate he picks up the bat, walks over to us, you and me, and says: you’re up. Your turn. If you want to get to Easter you will also need to go through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday to get there.
Which of these days do you find yourself in, right now?
Are you living in Maundy Thursday? On Maundy Thursday Jesus nourished his friends with food – and with something more: a covenant, a promise to be with them whenever they take bread, bless it, break it, and share it. With this Eucharistic meal they would need not go hungry ever again.
And so it is with us: God yearns to nourish us, to welcome us to a lavish feast. Holy Thursday reminds us we need not go hungry ever again.
Very few of us here are malnourished calorie-wise. Still many of us are malnourished when it comes to energy, to rest. We’re malnourished when it comes to hope, to joy, to relationship, to intimacy. We’re malnourished when it comes to peace. So, we need to get to the feast and nourishment of Maundy Thursday.
There are Maundy Thursday feasts all around us. Faith Leaders is a feast for me. It feeds me – it quickens my heart – its stirs up my soul. Sometimes my work does it for me, spending time with wife Sally, my children Hattie & Chris, with my close friends. How does God feed you?
Maundy Thursday does not appear on the threshold of the Passion by accident. Getting to Easter is costly and demanding and we will not make it if we are malnourished. This holy banquet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Maybe you’re in Good Friday. You know – Jesus is not the only one who dies on Good Friday. Who here hasn’t died in some way? If we’re honest, who has not been broken? Good Friday is the day of death, the day of dying.
- A loved one dies, and we have no idea how we’ll go on living.
- A marriage is strained or broken, or we live in the emptiness of not being married or in a loving relationship.
- A dream is deferred – or perhaps we can’t muster up energy to dream anymore.
- Our health, or our family life, or our career – despite our best efforts – are not what we expected.
Outside the context of the Holy Week, death is an adversary. Within the context of the Good Friday, however, death is not the enemy rather it’s an invitation, a transition, a passing over. But make no mistake, its painful.
When our life leads us to Good Friday, we feel alone, cut off. But we are not alone. Look around. Not only do we have each other for company – Jesus is there, as well. Having been through his own Good Friday Jesus says to us: come to me you who are dying, who are dead, who are lost … and I will give you rest. He is there at the foot of the cross to say: I am with you, I will hold you, and together we will wait for Easter.
Holy Saturday is the day of waiting. As my friend Terry Nelson-Johnson suggests: “It’s the day that we wait to see if Easter is contemporary or merely historical. And God help us if Jesus is the only one who gets there.”
We don’t really celebrate Holy Saturday. And I guess I can see why. Who wants to honor the tomb? And besides, we fear darkness, and most of us cannot abide waiting. Really – we do not want to go there. But when you think about it – it’s where so many us live – in the dark, the unknown, the not yet. And so we wait for peace. For understanding. For healing. For faith.
In Holy Saturday we are asked to surrender, to relinquish to God everything in us that has died on Good Friday, and to trust that our pain will be transformed and that we will be made new. It is not so much something that we do, but rather something we consent to – something that we let God do with us and in us. We surrender and trust.
During one of my own Holy Saturdays I’d become exhausted and dispirited, following a Good Friday that was the fight of my life. And I wondered is this now my life? Will this darkness ever end? Has God forgotten me? Will Easter ever come? My faith had dried up and blown away.
Then – my loved ones and my church lent me their faith, they believed for me. They came alongside me and whispered to me in a variety of ways: “Just wait, it’s going to be okay, Easter will come, all will be well. Ed…Easter is real.”
Last week at the Easter Service I loved getting up here and belting out the Hallelujah Chorus. It was triumphant and I was feeling that Easter joy. But in my experience – Easter seldom arrives triumphantly. It dawns quietly, unexpectedly, in a manner and shape we would not have expected. How is hope kindled? How do our hard hearts become flesh? How are wounds healed? Its mysterious, but I believe is has something to do with opening our hearts.
Let’s take a quick look at the Emmaus story and ponder how these characters made their way to Easter.
Part of the reason I like this story so much is because I so closely identify with the friends of Jesus who were walking to Emmaus. At first blush you have to think-what a couple of goofballs!
I mean, come on – these followers of Jesus were on the road and are joined by Jesus, himself, but they don’t recognize him.
– They even tease Jesus: “Are you the only one who hasn’t heard the things that have
taken place?” (definitely something I would do)
– Women had come back from the tomb saying he was not there and that he was
alive – and they didn’t get it.
– Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them the
things about himself in all the scriptures. And still, not a clue.
– Jesus himself calls them “fools and slow of heart to believe”.
– Finally, finally, when they offered him hospitality they recognized him in the breaking
of the bread.
What kept them from seeing? What kept them from getting to Easter?
I shared with the Faith Leader group how puzzled I was by how slow those guys were. And in our discussion we realized there was no way the men could have seen Jesus – they were still in Good Friday, or maybe in the darkness of Holy Saturday.
– Their hopes that Jesus would redeem Israel – were dashed.
– They sounded angry describing how their own chief priests and leaders had handed
him over to be condemned to death and crucified.
– They were grieving because the one who had loved them like no other – who
showed them what love could be – was now gone.
Though they were in darkness, their hearts still burned within them while walking with Jesus on the way. Somehow their hearts knew. I think our hearts know, too. But, like the Emmaus travelers we’re kept from seeing Christ in our midst by worry, anger, grief, fear.
This is what I think happened that day: the travelers did not see Jesus with their eyes as he walked alongside them, they did not see him with their minds as the scriptures were interpreted for them – they saw him with their hearts when they offered him hospitality – and Jesus reciprocated by sharing communion.
Hospitality is not just offered with hands, but with hearts, as well. How else can one feel welcome and wanted? They opened their hearts to Jesus who needed hospitality. Then he become the host – took bread, blessed and broke it – just like he had with the disciples. It touched their hearts. They surrendered their grief and hurt, and they could see. And they were in Easter. Then they could go back to their friends and say with conviction: Easter is real.
So we may or may not be in the mood for Easter. Maybe we’re feeling it – maybe we’re not – and that’s okay. Just as the Emmaus travelers opened their hearts and emerged from the darkness to new life, we have before and we will again emerge into Easter’s light. Easter will come.
When a friend of mine was recently in a dark and desperate place – having been there before and having emerged to new life myself – I was able to say, with conviction and authority, just what others had whispered to me – its going to be okay, just wait. Easter will come, Easter is Real.
This is what Easter season reminds us: whether we’re in the mood or not – regardless what day of Holy Week we find ourselves in – it shouts, or more likely whispers – Christ is Risen and you will rise, too. Easter is real.