Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

Being Present to Black Friday

We don’t call it “Good Friday” here, because, in those moments, there was nothing good about it.  After enjoying dinner, twelve disciples watched their leader get arrested.  Then what happened to them?  All we know is that Peter followed along, likely staying close to hear what was going on but even so, denying knowing Jesus at all.  Judas committed suicide out of remorse for his betrayal of Jesus.  As for the rest?  They probably scattered in fear.  Likely we all would.

As Peter followed Jesus and the crowd as the guards dragged Jesus first to the Sanhedrin, then to Pilate, then to Herod and back to Pilate (in Luke’s account), he was scared to death.  Unsure.  Hesitant.  Too scared even to admit to knowing Jesus.

Then Friday dawns.  Jesus is bruised, beaten, bloody.  He hasn’t slept, opting instead to pray for hours during the long night after dinner.  He’s been betrayed, he’s feeling friendless – he’s alone, for all intents and purposes.  Soon he will be forced to walk the two miles from the Praetorium to Golgotha.  Some gospel accounts have him carrying his cross the whole way, others have the Roman soldiers conscripting Simon of Cyrene to carry it part of the way.  Regardless, he picked up his cross.  He accepted the death sentence.

And now it’s 9 a.m.  The soldiers nail Jesus to the cross.  They laugh and jeer, as do people in the crowd.  They divide Jesus’ things amongst themselves and cast lots for his robe.  For the next six hours, Jesus will hear the taunts and jeers of the soldiers, the religious leaders, and the rest of the crowd.  Even one of the thieves beside him would taunt him.  John tells us that Jesus looked down and saw his mother and his “beloved disciple,” giving them to each other, commissioning John to take care of Mary.  The rest of Jesus’ followers?  Who knows where they are.  Probably hiding out in fear, not wanting to be discovered, not wanting to be found guilty by association.

Noon.  Darkness falls over the land.  Jesus continues to suffer, breath coming harder.  The crowds and soldiers continue to watch and mock.  Crucified people slowly suffocate and die, eventually becoming too weak to push up against the nails or ropes, the weight of the body as it hangs preventing the lungs from taking in enough air.

Three p.m.  Jesus gives a loud cry and dies.  The Roman soldiers don’t need to break his legs to hasten death as they had to to the thieves.  The eleven remaining disciples are nowhere to be found.  Two members of the Council, secret followers of Jesus, now come out and one approaches Pilate, requesting the body of Jesus.  The other helps him take the body down.  They wrap the body in herbs and linens before laying it in a new tomb.  The women who followed Jesus follow the two men, noting where Jesus was before going home for Sabbath rest.

Sunset comes and with it, the Sabbath begins.  We don’t know what the disciples did, but we can imagine how they felt.  They would have felt fear and uncertainly.  They were heartbroken about losing their friend and teacher.  The disciples were crushed with disappointment, because they truly believed that Jesus was heralding a new messianic era, a time when the Israelites would rise up and destroy their Roman oppressors.

In the evangelical church, we grab hold of “Sunday’s coming!”  We want to skip right past the ugly, emotional events of Thursday night and Friday and get to the joy of Sunday.  As I was growing up, we went from Palm Sunday with its Hosannas to Resurrection Sunday with its Hallelujahs.  In fact, there was the unspoken belief that the suffering of cancer, miscarriages, and chronic illnesses was because of one’s sin, so such issues were kept secret and private to avoid judgment.  We didn’t talk about suffering at all, not even the life-changing suffering of Jesus Christ.

However, are we not first followers of Christ?  We need to embrace the pain that Jesus and his followers faced.  We need to understand the pain, sense of betrayal, heartbreak, disappointment, sadness, the mind-melting fatigue, and the fear of those first disciples.  But why?  Why do we want even to visit this place of darkness?  We do so, because we will visit this valley in our lives.  We will feel all of these emotions, and we will experience the paralysis that comes from overwhelming inundation of feeling many of them at the same time.

Yes, we have the hope of the resurrection and new life in Christ, but that doesn’t take away the reality of the pain.  Sure, “Sunday is coming,” but the disciples didn’t know that, or, rather, they didn’t believe it.  And Sunday coming two days later does not, in any way, change the reality that today is Friday and today is dark with grief and fear.

So let’s stay here for today – and tomorrow, too.  Let’s understand and feel the richness of the emotions of this day, even when they’re not all pastel, fluffy, cotton-tailed happiness.  Let’s be present to these emotions, realizing that we must have sadness in order to appreciate best the joy of the empty tomb and what that means for our lives.  To do less than this is to cheapen the value of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, ignoring it because it makes us feel uncomfortable.


Maundy Thursday Reflections

As is the tradition for our family, we attended a Holy Week service Thursday night.  Our Wilmington church has been holding its Holy Week service on Wednesdays, a service that is a variation on the Stations of the Cross.  We stayed in town this year, though, worshiping with our local church family and attending the Maundy Thursday service, a Tennebrae service.  Tennebrae is Latin for “shadows,” and the service elicits within the worshiping community an emotional response to the darkness that comes as we reflect on the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Christ as he died for our sins.  Although it had been six years since the last time we’d participated in a Tennebrae service, I remember it as a powerful, valuable part of our Holy Week traditions.  This year was no exception, but one part of the whole service stands out for me as being particularly special.

Holy Week services typically include the Lord’s Supper, and such was the case here.  A little background…  My family is Baptist, but our local church is Methodist.  Theologically, the differences aren’t enough to bother us.  However, we do have a difference in belief about when people, children especially, should take Communion.  In our Baptist beliefs, the taking of Communion is a reaffirmation of our belief in Jesus Christ as the One who established the New Covenant with his followers, as well as a renewing of our commitment to follow him, certainly in our life, but even to death if necessary.  It’s important to me that someone (e.g., my daughters) take Communion with that understanding and commitment in her heart.  My oldest daughter has made her commitment to follow Jesus, but my youngest is still growing into her faith and isn’t there, yet.  In the Methodist Church, even those who have not yet committed their lives to Christ can receive Communion; the belief is that God extends prevenient grace through that sacrament (ordinance in Baptist circles) and thereby draws people to Godself.  I envision it as God slowly reaching people through love and grace, instead of trying to shortcut with dragging and Bible thumping.  Luckily, our pastor and I understand and respect each other’s views on this.

We were at the alter Thursday night.  My youngest had slipped her shoes off; she’d been so restless through the first prayers and responsive readings.  She had asked if she gets bread, and I told her, “No.”  “Why not?”  “You’re not quite ready, yet, but you’re getting there.”  She arrived at the alter and whispered, “I don’t have my shoes on.”  The disciples and Jesus were barefoot at the Last Supper themselves.  The pastor distributed the bread, asking if my wee one could have it.  I said, “No, not yet.”  Instead, our pastor laid her hands on my daughter’s head and gave her a blessing.  There it was.  Right there.  The bestowing of grace.  The elements would have been bread dipped in juice for my daughter, and that’s pretty much it.  But when Pastor Ellen gave H this blessing from God, it was a completely holy moment.  My daughter looked up at our pastor with this light in her eyes and a totally beatific smile on her face, that dimple popping out, and said simply, “Thank you.”  God’s grace worked through our pastor Thursday night to draw H still closer to that full relationship with him.