Because of other commitments I haven’t been at home for the whole of Easter week in quite a few years. I’ve been home for Good Friday and then been elsewhere for Easter Sunday, or the other way round, or something else, but never at home for the whole of Holy Week.
Until this year. This year I have been able to celebrate the whole of Holy Week with my own church family. I hadn’t realised how much I missed that. My overwhelming reaction is this: Thank God for the story of our faith. And thank God we can live that story.
The story is a great one!
Underlying my faith is a great story. The Story. A story of restoration, liberation and hope. A story that encompasses the whole of creation, the whole of history, the whole of life.
The story of our God who loved so much. So much that He created the world knowing the cost it would take to give us freedom. So much that He was willing to give us that freedom anyway. So much that He kept loving us when we used that freedom to reject Him and tell Him we’d be better off without Him.
So much that He would pay the price He always knew He’d have to. The price of Himself becoming one of us, living amongst us and dying as an outcast.
The story of the God of power. Power to create. Power to lead His people, free His people. Power to raise His Son from the grave when we killed Him, and power to drive His Church on to the ends of the earth, drawing people into everlasting and life-changing relationship with Himself. Power eventually to restore all things and bring them to perfect order.
It’s an amazing, huge and beautiful story.
The story of Holy Week
At the centre of that story is one week. Holy Week. Easter Week. Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday. I do not believe that the gospel is simply ‘Jesus died for your sins so you can go to Heaven’, but the great events of Jesus’ death and resurrection surely lie at the heart of any expression of God’s good news.
This story is at the centre of The Story.
And it is a week that captures every season of life, every season of the soul. From the anticipation of Palm Sunday, the fellowship and sobriety of Maundy Thursday, the utter pain and loss of Good Friday, the uncertainty and confusion of Saturday, and finally the unsurpassable, unstoppable, unlimited joy and celebration and victory of Easter Sunday.
It’s a roller coaster journey. God doesn’t just give us facts and doctrinal statements. Our faith isn’t given us in truths and statements. It is given to us in story. Life is a story, it’s own roller coaster. Story is the universal experience of all people. We all have one, and we can all find our own place in God’s story.
There is a place for each one of us, also, in the story of Holy Week. This week, without the interruptions of previous years, I have found myself being taken on a journey through Holy Week. A journey with Jesus, and with His companions.
One thing my pastor, Malcolm, is extremely good at is allowing the tone of our reflections and remembrances of each day of Holy Week really reflect the day itself.
Our Good Friday service is sombre. Unashamedly so. We remember the great cost Jesus paid, and we do not water it down. Malcolm preached through tears. His message was not “Don’t worry – Sunday’s coming”. We allowed ourselves that space to dwell – not morbidly, but rightly – in the pain of the cross, the cost.
Perhaps my highlight was on Saturday night when just a few of us gathered round a fire outside and reflected on Peter’s denials. So much uncertainty and confusion between Friday and Sunday. So aware of our own failures. We let ourselves feel it all. It was real.
And then today, Sunday. Well, we didn’t water this down either! Unadulterated joy and celebration! I must have heard the words “He is risen!” at least a hundred times today, and “Hallelujah” even more. The celebration of Sunday meant all the more because we dwelt a while in the pain of Friday and the confusion of Saturday. Clapping, dancing, singing, hugging. I even saw a high five. Jesus is risen. He is victorious!
Knowing all of that is of course glorious. Allowing ourselves to live it out once a year is just beautiful.