I like to prepare for things. As a runner, I only felt confident running races if I adequately trained for them by putting in the necessary miles, tapering those miles appropriately, eating right (including the pre-race meal of past the night before), and getting the right sleep. Usually the night before, I would pin my number on shirt, pack a bag with racing shoes, shorts, a post race outfit, some sort of towel, and other pertinent items. On one particular race, I decided to try and simply take it easy… just relax and grab the things I needed the morning of the race. That was a mistake. I woke late. I didn’t eat anything. I couldn’t find everything. I rushed out the door feeling ill-prepared and nervous. The race was more than an hour away from my home, and by the time I arrived it was mere 30 minutes from the start… again I rushed… Then came the real problem. In my harried dash to make it out the door I had forgotten the most important item a runner needs to run – shoes. I was wearing sandals, and not being a barefoot runner I knew I could not run. It was too late, and I hadn’t prepared very well.
In the Christian calendar, we celebrate some pretty big moments in the life of Christ. Christmas Eve we commemorate the birth, at regular intervals through the year, many churches observe the Lord’s Supper, and during the spring we celebrate Easter. Leading up to nearly everyone of these opportunities we have periods of preparation. Christmas Eve is preceded by Advent. The Lord’s Supper is often announced 1-2 weeks in advance so church members can “prepare their hearts for the sacrament.” The 40 days of Lent and the week of Holy Week are designed to prepare the believer’s heart for Easter.
The Christian Holy Week is coming. Beginning this weekend with Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem riding on the back of donkey when the crowds hailed him as the King waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” A friend and ministry colleague of mine reminded me this week, that Palm Sunday is an ironic moment, because it was a similar crowd in Jerusalem that only a week later would shout, “CRUCIFY HIM!” In Palm Sunday, we remember the fickle nature of our own hearts, and the sin that leads us to that divided being.
Then comes Maundy Thursday. Typically, churches will hold an evening service the Thursday before Easter to commemorate the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet. There is some general agreement that the term “Maundy” comes from the latin word for “mandate,” because it is on the night of the institution of the Lord’s Supper when Jesus says, “A new commandment (mandate) I give you that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus demonstrates his love for his followers in that he serves them, symbolically in washing their feet and eternally in his death on the cross.
Good Friday is observed the following evening and reminds us of the total desertion Jesus faced leading up to his crucifixion and the physical, emotional, and spiritual torment he faced. Jesus was arrested, and his closest friends abandoned him claiming they never knew him. We was interrogated, tortured, and humiliated. A Good Friday service points to the depth of our sinfulness to way we abandon Jesus in our words, thoughts, emotions, and actions every single day. We put Jesus on the cross. We are to blame, yet he still went of his own accord. Jesus said, “No one takes my life, but I lay it down willingly.” Good Friday leaves us remembering for our sake Jesus suffered horrendously, he died shamefully, and he was buried in anonymity.
Easter Sunday is supposed to be a celebration! The stone rolled away, the empty tomb, the presence of angels and a mysterious gardener shout to all humanity – “Jesus is ALIVE!” But the full joy of that moment cannot be felt unless we have truly prepared. Sure, we can have fun and be inspired by the flowers and the special touches our individual churches may put on for Easter – but to get the complete story and understand our place in it, we should get our hearts ready through the practice of Holy Week worship.
My congregation does a complete Holy Week. This Sunday is Palm Sunday at our three worship experiences. Thursday, April 17th at 7PM we will hold our Maundy Thursday service, and the following day, April 18th at 7PM we will observe Good Friday.
Wherever we are, however we are thinking about celebrating Easter, we should get prepared. We should find a church that goes through the Holy Week calendar, read through the Scripture portions highlighting Jesus’ journey to the cross, and pray that God would change us to fully comprehend how deep, how wide, how mysterious, and how audacious is his love for us.