It’s Wednesday in Holy Week. Welcome to the party.
The drama of the unfolding narrative of Holy Week draws me in every year, as each step brings me closer to the emptiness of Holy Saturday, when the power of absence does indeed make my heart grow fonder – when I am made to imagine this world, this life, this heart – without Jesus Christ. And I am made to feel a renewed and overwhelming sense of Easter joy that this was only an exercise of imagination.
But Holy Week, in its intense focus and structure, can also cause me to lose my balance. To turn entirely inward. To confuse Christ’s suffering with my own. To fall prey to feelings of powerlessness — and to fixate on the seemingly insurmountable sin of this world, of humanity. To throw up my hands in despair. To remember only Christ’s death, only Christ crucified. To forget the living Christ. To forget that I am living. To forget God’s mission. To be afraid.
After all, it is so easy to see ourselves and our world in the story. We continue to betray, to deny and to murder one another — in London, in Syria, in Egypt, in San Bernardino. We are the disciples at supper in John’s Gospel, looking around at one another, wondering “Lord, who is it” who will betray you? And perhaps thinking, “maybe it is me.” We are the authorities waiting in the wings. And, we are Judas son of Simon Iscariot.
You feel that? That queasy feeling of unbalance? That feeling of being, perhaps, “troubled in spirit,” as Jesus is in today’s Gospel reading? Jesus knows he is going to be betrayed – by a disciple. By a friend. Jesus knows that Satan has entered the room.
And these are terrible things — terrible things we watch unfold in the world, in our lives, and in our Holy Week narrative. And I think it is a particularly sharp sense of these “terrible things” this Lenten season that has had a quotation from writer and theologian Frederick Buechner haunting me. He says, “The grace of God means something like: ‘Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”
Terrible things will happen. But we are at the party. We are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” Look around. We are at supper, next to our friends. We may be Judas, but we are also Peter and the rest of the imperfect disciples. We are all over this story. As Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote, “It would have happened like this even if the Jesus event were happening now instead of then. Even if we knew everything in advance – were we the ones on the street we too would shout ‘Hosanna’ and a few days later shout ‘crucify him.’ And that’s the good news when it comes down to it. Because these people of the Holy Week story are we people. And we people are the likes of which God came to save.”
We people are at the party, we people are those God came to save, and that is something to celebrate, even on this Wednesday in the middle of Holy Week. This is likely obvious to most of you, but I am just coming to understand it: to acknowledge the terrible and give it voice is not to deny, diminish or discredit the beautiful. And the other side is true too: to remember that the beautiful is right here for us does not deny the reality of the terrible – even during Holy Week. The level of personal misery we are able to achieve does not correspond to whether we are “doing Holy Week right.” In fact, to give ourselves only to one side of our complex, broken, beautiful world and of this complex, broken, beautiful story — invites us to give in, to become passive, to become paralyzed, to become, in a sense, “dead.” Even in this middle of the story, with Judas headed out into the night, can we be present with the living Jesus of today’s Gospel? Can we accept the Holy Week invitation to life?
It is Wednesday in Holy Week. Jesus is at supper with his friends. One of them will betray him. “Beautiful and terrible things will happen.” Welcome to the party.
Image: “Who Among Us” by Debra Hurd.