Are you one of those people who reads the last couple of pages before starting a book? Or do you fast forward to the last couple of minutes of a movie before watching the whole thing? Do you need to know how something ends in order to decide to commit?
If so, I’ve never understood that impulse. The fun of reading a novel or watching a film is sustaining the mystery of how things will end. The narrative or plot is what matters, the flow of events from one to the next.
In the same way, I don’t understand people who attend only Christmas and Easter services. Essentially, these folks are cutting out the entire life, ministry, teaching, miracles, and crucifixion of Christ in order to focus merely on his birth and resurrection.
I feel the same way about those of you who only attend the Sunday services of Holy Week. If you skip directly from Palm Sunday to Easter, you’re missing some important pieces of the narrative. To go from the celebratory mood of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem directly to the glory and majesty of Jesus’ resurrection is to skip directly to the ending!
The faith which we share and call “Christian” is really nothing but a story, a narrative of how God has worked in the world to bring salvation to all people. It’s tempting to focus entirely on the end; yes, it’s great news that we are saved by grace, forgiven of our sins, and raised to new life.
But the whole story matters. We need to know how God accomplished this salvation, because it tells us something important about God and God’s nature. Put simply, the fact that God in Jesus embraced the suffering of the cross should assure us that none of us are truly alone in our suffering. Jesus Christ embraced the entirety of what it means to be human in order to unite us to him. We are never separated from God, because God consented to be with us in our humanity.
Nowhere does this become so clear as in the story of Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday. We will celebrate Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem this Sunday by waving palm branches and singing songs of praise.
In our Maundy Thursday service, we will remember and reenact the Last Supper, in which Jesus left his disciples the example of his servanthood in washing their feet, and instituted a ritual meal in which his ongoing presence is celebrated.
And of course, on Good Friday, we will hear the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion. None of it is pretty, but the details are important. We need to peer closely, to pay attention to what happened.
All of this sets the stage for what happens on Easter morning. The Easter story simply doesn’t have the same weight unless you are clear on what came before. Easter doesn’t matter unless Maundy Thursday and Good Friday happened.
For that reason, I hope you make plans to attend our extra Holy Week services. Even if you already know how it ends.