“Is it Sunday yet?”
“No, Jackson, it’s not Sunday.”
*Slightly agitated* “Yes, Daddy, it’s Sunday. It is Sunday!”
“Huh?” *processing* Oh. I guess I made a mistake.
It happened only a day before. In an attempt to give our 5-year-old something to look forward to, I informed him that after only three more Sundays, we’d be taking a trip to visit his grandparents in Texas. That was a mistake. It was a mistake to give our 5-year-old that much advanced notice. We are trying to teach delayed gratification, but three weeks of at-ease grandparent anticipation may be pushing it.
“May” may be a slight understatement.
Because instead of Sunday becoming a nice benchmark for each waiting week, Sunday became every day. My wife loved me for that. Loved me because almost every day between mentioning the promised land of grandparents and the day we left to see them, Jackson asked hopefully (assertively?) if today was Sunday. And if it wasn’t, disappointment ensued.
Because Jackson only wanted it to be Sunday.
Because Jackson only wanted it to be the Sunday.
And because Jackson didn’t understand why we couldn’t simply skip every other day to get there.
We’re like this too. We’d like to skip the waiting, skip the wanting, skip struggling, skip the suffering. If it were up to us, we’d skip through life, stopping only when the ground beneath our feet feels immediately strong enough to hold our hopes and support our dreams.
But life’s not like that. And, by the way, the gospel isn’t like that either.
This sometimes gets masked by the way we choose to worship. I often hear people tell me that they come to church to “feel better” or “uplifted.” “I want to hear or experience something that helps me get through the week ahead,” they say. And I get that. I want that too.
When I hear that, it’s almost always from someone who’s looking for their weekly injection of joy. There’s a large place for this. As a rule, we should practice praise more often than we do.
There’s also a large need for places where we can gather together and be real. Places where we live our waiting, intentionally. Places where we name our wanting, honestly. Places where sit with our struggles, corporately. Places where we acknowledge that in between promise and fulfillment there is suffering.
Denying our need for these places denies the nuances of our humanity. Denying our need for these places in worship makes the church into a place that cannot hold the nuances of our humanity.
If a community of faith cannot handle the nuances of our humanity, then how will any of us ever find something (or someone) there that can truly help us get through the week? Not just some weeks. All of them.
I’m reminded of these applicable words on friendship from Henri Nouwen:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
At her best, the Church ought to offer us this kind of friendship.
Most churches ought to be at their best this week. This week ought to hold all of that nuance together. This is Holy Week, and there is much more hiding in Holy Week than the eggs we hope to find on Sunday.
Holy Week is full of dark drama. If you were in a worship service last Sunday, you’ve already marched into this week Palms waving. Jesus, sitting atop his low horse has moved into Jerusalem with triumphant shouts ringing in his ears. If you were looking for an injection or two of joy this week you probably got one Sunday. It might have even been enough to get you through the week.
It might. But given the week ahead that would be a little strange. Because it wasn’t enough for Jesus.
No, Jesus also had this strange and memorable meal with his closest friends on Thursday, punctuated by him washing their feet like a lowly slave. In the midst of it all, one of his best friends betrayed him. On this side of things that may seem almost trivial.
Of course it was. The betrayal of good friends is always trivial.
After that he prayed himself into a sweaty mess, was taken away by the authorities, put on trial, convicted, beaten to a pulp, executed like a common criminal, stuck with a spear to make sure he was dead, and finally, tucked away in a tomb so that he and his legacy could complete the process of decay.
All of this happened before Sunday.
All of this needed to happen before Sunday.
And, I think, all of us still need this to happen before Sunday.
We need a gospel that can hold our unrealistic expectations on Palm Sunday, and our feelings of fear and betrayal on Thursday. We need a gospel that sits honestly with us in our suffering on Friday, and silently with us in our depression on Saturday. We need a gospel full of hope for our living, breathing humanity, a gospel that understands that try as we might, none us has figured out how to successfully skip from Sunday to Sunday.
We can’t skip over the difficult relationships. We can’t skip over the unexpected diagnosis. We can’t skip over the pain, the poverty, the professional disappointments, the miscarriages, the misunderstandings, the despair, the depression, the trials or the tragedies. We can’t skip over them. When hate claims lives around the world, it has become all too clear that we cannot skip over them. We can’t, and it’s dishonest and dishonoring to pretend like we can. We can’t skip from Sunday to Sunday.
And neither could Jesus.
To be sure, without the hope of Sunday, Friday would mean nothing. Without the hope of Sunday the gospel would have decayed into the dusty corners of Jesus’ borrowed tomb. But with Sunday coming, there’s gospel in Friday, too.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that we have a high priest in Jesus who can more than handle our suffering, more than heal our suffering; he can empathize with it. And he can because he has fully experienced the frail and fragile nuances of our humanity. This is good news. This is the gospel too.
So, of course, if you want, you can easily move straight on from palm waving to Jesus raising. But if you do, you may miss part of the gospel. And right now, it may be the part you need the most.
“May” may be a slight understatement.
So please, don’t skip Friday.