It might be age that makes me grimace with awareness when I hear the phrase now; I’m not sure. So following Easter last week I spent some time reflecting on why this is so — why, aside from the obvious slowing down that comes as the calendar relentlessly marches on, is the work of Holy Week so draining?
Obviously, some of it has to do with the intensity of required tasks of that week — lots of extra details to organize, liturgy to plan, sermons to write. Do we have enough candles for Maundy Thursday? Will the sound system work in the chapel? Is someone on duty with towels after baptism? The extra work, along with the awareness that more eyes are watching during one of the highest attended liturgical seasons of the church year, certainly add to the exhausting pressure.
But on this, my 19th Easter as an ordained minister, I think it might be even more than that. Maybe something like this:
During Holy Week all of us skid through the full range of human emotions and experience, most of which is less than joy-filled. Fear, doubt, shame, betrayal, pain, suffering, death — you name it, Holy Week has it. Then we show up on Sunday morning and are presented with new life.
But taking that journey — through all the darkness into the light of life — has to be tiring for more than just the preacher. If we seriously engage the work of Holy Week, everyone should be exhausted.
For the comfort of God With Us — a God with skin on, as a friend used to say frequently — the pace of Holy Week lows and highs can be rather debilitating. On the one hand, when we see Jesus in pain, it’s reassuring to know that God shares our experience. On the other hand, remembering Jesus’ pain necessitates the revisiting of our own.
And we can’t help but remember what our own experience has taught us: that sometimes the darkness is deep and totally unrelenting; that for some of us, fear is a constant refrain in the soundtrack of life; that betrayal is not just the story of somebody else’s life; that shame can lay like a heavy blanket over each of our own days.
Thinking about that is exhausting.
By the time we get to resurrection, the darkness has almost totally engulfed us, so much so that sometimes it’s hard to sit in the pews and celebrate resurrection.
Holy Week becomes then a sort of emotional whiplash that can leave us exhausted, burdened by the invitation to believe, again, when our own human experience often does not emerge from the darkness or lead to new life, at least as far as we can tell.
Even with the march of time very real, I hope I have at least a few more Holy Weeks as pastor left in me. Whether I’m the pastor or not, however, I’ve begun to suspect that as long as I live and join my fellow pilgrims in the deep darkness and blinding light of Holy Week, I’ll always wind up at the end of it a bit wearied by the experience, as each year stands in starker relief against my own human experience.
I guess in the end, that’s why I come back — to church, to faith, to God, every year after Easter. Because death and resurrection resonate more deeply with echoes of my own experience every year, I need the companionship of fellow pilgrims to find the courage to face down the darkness and keep believing that the light is coming.
And that’s exactly why these next weeks of Easter season, when there are not nearly as many people in the pews and all our Easter bonnets are put away, are so very important to me. As I look around and see the dear faces of my faith community, I can remember that it’s worth sticking around, catching your breath after resurrection one more time, so you can watch its beautiful unfurling in the world.
See you Sunday!