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We are in the midst of Holy Week - the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. As Jim and I were preparing the bulletins for this evening’s Good Friday service and Sunday’s Easter service, I remembered that when I was young - many years ago - I did not like Holy Week at all. I loved Easter. That was always a joyous day. I always got new clothes. It was one of the two times during the year (Christmas being the other) when my mother took me to the “hairdresser” to get my hair professionally pressed and styled in shoulder-length Shirley Temple curls. Church on Easter Sunday was always a “high time,” they used to say. Those who were inclined to shouting came in ready to dance and praise God for the victory Jesus won over sin and death on that great gettin’ up mornin’. Then, after church, the Easter egg hunt and the baskets filled with chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, and marshmallow chicks. Yep. Easter was definitely a good day.
But, Lord have mercy, what we had to go through to get to it!
I did not like hearing about the Crucifixion. I didn’t like thinking about it. I didn’t like the graphic language about thorns being pressed into Jesus’ sensitive brow, nails being driven into the tender palms of his hands, spikes being pounded through his feet - almost all skin and bone, with very little flesh to cushion the blows and protect the nerve endings. I did not like to be drawn into the preacher’s imagination of what it was like to hang on that cross and ask for water, only to be given vinegar. And by the time he got to the part about the spear being thrust into his side . . .
I did not enjoy Holy Week, back then, because I did not like to think about Jesus’ suffering. Honestly, it’s not that I exactly enjoy it now. But it has become important to me to devote time, attention, and intention to feeling the impact of imagining it, and spending some time sitting with those feelings. I understand, now, that the depth of my gratitude for what God did in the person of Jesus is directly proportionate to my clarity about the cost to him. In other words, I cannot be appropriately grateful for what Jesus did for the world, unless I am willing to feel the pain of imagining it. And what is that, really, compared to pain he felt as he experienced it? How dared I ever to judge Judas for betraying him, Peter for denying him, those disciples who fell asleep at Gethsemane, or those who scattered and hid after his arrest if I am not even willing to feel the pain of allowing the story of his suffering into my consciousness as I sit in physical comfort, warmth, and safety?
So now, as an adult, I join those who voluntarily subject ourselves to the pain of imagining and the pain of remembering and the pain of intentionally focusing on the pain that he bore. I don’t just join them, I lead those who choose to participate in this exercise at the church that I serve.
This year, and I hope for more to come, that church is Imani MCC. I want each reader of this blog to accept it as a personal invitation, from me, to our Good Friday service. We are doing the “Seven Last Sayings of Christ.” It is a widely-used format for Good Friday services across denominational lines. Seven members and friends of Imani accepted the invitation and made the commitment to spend some time sitting with the story of the Crucifixion in preparation for sharing a five-minute (give or take) meditation inspired by one of the phrases Jesus uttered on the Cross. We will spend time contemplating each one. And we will have music inspired by the Crucifixion. We will imagine. We will remember. We will feel the feelings that come up. We will do that together. And you are welcome to join us.
But, even if you can’t or don’t choose to join us at Imani, I hope you will take time, somewhere else, whether alone or in the company of others, to read, imagine and remember what Jesus went through. He asked us to do that. “Do this,” he said on that final night, “in remembrance of me.” And, as with everything else he ever asked of us, the benefit of our obedience inevitably flows to us.