As Spring (slowly) approaches, we're gearing up for one of the most important and party-inducing days of the year: Easter. I'm not sure how you celebrate this holiday, but my experience with Easter over the years has included things like Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies as big as my head, color-coordinated Easter outfits chosen by my mom, morning breakfasts at our church, and singing "Up From The Grave He Arose" as loud as humanly possible (if you don't know it, ask me to sing it for you…and then get ready).
As it is with anybody, my understanding of the significance of Easter has grown over the years. What started as a chocolate-heavy, new outfit-wearing special Sunday turned into the yearly church service where Jesus is celebrated as a risen Savior. This was a huge improvement over my previous understanding (although chocolate still makes the day nice), but I still treated Easter as a one-and-done kind of event that had no real connection to the rest of the year. I had a hard time pressing into the significance of Easter, because it felt like more of a big production to pull off rather than a story to be drawn into and live out of.
I don't know when exactly it started to happen, but my understanding of the significance of Easter has grown even more over the past years. Whereas before Easter felt disconnected and isolated from the rest of life, now Easter feels like the culmination of a grand story that has been told and is being retold over and over. Before, Easter felt like a celebration of Jesus' resurrection and that was the end of it; now, Easter feels like both a celebration and an invitation to more deeply understand what a living Savior means for life now. In short, Easter has become more meaningful to me, more relevant. How did it happen? Probably many reasons. But there's one that I want to mention: a discovery of the richness of the church calendar, particularly the events leading up to Easter known as the Holy Week.
The Holy Week comprises the events leading up to Jesus' resurrection, which includes the Triumphal Entry, the Last Supper, the trial and crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection. Historically, the church remembers and re-presents these events on the days that they happened:
- On Palm Sunday, the church commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
- On Maundy Thursday, the church remembers the last evening Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest.
- On Good Friday, the church reflects on the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
- On Easter, the church celebrates the hope of a risen Savior.
As I began to learn about the traditions and practices associated with these church days, I discovered that each of these days had a unique aspect of the redemption story to tell.
- Palm Sunday was anticipatory: the King was coming! But it was also ironic, because of what was written above his head on the cross: King of the Jews.
- Maundy Thursday was all about love: the love the Father had for his Son, the love Jesus had for his disciples, the love that the disciples showed to Jesus and each other. It was also foreboding: love would cost Jesus his very life.
- Good Friday was somber: it was our sin that nailed him to the cross. But it was also profoundly wonderful - Jesus willingly gave himself for us out of his great love, and his death accomplished our redemption!
- Easter was pure celebration, as the very Son of God laid death in his grave. Hope is alive forever!
What this understanding began to do was relieve some of the pressure from Easter. Easter had started to feel a little canned to me, because all the peaks and valleys of the redemption story had been smushed into one big "He is risen! He is risen indeed!" Easter Sunday had the task of telling the whole story, and it wasn't enough time to properly feel the anticipation and the love and the weight and the joy of Jesus' final week. Observing the events of Holy Week, however, allowed Easter to sound its primary notes of joy and hope with greater confidence and meaning.
What I've been trying to do in this rather lengthy blog entry is tell you why we are observing Holy Week at Sojourn. We are doing it to serve you as you seek to remember Christ: his life, his purpose, his love, his royalty, his divinity, his humanity, his agony, his death, his resurrection. You will be better prepared to shout out "He has risen indeed!" after you have sat at the table with Jesus and his disciples…after He has washed your feet…after you've heard his prayer for you…after you've seen the way he was treated by the religious leaders and Roman guards…after you've wept over His broken body…after you've sat in awed stillness as the curtain was torn in two…after you've felt the absolute hopelessness of Jesus being laid in the grave. Then, imagine showing up Sunday morning, Resurrection Sunday, and reliving the story again. Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!
Over the next several weeks, we'll be highlighting the various services of Holy Week, so that you'll be better prepared to enter in to these times as a family. Some of these days you might be pretty familiar with, while others not so much (anyone ever attend a Maundy Thursday service?). Stay tuned, and even now be praying that God would blow you away with the wonder of the gospel in a new and fresh way!