Thursday, April 1, 2010

God, Life and Everything - Holy Week

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Maybe it’s just me, but some of my best memories of Holy Week as a child have a lot to do with using palms (from Palm Sunday) as swords to whack my brothers. Sober piety? Not so much.

In my parents’ home, we went to all the services of Holy Week. Palm Sunday with our procession around the block – yes around the entire city block with the entire congregation – before re-entering the church. Maundy Thursday with that most embarrassing ritual called Washing the Feet. Good Friday with its boring readings.

We even went to the Easter Vigil which, at midnight, was too late for me to remember much of – only that once I poked my brother in the ribs and said, “Hey, look! It’s tomorrow!” I believe his response was a well placed dope slap.

For me, despite all that church, it was the palm sword fights and coloring Easter Eggs. I know, the eggs have nothing to do with Christ’s resurrection, but we had a large family, and it was a tradition so we, like many, mixed our Easter Message. We still do, and I don’t care. The eggs are fun, so there.

But I digress.

As I grew, one of the most powerful moments of my adolescence was the night I was allowed to sit vigil on Maundy Thursday. In our tradition, we watch in the church from just after the evening’s service through the night and up to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion the next day. People take it in turns to sit and pray in the church.

The year my parents allowed me to go with my brother, palm swords flew right out of my mind. In fact, that time nearly alone in the darkened church, with those few others sitting there in silence, may have been the time when Holy Week came alive for me. There was something terrible and beautiful about waiting there. Waiting for what we knew from Sunday School would come next. Jesus would be whipped and spit upon and killed in a horrifying manner.

But in that waiting, I felt a calmness, too. It was the sense that all was well despite the sadness of Good Friday and the chaos of the world around us (Vietnam was just ending). Sitting there with Jesus gave me the sense that entertained and safe all the time was just not so important anymore. There were things worth going out on a limb for.

I would not say my whole life changed in that darkened church that first time I sat vigil. Easter came, and we flowered the cross and hunted for eggs. My brothers and sisters were still alternately heroes and villains. I still got in trouble far more than I deserved (says I, not my parents). But I would say that Holy Week changed for me from Palm swords to a cross. And maybe, just a little, I began to understand God’s love.

I wish for you a similar Holy Week of mysterious moments where God’s love becomes real and powerful.

Most churches have services throughout Holy Week. Check your congregation’s schedules. And join the combined churches of Hyde Park on Good Friday at 10:30 AM as we walk the stations of the cross together. We start at Regina Coeli, walk throughout town and end up at Hyde Park Reformed Dutch Church.