Rector's Ramblings April 12, 2017
This Rambling was written for Holy Week in 2014. There is a timelessness to it so I have decided to share it again. Yesterday I was in Savannah for our diocesan Chrism Mass again, and while it’s still not an ideal time to steal away for four or five hours during Holy Week, I did find it refreshing and inspiring. I invite you to “hang in there” with this Holy Week as your schedule and energy allows. This is a powerful week with much to offer us.
I like the annual tradition of the Chrism Mass, which involves a diocesan gathering of clergy (and a few lay folks) with the bishop to bless oil for use in the church and provide an opportunity to renew our ordination vows. I was in Statesboro this morning doing just that. But, since this is a week for confession, let me confess: I don’t like doing it in Holy Week. I know it’s a tradition; I know it’s good to force ourselves away from the ‘busy-ness’ of Holy Week; I get it. But it’s still annoying, and I can’t help it. I have trouble letting go of my to-do list on one of the weeks with so many to-do’s.
When I’m at my best, however, I see the placement of this traditional service as a form of ascetical theology. It’s good to be inconvenienced once in a while as we exercise our faith, right? If ever we wanted to whine about the ways in which the church inconveniences us, Holy Week is a good week to remember why that’s not the best approach. After all, it is Holy Week that reminds us of everything Jesus endured for us, as he showed us the way of love – a love so great that it leads to death. As I complain about this morning’s service, I hear Jesus’ voice from the Garden of Gethsemane: “What? Could you not drive two hours to be with me in Holy Week?” Touché, Jesus, Touché.
There has long been an argument that living out our faith should come with challenge. The relative ease of Christian faith has been addressed by folks like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote of the difference between cheap grace and costly grace. His book, Cost of Discipleship, is about just that – the cost of being a follower. It is the nature of the faith that calls us to inconvenient practices like repentance, and change of life. For those who submit to the yoke of Christ, we have to accept some of the side effects of our discipleship. Our whole Lenten journey is, in some ways, a great big inconvenience.
We could happily keep on with our daily lives without ever stopping to consider the important aspects of our faith, built upon the very acts and stories we commemorate this week. If we spend too much time on the Last Supper, we’ll realize we are called to participate in it regularly, just as Jesus urged his followers. If we spend too much time at the cross, we might just have to think upon its relation to our lives and our brokenness. Even the disciples had trouble hanging in there with Jesus, after all, as they fell asleep on him more than once on that list night.
We don’t all commemorate the middle of the night prayer session in Gethsemane (although some Christians do!), but we do commemorate the rest of Jesus’ last moments, usually at a reasonable hour and with all the creature comforts of central air conditioning and padded seats. Even so, it is hard to pull ourselves together and get to the worship services that are decidedly and inconveniently scheduled in rapid-fire succession in the midst of an otherwise busy week.
We know from other places in scripture that the presence of God can make people sleepy – remember the stories from the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. Perhaps the sleepiness of the disciples in Gethsemane is because God was near as Jesus prayed. Perhaps that much closeness is just hard for the human body to endure. If so, it’s no wonder that some of us start to wear out by Holy Week and can honestly admit that it’s hard to engage in all of these special services, as wonderful as they may be. This faith stuff is tiring, without all the add-ons.
This week, like our faith itself, costs us something; but the cost is well worth it – we still get the better end of the deal. Even if you can’t make it to church services on the great three days of Holy Week this year, pull out your Bible and read of Jesus’ last days. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re tired after a long day – just do your best. Fight the heavy eyelids long enough to offer your prayers and thanksgiving, and then take a nap on Easter Sunday like the rest of us. Maybe one of these years we can move Holy Week to a more convenient time when we’re not trying to get ready for Easter.
Assist us mercifully with thy help, O Lord of our salvation; that we may enter with joy upon the meditation of those mighty acts, whereby thou hast given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 1928 BCP p. 147