Holy Week really is life lived in miniature. All of life, all of the best and worst, lived together in this one week. We started this morning with celebration and a victory parade!
And as the week moves along, we’ll move with it through meals together and conversation and love and betrayal and sacrifice. We’ll see what happens when a mob mentality wins and courage fails.
We live through broken promises and good intentions. And we remember again the pain of death and grief and lost hope. This one week is all over the map. But of course, so is life.
Holy Week, we say, is the peak of the church year. The week of weeks! This is the big show! But Holy Week really isn’t about this week. And it really isn’t about this place or this congregation.
Holy Week is about your life, and everything in it.
We dive into Holy Week, and this story, every year. And we talk about it throughout the year. This week, this story, is what the whole church year hinges on. This is it! This is our story!
And today, we’re hearing again the whole story, two whole chapters out of Matthew! And not just to torture you with really long bible readings. (If Jesus suffered through the cross, then you can deal with a long gospel reading!)
But in hopes that, as you dive deeper and deeper into Jesus’ story, that one day, it might become your story.
That one day, as you’re sitting around the table with those you love, that you would see, just for an instant, Jesus sitting at the table with his people, and you would realize in your soul, that as much as you love your people, how much more Jesus loved those who sat around the table with him, how much more Jesus loves you.
We tell the story so that when you realize just how far you are willing to go and just how much you are willing to give for those you love, you would realize just how much Jesus gave for you.
And, God forbid, the day should come when you are betrayed by someone you love and trust, that you might remember and feel the pain and sorrow of God.
And that you might just marvel at the love of God, that somehow can love even the traitor. And in entering the story, realize it’s all still true, even when we are that traitor.
And when that dark day comes, when the one you love beyond words and time dies, when the one you love is lowered into the tomb, that you might remember that the story, their story, your story, doesn’t end here.
Holy Week is life lived in miniature. It’s our practice week. It’s the week we move through and live through these events together, so that we might, someday, finally learn that God’s story is our story.
That’s all faith is, really. Faith is knowing that God isn’t a part of your story, but that God’s story is your story. And because God’s story is your story, you know how it ends.
And you know that anything you face, any trial or torment or terror, you will prevail, because God has already prevailed. And where God goes, you go. Because God’s story is your story.
That’s what Holy Week is about. It’s about taking one week out of the year to dive deep into God’s story. To have all of it wash over us and into every crack and corner of our lives, until nothing in our live is left untouched.
Holy Week matters. And if you have never set this week aside before, I encourage you to. We have services this week at 5:30 on Thursday and noon on Friday. And our brothers and sisters at Resurrection have a service at 6:30 Friday night and an Easter Vigil at 8pm on Saturday night.
I encourage you to get to as many services as you’re able. And if worship times don’t work for you, then feel free to make up your own tradition at home. Read the story together!
Plan a special dinner on Thursday. Spend time outside marveling at creation on Friday. Go for a walk together as a family or with a friend and remember that even creation grieved when Jesus died.
Find someplace to have a campfire on Saturday and ponder what it must have been like to live through Good Friday not knowing that Easter was on the way.
Find some way to make this story your own, because it is your story. This story is your own, because God has made you his own.
Holy Week is really just life lived in miniature. All of life, all of the best and the worst, lived together in this one week.
As you journey through this time, may God bless you this week. May God disturb and unsettle you. And may God, in the fullness of time, lead you into your own resurrection.
I think my favorite, underused word of the English language is “penultimate”. It just means “second to last”, but isn’t it much more fun to say “penultimate”?
“Up next, the penultimate episode of ‘How to Get Away with Murder’!” It’s just a fun word.
And I’ve been thinking about penultimate things, particularly about Maundy Thursday, because it sort of bugs me that this meal Jesus shared gets called “The Last Supper”.
Because it’s not! It’s not the Last Supper! It’s the “penultimate supper”. Both Luke and John both include stories of Jesus eating a meal with his disciples after the resurrection.
In Luke, you’ve got dinner on the way to Emmaus as well as eating some fish with them to prove he’s not just a ghost. And in John, it’s a fish breakfast on the beach. Why aren’t those the meals we celebrate?
I mean, that would seem to make more sense. Coming together around the table every week, sharing in the holy “breaded fish stick” and celebrating the post-resurrection victory meal! That makes sense.
But that’s not what Jesus told us to do. Jesus didn’t tell us to share those meals together. It was this meal, on this night, the penultimate supper, that Jesus told us to share.
The last meal before he died. The meal he shared with the traitor, the meal covered in soon to be broken promises. That’s the meal we share. Why? Why this meal?
Honestly, I have no idea.
Maybe Jesus wanted to confuse us? Maybe Jesus wanted to show us that God cares less about “victory” than about loving the whole world, even the losers and the liars and the traitors.
I mean, if Jesus ate with Judas, who am I, who are we, to say that anyone is turned away from the table?
Maybe this meal is about God’s promise to be with us in the best and in the worst. Not just when we’re good and successful and healthy, but even when we fail and hide and hurt.
And maybe this penultimate meal is our weekly reminder that we are living penultimate lives.
These bodies, this community, this creation, these are all penultimate things. Everything you can see, taste, touch, feel is all “next to the last” things.
Maybe when we gather around the table, God calls us to remember the whole story. To remember that is doesn’t end here. That God’s not done here.
And when we share this meal, to remember that God’s not done [here] yet either. We are not yet at the end of our story, because God is not yet at the end of God’s story.
And maybe it’s none of that. Maybe it’s all just a part of the unfathomable mystery of God. If I’m going to be honest, I don’t really get it. But what I do know is that God told us to do it.
I do know that Jesus gave us this meal as a gift. A precious, precious gift for us to cherish, and to hand down from generation to generation. And so we gather at the table, week after week, to share the meal and tell the story again.
We slide up to our place at God’s table and drink deep from the fountain of grace. And in ways quite beyond our understanding, God shows up. God shows up and breaks open, again and again, the first fruits of the Kingdom of God, for you.
And I won’t pretend to understand why or how, but what I know is that this meal is a gift. A really good gift from God, to you. Given without strings or requirement.
And the really, really good news is, we don’t have to “get it” to get it. Thanks be to God!
We have a member of our congregation who is not only new to Trinity in the last couple of years, but new to church, really. He hasn’t gone since he was a young child and so a lot of what we do is new to him.
And last year, he came to his very first Ash Wednesday service. But I didn’t see him there this year and so I mentioned, the next time I saw him, that we had missed him this year.
And he told me, he went last year, but didn’t really like it. It was too weird. Too morbid and depressing. The whole, being marked by ash and told you’re going to die thing. It was just too much. And, I mean, he’s got a point.
When you get used to all this, Ash Wednesday and Lend and Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, you forget how weird it all really is. I mean, today we’re getting together to tell, slowly and in detail, the story of how someone died.
And not just died, but was violently killed. It is weird. And morbid. And it doesn’t, or at least it shouldn’t, make us feel good.
But so often, that’s what faith becomes. It becomes the thing that makes me feel good.
Church is a “nice” place with “good” people and my faithful attendance and generous giving make me morally superior to all those lost sinners who don’t know how good it would be for them to be more like me.
Faith is what keeps us clean and out of the muck…
And then Good Friday comes around. And we watch from the safe and comfortable distance of religion as Jesus dives right into the muck, right into the worst of everything, and dies.
We want, and expect, faith to keep us clean. But Jesus insists on getting his hands dirty.
We want, and expect, to move from Palm Sunday to Easter, from one hosanna to the other. From one joy to the next.
And yet, here Jesus is, dying in agony and humiliation, nailed to a wooden beam. Dead, because we destroy what we can’t understand. And as hard as we try, we just can’t look away.
So the only other option is to not show up. Declare the whole thing “too weird”, “too morbid”, and stay home. It’s what most of the disciples did. They couldn’t bring themselves to witness this terror, and so they stayed away.
But closing our eyes doesn’t make anything go away. Looking the other way doesn’t make Jesus is any less dead. Good Friday still happens, even if we only show up on Palm Sunday and Easter.
But I don’t have to tell you that. You know that Good Friday is real. You know that death happens and people hurt. And those that deserve death get off scott free and those that deserve the best of everything suffer for no good reason at all.
You don’t have to show up on Good Friday to know that Good Friday is real. It doesn’t matter if we show up or not, if we want to go there or not. We already are there.
And left to our own devices, this is the best we can ever expect or hope for. Left on our own, this is the best our best efforts can come up with.
We as humans have been trying to figure out how to live together with creation for over 10,000 years and after 10,000 years, this is the best we’ve come up with. If it’s left to us, we will never move past Good Friday.
Good people die. The strongest one wins. Hope for anything better is for suckers. If it’s up to us, this is as good as it gets.
[slowly] If it were up to us…
Thank God, really, thank God it’s not. Thank God, God did a new thing on Good Friday.
For thousands of years, God kept trying, over and over again, to show us how to live together and with creation, to share in the abundance of life God has to give. We started with Eden, and we ruined that.
So God called Abraham, to be the Father of many nations, to teach his family how to be a light in the world, a light for others to follow. And we ruined that.
So God called Moses, and gave the law, as a gift, to teach us, a little more specifically, how to live with each other and creation, and we failed at that, too.
So God sent judges and kings and prophets. Over and over again, God never gave up on us. Never gave up trying to share all the life God has to give. But no matter what God gave, we failed, we ruined it.
Every time God showed us the next step, no matter how small, we got all tangled up in our own feet and fell flat on our face.
So God gave us the only thing we couldn’t ruin, the only thing we couldn’t fail. It sure looked like we did, but love, freely given, can’t be ruined by anyone or anything.
There is nothing you can do to “fail” God’s love given for you. And what looked like failure to us, was really God’s crowning achievement.
Because when Jesus died, so did all the old ways of doing things. When Jesus died, so did the lie that we’ll surely get it right someday. When Jesus died, so did the delusion that our best is close enough.
When Jesus died, God uncovered, in broad daylight and for all the world to see, just how much our best amounts to.
If the story ended here, on Good Friday, it would be the greatest tragedy the world has ever known. Today, we are laid bare before God.
The very, very best we can do is like the puny light of a match in the broad daylight of God’s love. And we need to know that. We need to know where our hope lies, and it certainly isn’t in us.
But you also need to know, in every Good Friday in your life, in every place where it seems like death has won and despair and failure are inevitable, that the story doesn’t end here.
God’s story doesn’t end here. And because God’s story doesn’t end here, your story doesn’t end here.
Good Friday is good, because it once and for all, shows us who we are. And it shows us once and for all, just how far God is willing to go to love the whole world.
Don’t look away. Don’t run. Stay with Jesus and see in the agony of the cross, our greatest failure transformed and resurrected into God’s greatest gift.
When I was younger, I think maybe Jr. High-ish, I took a week-long trip to Space Camp…with my 4-H group…(that’s how cool I was), and it was awesome! I loved it! Anyone ever been to Space Camp?
Well, it was awesome. You should definitely go. We learned about rockets and the shuttle and got to try out lots of fun stuff like this bouncy chair that imitates gravity on the moon and the chair that spins around all over the place and it goes too fast to even give you time to get sick.
We even did a simulated launch. Half the group was in the pretend shuttle and the other half was pretend ground control. I was the “Cap-Com”, part of ground control.
Did you know that out of everyone in ground control, only one person actually gets to talk to the shuttle? That was me! The “Cap-Com”.
It was a really fun trip. I loved it.
But you know, not once in my entire time there, and not once since, have I ever thought, “You know, I just might actually go to space someday.”
Never once have I even thought that that’s in the cards for me. It’s just not going to happen.
And I was thinking about that this week ‘cause there’s something about Easter that reminds me a lot of Space Camp.
You know, we’ve had a lot of services in the last week. Palm Sunday last Sunday. Maundy Thursday on, well, Thursday. And Good Friday on, well, you get the picture.
And in each of those services, they’re weird in their own way, for sure, but there’s also something familiar about them.
On Palm Sunday, we get the shallow, empty praises of fair-weather friends, who turn the other way as soon as the tides turn. And I get that. I’ve had fair-weather friends in my own life, and if I’m going to be honest, I’ve been one myself.
And Maundy Thursday, maybe I wasn’t at the table with Jesus, but I’ve certainly eaten wonderful meals with people I love deeply. I’ve known the pain of saying good-bye to a community you love deeply.
The bittersweet moments of wanting this to last forever and knowing it’s not going to.
And of course, Good Friday. If you have never lost someone you have loved, cherish these days. But I would guess that almost all of us know grief, sometimes grief so deep you thought you might never see light again.
Good Friday is a day of grief mixed with a healthy dose of guilt and shame, the other names for those voices in our head that tell us, constantly, “coulda, woulda, shoulda.”
I know Good Friday. And I would guess I’m in good company.
But Easter? For some reason, this year Easter has just seemed completely foreign to me. And as I thought about why, I realized it’s because there is nothing in my life that can even remotely compare to what happened on Easter.
I mean, I love the story. Especially the way Matthew tells it. A big earthquake, an angel, dazzling white, that comes down, rolls the stone away, and just sits right on top of it.
I mean, can’t you see it! In my mind, the angel is getting a big kick out of the whole thing, really almost shaking with mischievous glee at this wonderful turn of events God has just pulled.
And the angel tells the women who have come to the tomb, “Go ahead, check it out. He’s not there! Ha!”
And the angel sends the women off to let the others know. And they head off with “fear and great joy”.
What a great combination of emotions! The sort of thing you feel when you move or start a new job, or hold your baby for the first time. The emotions of something really big and brand new!
So they went off with “fear and great joy” and on the way, Jesus met them! Sure enough! He’s really, really not dead! He’s supposed to be! Everyone saw it happen. But he’s not! He’s not dead!
And the women ran off to tell the guys, starting a chain of events that changed the course of the world and brought us together today.
It is a great story…But there is nothing in my life that even remotely compares. Which means, if I’m going to be totally honest, sometimes I have a hard time getting it. Sometimes I have a hard time believing that it’s real for me.
Don’t get me wrong! I absolutely believe the story is real! I’d bet my life on it. But it’s so different from what I see and feel and touch that sometimes I just don’t know what to make of the story today, for me, for us.
It’s like Space Camp. I know people have gone to space. I’ve heard the stories and seen the pictures and it sounds wonderful and lovely, but that is so far removed from my day to day life, I know I’m never going to space.
And sometimes, Easter just seems so different from our everyday lives that it’s easy to say, “That’s a nice story, but so what? What does that have to do with my life right now.”
Sometimes it just seems so much like someone else’s story that we forget that it is our story, too. And sometimes, when we walk down that path far enough, if we’re not careful, our faith life starts to look a lot like Space Camp.
We show up at church, we learn some things, we have fun, meet new people, go through the pretend motions of the real thing, and call it a week well spent.
Lots of fun, but we’re never going to space. Maybe someone did once, and maybe someone will again, but that’s not our life.
And as I was thinking about Easter and Space Camp this last week, I started to wonder how Space Camp would have changed for me if, on the first day, someone would have told me, “Now, pay attention, because you’re going to go to space someday.”
How would that have changed the whole week? How would that have changed my whole life?! The choices I made, the way I spent my days and where I put my energy.
When you know where you’re headed, when you know what you’re preparing for, it really can change everything.
So what if, at least for this morning, we believed Easter is real. Really, really real. And not only this Easter is real, but your Easter is real.
One day you will be lifted from death. One day you and God will be one. And you will see as God sees. And all God hopes for will be what you hope for. And all that God loves, you will love.
And all the goodness and all the light and all the love God has for the whole world, right now seen only through a mirror dimly, will be the very ocean you swim in and the very air you breathe.
What if, just for this morning, we believed, really, really believed, that Easter, that your Easter, is real.
What if, just for this morning, you knew, without a doubt, where you are going and what you are preparing for?
It’s easy to think Easter is someone else’s story, for another place and a different time, but the promise of God, made on that first Easter day so long ago, is that Jesus was the first, not the last.
And Jesus has gone ahead, to clear the way and make room. And it is bizarre, and foreign, and unlike anything we know right now. But it’s also true. Easter is for you.
Now pay attention! Because someday, this story will be about you!
It might not be space, but I suspect is just might be even better.
Alleluia and Amen!
A while back, I found myself at a text study with some other pastors, looking at this text together. And it was probably one of the most irritating bible studies I’ve ever been a part of.
I should have been suspicious when in an hour and a half of study, almost all of the time was spent talking about Jesus’ little line, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Naturally, the conversation went straight to talking about the value of “retaining sins” and how we don’t really do that anymore. [“Back in the good ole days, people were sinners and we made sure they knew it!”]
One guy, very matter of factly, let everyone know that he often retained people’s sins. [But it was always for the purpose of driving them to repentance. So really, he was doing them a favor.]
When you retain someone’s sin, you see, you stick that sin on them, you make sure they know it’s there, so that they know what they need to repent for. As he said, [“It’s about accountability!”] We need to hold people accountable, right?
And on the one hand, absolutely. In order for there to be order and peace, we need laws and we need to hold people accountable to those laws and to good and peaceful conduct. On the one hand, yes, absolutely, we need accountability.
On the other hand, I left that group feeling irritated and a little sad.. Mostly irritated, though.. I left that group thinking, “Really? Is that your good news? Is that what this is about? That God has held you accountable?”
PRAISE JESUS! GOD HAS HELD ME ACCOUNTABLE! Is that your good news? I don’t know about you, but the good news I proclaim is pretty much the absolute opposite of that!
The good news I proclaim is that God knows everything I have ever done or thought, God has seen to the darkest, worst part of my being, and died for me anyway! That’s my good news!
Thank God that I haven’t been held accountable! Thank God!
Do we need accountability? Sure. In this civic life, we need to be accountable to one another. But we dare not confuse “civic goodness” with the kingdom of God. And isn’t that the business we’re in?!
You want to fight for “civic goodness”? Join the Elks club. We are in the business of proclaiming the kingdom of God.
We are in the business of proclaiming the beautiful impossibility that God knows and has seen the darkest and worst parts of all us and died for us anyway.
That God has seen the worst we can do and says anyway, “You are mine.” And even more so, “You are forgiven.”
Isn’t that what we hear this morning? We meet up with the disciples huddled and scared in a locked room. And Jesus just appears in the middle of them.
Now, you’ve got to remember that the last time they talked to Jesus was before he was arrested. And the last time they saw him was at the crucifixion, if they even had the stomach to stay and watch. And now, Jesus barges right past their locked door.
Now, have you ever really messed up a relationship? Caused someone hurt? Or maybe just lost touch with someone you promised to stay in touch with? And then have you ever found yourself running into that person after the fact?
And you wait, you wait with your breath held, to see what they’re going to say. Because what they say, their first word, will let you know if your relationship is ruined, or if you might get another chance.
And the disciples were huddled and scared in a locked room and Jesus just appears in the middle of them. And they wait, they hold their breath and they wait. And Jesus speaks his first word…
Jesus had every right to come in saying, “What a bunch of cowards! What a bunch of weak, self-indulgent, failures! I told you you’d never make it with me ‘till the end.”
No. He says “peace.”
And he breathes on them the Holy Spirit. And he tells them, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. And if you hold onto the sins of any, they are held.”
And we, we who still secretly hope that the crucifixion was a mistake, that God actually meant to come in a blaze of glory and “smite the wicked”,
we who in that secret corner of our heart hope that the next appearance of Christ will involve a lot more “hellfire and brimstone”, we hear this as vindication.
Finally, God has given us come real power over other. Finally, we have something to “Lord over the sinners!”
Oh, out of the goodness of my heart, I suppose I can forgive you, but I need to make sure you are truly repentant first, so I’m gonna go ahead and hang on to your sin for you. [Jesus says, after all…]
We hear this as a job, and our solemn and sacred duty to keep track of the sins of others.
PRAISE JESUS! GOD HAS HELD US ACCOUNTABLE!
The thing is, this isn’t a “job description for a disciple”. It s a warning. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you hold on to the sins of any, they are held.
They are held. By. You.
That is your burden to carry. Jesus warns his disciples, if you don’t forgive, you’ll just end up holding on to those sins. And that’s not your burden to carry.
Eugene Petersen, in “The Message”, translates that verse as, “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”
Christ came right into the middle of scared disciples and said, “Peace”. He spoke forgiveness. He did the opposite of holding them accountable!
He saw how they all fell away. Every single one of them deserted him, fled into the darkness. And Jesus died for them anyway.
And he came among them and said, “Peace”. And he breathed on them the Holy Spirit and sent them out as messengers of forgiveness.
He didn’t send out the worthy or the blameless. He sent out the ones who truly knew that they themselves had been forgiven.
The job description of a disciples does not include lording your power over another, your power to be right and to declare them wrong. The job description of a disciple begins with knowing how much you are forgiven, knowing just how much you are loved.
Being a follower of Christ begins with knowing that God has seen and knows and has suffered the very worst of us.
He sees and knows our capacity for violence and for hatred and cowardice, our willful neglect of one another and of the gifts of God, our stubborn refusal to love as God loves.
And he died for you anyway. He chose you anyway. He calls you his own beloved children anyway.
Thank God, we have not been held accountable! Thank God!