Easter

Holy Weekend: Experiencing Resurrection (Part Two)

In Part One, we introduced the Great Triduum (Three Days) and concluded in the darkness of Good Friday:

The Good Friday service ends with increasing darkness, as if we were moving further into the cave of Jesus’s burial. Finally, a final candle is snuffed out. There is no final hymn, no benediction, no soaring anthem. Christ has left the building. Ministers at the exits may take a blunt nail and press into the palms of the congregants, reenacting Christ’s pierced skin in their place. It is finished.

We often don’t pause here. We rush to the Good News. But the great Story doesn’t rush; God is never in a hurry. Especially on Holy Weekend, we must slow down. We have to linger. We must remain, even if only for a moment, in the darkness, before we return to the light.

Holy Saturday

On Saturday of Holy Week, the final of the Great Triduum, there are no gatherings. There is no singing, there are no candles lit, there are no Scriptures read. Christ is in the tomb.

Holy Saturday is a day of nothingness. We must take this day seriously. We can’t rush to the Good News of Sunday without letting the Bad news of Friday linger for a full day on Saturday. Imagine the disciples’ agony: Their friend was gone; the dream was over; cold, brutal reality was left to deal with.

Unfortunately, the experience of this day is all too real to us. We are often “stuck in the mood of ambiguity and powerlessness of Holy Saturday.”[1] Think about it: We know that Jesus has died for our sins, that he was crucified and buried in dramatic reality. And while we know that resurrection of Jesus has happened, we don’t see new life springing forth in eternal beauty.

Have you felt this?

We know Jesus is the Son of God, that he reigns in power, that we are one with him. Yet our day-to-day experience is instead one of powerlessness, pain, and lonely suffering. Life between Friday and Sunday is an “almost” sort of life.[2] Somewhere along the way, the joy, peace, and wonder of life with God has been replaced by skepticism, brokenness, and sheer weariness. 

What do we do with this? I believe we have to embrace these feelings, push deeper into them, and then with equal fervor, press all the way into the pain until Easter Sunday rises in the morning.

Resurrection Sunday

Whereas Christmas has become the most significant Christian holiday in the Western Church, the birth of Jesus means nothing without his death and resurrection. A great life that ends in the grave is no Savior.

Easter Sunday celebrates the majesty of the resurrection: He was dead and buried, but…

But on the third day, he rose in victory over Satan, sin, and death! The resurrection of our Lord is the proof of God’s love for us, the foundation of our faith and life, and the highlight of the Christian year.

In my own life, I feel a familiarity with the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, but struggle to fully embrace with joy the risen Lord of Easter Sunday. Perhaps in wanting to preserve the “lows” of the Great Triduum, though, we can hesitate to fully leap into the glorious Light of the resurrection.

When he rises, we rise—since we are in him. When he begins a new and eternal life, we begin a new and eternal life. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

The resurrection is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises (see Acts 13) and the fulfillment of our deepest longings. It’s really true: In the end, there is still life, there is still love. Everything sad will come untrue!

***

As Christians, we can live in the power and joy and peace of the resurrection. By pressing deeper into the events of Holy Weekend—even the darkness of Good Friday and the silence of Holy Saturday—we discover the power of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Jesus raised and ascended, with work to do still on earth, is our joy and hope and calling. Because Jesus lives today, we live. And we live with the same Holy Spirit that filled him, giving us the same sort of life and power for community and ministry. In the resurrection, Jesus invites us into relationship with the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Nothing is ever the same again!

In Jesus’s own words in the upper room: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

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[1] Andrew Purves, The Resurrection of Ministry: Serving in the Hope of the Risen Lord, 11-12.

[2] Purves, 16. 

Holy Weekend: Experiencing Resurrection (Part One)

I grew up in the church, so when it came time for the annual youth retreat, for a camp trip, or for a special rally, I was there—reluctantly, in the back row, leaning against the wall, with one foot out the door.

I liked my church’s youth group, but these intended “highs” always bugged me. The recipe was: You pull a bunch of young people away from non-Christian influences, fill them with sugar and caffeine, and bring in your best Hype Guy to give his testimony. Even at 13 or 16, I would do an epic Liz Lemon eye roll and just wait it all out.

But as I’ve gotten older, I miss those weekends. There actually is beauty there—getting away, feeling something. It turns out the adult life is a long thread of days that looked and felt just like the one before it.

In more than a decade of pastoral ministry, I’ve wrestled with this tension. How much should we cultivate special, extraordinary experiences in the faith, and how often should we just put our heads down and follow God—living quiet lives, minding our own business, working with our hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11)?

Thankfully, we are not alone in this struggle: The Church has historically wrestled with the times and seasons of the Christian life, and the Church Calendar was formed and embraced as a way of living in this tension.

I’ve written here recently and spoken on this frequently: The liturgical calendar is something the contemporary church must recover. Even as a brand-new-and-not-even-public-yet church plant, we have no desire to be innovative. Instead, we want to recover the treasures that have been lost.

And the historic Church has one weekend each year that pulls together all our longings—for celebration, for embodied faith, and for renewed commitment. Easter is that weekend.

Maundy Thursday

Holy Weekend begins with what has traditionally been called the Great Triduum, meaning Three Great Days, in the historic church. These are the days that we remember with great solemnity the final events of Jesus’s life on earth. The season of Lent officially ends on the Thursday of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday. The term Maundy derives from the Latin Mandatum Novum, meaning “a new commandment.”[1]

On Thursday night, Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room (John 13-17; Luke 22). His earthly work was complete, and now he was preparing himself and his disciples for what must come next. He washed their feet in an act of marvelous humility; he promised the Holy Spirit; he spoke the new commandment of love; he instituted the Lord’s Supper; and he retreated to Gethsemane to pray and be arrested.

In my evangelical background, Maundy Thursday wasn’t celebrated. But without it, we lack an awareness of the magnitude of this day in the history of redemption. Maundy Thursday recalls the institution of the Lord’s Supper. “We are reminded of the connection made between bread, wine, and death. We are reminded that the death of Jesus is no mere human tragedy but a voluntary suffering by Jesus to be a sacrifice for us.”[2]

In Catholic and Episcopal tradition, Maundy Thursday is a communion (Eucharist) service concluded with the solemn stripping of the communion table, symbolizing the stripping of Jesus’s garments in preparation for crucifixion. The ministers remove from the table the bread and wine, take away all signs of life (flowers lamps, candles, and tablecloths), and silently wash the table with water. These things are put away until the day of the resurrection.

Good Friday

In the early church, Good Friday is practiced as a continuation of Thursday night. Beginning in the fourth century, there are records of Christians going to the Garden of Gethsemane to remember and practice communion, then returning to Jerusalem by night, arriving Good Friday morning to remember Jesus’s trial, crucifixion, death, and burial.

On Good Friday, we remember that it was our sins that put Jesus on the Cross. Many parts of the Church still practice the Stations of the Cross, a slow, purposeful walk through scenes from Jesus’s trial and crucifixion.[3]

Good Friday gatherings have become more popular in the Protestant tradition with good reason: We need an annual reminder of our sin, its penalty of death, and Christ’s willing sacrifice in our place. In a Good Friday gathering, there’s no Good News—no proclamation of resurrection, no empty tomb, no Easter Sunday. It’s simply death, burial, and darkness.

The Good Friday service ends with increasing darkness, as if we were moving further into the cave of Jesus’s burial. Finally, a final candle is snuffed out. There is no final hymn, no benediction, no soaring anthem. Christ has left the building. Ministers at the exits may take a blunt nail and press into the palms of the congregants, reenacting Christ’s pierced skin in their place.[4]

It is finished.

We often don’t pause here. We rush to the Good News. But the great Story doesn’t rush; God is never in a hurry. Especially on Holy Weekend, we must slow down. We have to linger. We must remain, even if only for a moment, in the darkness, before we return to the light.

(Part Two is coming Friday.)

 

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[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year, 127.
[2]
Webber, 128-29.
[3]
In Catholic tradition, nine stages of the Cross come directly from Scripture, and an additional five are added from popular tradition.
[4]
Andrew Purves, The Resurrection of Ministry: Serving in the Hope of the Risen Lord, 13.