Ushered in by Palm Sunday yesterday, we are beginning what Christians call Holy Week, the week in which we celebrate Christ's Last Supper and final words to his disciples, his humiliation, crucifixion and death, and finally his resurrection on Easter Sunday. We are quickly approaching the Triduum Sacrum, the three days in which all eternity hangs in the balance. Maundy (or Holy) Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. What are we celebrating on those days? The 'Maundy' of Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word 'mandatum,' referring to Christ's mandate to his disciples at the Last Supper that they love one another. On that last Thursday, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, explaining to them that he would fulfill once for all the lamb's sacrifice for sin with his own body. On the same night, he washed their feet in a loving act of humility and servanthood, and told them that the world would know they were his disciples by the way they loved one another. Even as he did these things, he knew he was being betrayed by one of his closest friends, and that, soon, all of them would desert him and flee.
On Good Friday, that dark day that we call good, when the most unjust act ever was carried out, we celebrate Jesus' humiliation, suffering and death. On Holy Saturday, we keep vigil by the tomb, remembering the shock and grief of Jesus' family and friends as they tried to comprehend the grave of God. But we do not wait as those who do not have hope, for the Vigil is a preparation for Easter, and the resurrection celebration begins half-way through this service (some churches wait for sundown to announce the resurrection, others do the service at midnight).
Do not rush by the cross and the tomb on the way to Easter joy. Stay awhile with these days on which all sin was called to account, these days in which our God entered and surpassed our suffering, these days in which he took our place. As Paul said in Corinthians, "And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." It is through the crucified Christ that we know our risen Savior. And what do we gain in walking this path with Jesus? We only truly know ourselves in knowing Christ. In his life and death, the lives of every one of us is most truly lived and understood. Christ did not say he was a way or a truth, but the way and the truth. We often think the real world is the world of our deadlines and school schedules and political squabbles, but the real world is the world at the foot of the cross. In waiting at the foot of the cross, we are brought home to ourselves.
In the song we sing, "it was my sin that held him there," but if we're honest, we don't think of our sin this gravely, especially compared to other sins. But the original sin of our parents in the garden was the sin of thinking they knew better than God, that what he told them was not really true. And in all the ways that we excuse our own sin, we continue the same error. It leads inevitably to the same horrible conclusion the world has reached time and again, that God is the one at fault--if there is such evil and brokenness in the world, he must be guilty. And to this most unjust judgment, Christ has stepped forward and taken the punishment. Again in Corinthians, Paul says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
This is a great mystery. The God who is love is the God who is bearing the guilt for all the evil in the world. It is the mystery that underscores our whole existence, as Paul says, "God was in Christ reconciling to world to himself, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation."
For those of us who live in this broken world, the reality of our world is the truth at the foot of the cross, at the closed tomb. We are Easter people, but we still wait on this side of Easter. We know the joy of Easter through the suffering of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, even as we will know true life on the far side of death.
ACC is having a Holy Thursday service at 7 pm on April 18th at the synagogue (27-35 Crescent Street, Astoria, NY 11102) (childcare provided.) Please come celebrate and mourn with us. There are many other good options for services for Good Friday and Easter Vigil services on Friday and Saturday. And join us again to celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday, April 21stat either 9:30AM or 11:15AM.