Written by Chad Magnuson
When I was a kid, I enjoyed throwing rocks into a calm lake…in fact, the bigger the rock, the better. Why? It was the big rocks that made the greatest splash! After the splash, though, I noticed that the spectacle wasn’t over. It so happened that each splash began to disturb the previously calm waters next to it. But it wasn’t only the immediate area that was impacted. I was amazed at how one rock sent little waves for what seemed like a hundred feet in all directions.
In previous blog posts, we have described the church calendar as an invitation to keep time with Jesus, to allow our stories to be shaped by Jesus’s story. In fact, all other acts in the drama of this church calendar (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ordinary time) find their true significance in the death and resurrection of Jesus. One could say that the death and resurrection of Jesus are the “rock” events in the “lake” of the church calendar (and all of history, for that matter), sending ripple effects in all directions.
The earliest Christians recognized the unique importance of the final days of Jesus’s earthly life, and called the community to remember them in a special way…not simply as a mental recollection of something that happened in the past, but a participating in what was being remembered (much like the Jewish practice of Passover, not simply recalling past events, but inviting those events into a present experience). The last week of Jesus’s life was special…set apart… “holy”…which is why this week is known as Holy Week. We celebrate the Passover of Christ, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Thus, Holy Week is an invitation to journey with Jesus, from His entrance into Jerusalem, to the last meal with His disciples, and to His eventual death on the cross and resurrection to new life. This journey will change us.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, where we join the crowds yelling “Hosanna!” (God, save us!). Unfortunately, like those in the crowd, we often think of Jesus as an earthly king, perceiving His rule in terms of our own expectations and experiences. He is king, but perhaps not the kind of king we were expecting. He values humility over self-assertion and love over power.
Next, we come to the Three Days, which from earliest times were one extended remembrance…one great story in three distinct movements: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. On Maundy Thursday, we mark the Last Supper that Jesus had with His disciples. It is here that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as another demonstration of the nature of His kingship…the greatest is the servant of all. This is also the night that Jesus initiated the new covenant with the Eucharist (the communion meal we share together), proclaiming that through His death and resurrection, His followers would experience true life. Finally, Jesus issued a “new command” on this night (Maundy is a Latin derivative meaning “mandate” or “command”) to love each other as Jesus loved them (John 13:34).
Good Friday is the next movement of the Three Days, offering a solemn remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that offers us forgiveness and new life with God. In our culture, we often don’t like to think about the cost of things we enjoy. We would rather have resurrection with no suffering and death…Easter with no Good Friday. Participating in Good Friday affords us a chance to recall—in a reverently thankful way—the death that gave us life. It is only when we come face to face with sin and death—the pain in the way of the cross—that we can truly celebrate the victory and freedom of Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday is the resounding climax of the Three Days, Holy Week, and the whole Church calendar. It’s the day we’ve been longing for since the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, the time when we can exclaim with unfettered joy and victory, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” Not only do we remember the hope we inherited long ago, but we also look forward with great anticipation to the time when Jesus makes all things new. Thus, Easter brings together past and future in a joyful present experience of resurrection, knowing that Jesus, the suffering servant, is also the victorious king, and through the Holy Spirit, we get to live in union with him now and forever!
We look forward to journeying with Jesus together for these great Three Days: Maundy Thursday at 6:30 (with a potluck dinner beginning at 5:00), Good Friday at 6:30, and Easter Sunday at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:15. One story, three movements.
May our hearts be shaped by the passage through suffering to resurrection!