Here we are, once more, just days away from Palm/Passion Sunday, the beginning of the most important week in the Christian calendar. Yet it brings this rather uncomfortable question: How many Christians really care, or for that matter actually notice and alter their normal routines?
For much of my adult working life I was a (if you’ll pardon the crassness of the term) a “professional religionist.” As an editor for my denomination’s publishing house before and after it was absorbed into its international headquarters, I couldn’t help but be aware of Holy Week’s importance. And this was true, despite the fact my faith community was hardly “high church,” liturgically speaking. Well, at least the office was closed every Good Friday and there was not-so-subtle encouragement to participate in local congregational activities throughout the rest of the week, as well.
That was nothing like my first year in seminary, however. I recall what a very big deal that was: foot washing in my own congregation during a Maundy Thursday service, attendance at two (!) quite different Good Friday services (my New Testament professor preached the homily at the Anglican cathedral downtown; afterward, several of us seminary students dropped by a Baptist communion service); then there was the Great Saturday Vigil service in the school’s chapel, which followed the centuries-old Anglican rite (including incense–didn’t care for it then, don’t much like it now either), a sunrise service on Easter morning, followed by a glorious Easter service in my own congregation. I was exhausted by Sunday afternoon. It’s just a good thing the school gave us “Easter Monday” off, as well.
Nowadays, well,… at least I blog. I don’t think I’ve attended a Good Friday service in all the years since.
But enough about me and my mea culpa.
I wonder: Will American Christians this weekend be more focused on the beginning of Holy Week or the end of this year’s NCAA basketball season with the Final Four semi-finals Saturday night and the finals Monday evening in New Orleans’ Superdome? It’s probably unfair to even ask such a question. And I don’t bring up the subject to guilt anyone into “appropriate” religious observance.
But maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us all to hit the pause button on life and spend some time in the Gospels. This year’s lectionary takes us through Mark, at least until Good Friday when, as always, the lectionary focuses on the Gospel of John.
Matthew and Luke are perfectly fine accounts, of course, although Mark has the advantage of brevity. Recall, too, that Mark begins this way: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1 NRSV). Mark spends a lot of time and effort to persuade us of that basic truth, that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. But it isn’t until chapter 15 until a Roman soldier, of all people, proclaims this out loud: “Now when the centurian, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, `Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (15:39).
Even if all we do is start reading Mark’s Gospel with chapter 14 and go to its end (at 16:20), we will find a story like no other. Keep in mind that Luke and Matthew offer differing perspectives and details–fortunately, there is no “one true account” of God’s good news. Palms and hosannas in Jerusalem. Cleansing the Temple. With Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. The Upper Room. Gethsemene. Arrest and trial. Peter’s denial. Crucifixion. Empty tomb. Certainly it’s far more important than checking off those last few brackets in our NCAA predictions.
May the coming week be, for you and for me, an exceptionally holy one.