Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Holy Week

We both came down with some horrible cold last night, that cause me not only to be achey, stuffed, and have a mother of a sore throat, but also I couldn't sleep. So besides church, this is the first I've been out of bed today, and I'm doing it just for you since I know I've neglected the blog lately. I have good reasons (end of school, dealing with PhD stuff, etc), but from the lack of response lately (I remember when you guys used to actually comment on things I said, even on my life - I wouldn't mind hearing from you again), I'm figuring I've lost some of you or you're bored with me. Not all that surprising - life's not tremendously exciting when it's not your own.

Anyway, I wanted to write a little bit about holy week, particularly today, Palm Sunday. I'll post the meditations that J (and I, supposedly) are writing for the Seven Last Words installation at church, but they're not done yet. Stay tuned for that - what he's done so far is very good. I was supposed to do it, but with finals being this week, I just couldn't. Thank God I have a husband who can pinch hit for me. I would imagine that's an asset in the ministry.

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with my sister. She was telling me how they had this nice joyful song to sing today for her choir, all "Hosannas." But then she said that they had to sing this other song and it was "a real downer," all about the love that gave itself up to save us all. I kind of laughed and reminded her that, downer though it may be, that is the point of the story, and really, it's good news. Plus it's far superior, IMHO, to focus on the love instead of the sin (more on that in a sec).

Anyway she was wondering why her church had to sing a song about the cross on Palm Sunday, which is, in her words, a "joyful" Sunday. The cross, she correctly pointed out, is Friday. But then I asked her if the church was having any services between today and next Sunday, and she said no, she didn't think so. So, I said, maybe they have to cram all of Holy Week into this one Sunday, since that's the only chance they have. I also told her how at the Episcopal church (or mine, at least) we start off with the Hosannas as well, but shortly things get pretty grim as we are all implicated by shouting "Cruicfy!" during the gospel presentation. And the organ gets switched off for the week, and everything is somber, and at the end it's all quiet. Now my church has services all week, more than one some days, and we still do this on Palm Sunday.

At any rate, my point was that if Palm Sunday was nothing but Hosanna, and then you came back the next week for Easter, there'd be no cross at all. Now in a lot of Evangelical churches, the cross is the focal point of the rest of the year, so maybe this isn't such a bad thing. But I just thought it was really interesting to think that if you went to some churches you may not realize that anything bad happened between Palm Sunday and Easter. Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem, and next thing we know, he brings us baskets of eggs. Or something like that.

But then when I talked it over with J, he pointed out that the Hosanna's and the joyfulness are false anyway. We've been taught it's this joyful day, but we were misled. I mean, it was probably true in the moment, but the reality - the juxtaposition that our service was pointing out - is that they were hollow and caught up in emotion, and in the moment when it counted, those people all turned away. Even the closest disciples ran and hid. So Palm Sunday isn't all that joyful, after all. It's just ironic. And that helped me really understand today's service even more. The entrance into Holy Week is the realization that Jesus was a Rock Star for a day, but he faded fast, and public attention was as fickle as it is today. Maybe he'd have lasted longer if TMZ were available to cover his exploits. Then again, he's probably have sunk faster if people had really paid attention to the things he was saying.

All this made me think about our chapel this past week. It was very cross-centric, which was appropriate since we won't have chapel during holy week (that being reserved for writing papers and taking finals, at my seminary - I mean geez, why would you have worship?). I really didn't like the theology of the songs (I rarely do), but it was especially interesting that the speaker, my systematics prof whose wisdom I've been spouting in my recent posts on atonement, would I know have disagreed with a lot of it as well. How funny to invite someone to speak, then sing a bunch of songs conflicting with his theology! Anyway, they probably had no clue about that. They were just singing the popular praise choruses about Jesus' gruesome death (another thing that offends the hell out of me - I just can't deal with a praise chorus about the cross. It's just inappropriate, period. The cross is one occasion that calls for the deep theological language that is only possible in hymnody. Short repetitive phrases do nothing but cheapen the event. OK, rant over). Most fortunately, they ended the singing time with a version of "There's a wideness in God's mercy," one of my top hymns of all time, and one that I know the speaker totally agrees with (he even quoted it).

The big line that stuck with me that I knew was wrong was the line: "My sin held him" there on the cross. And I distinctly remembered from the class (and the prof quoted this, too) that the big deal is not that our sin (or as the song says, my sin) held him on the cross, but Jesus'/God's LOVE held him on the cross. Anderson says in the Judas and Jesus book (a great little read, btw) that we shouldn't overestimate our own sin - like it's all that powerful or important. When we do this, we overestimate our role and importance in the cosmic story, and often because it causes us to focus on "me" individually and "my" sin. He says, don't overestimate your sin - your sin didn't put Jesus on the cross. God's love put God there.

Now he's specifically referring to Judas' betrayal, but I don't see why it wouldn't apply to any of us. Yes, we have sinned. We have rebelled. I don't know if it's willful or just human nature. I don't know if the cross was necessary to wipe it away or just to show us that, since death has always plagued us, this is how you deal with it - you lay down your life for your friends. I believe more happened on the cross than just an example of love - although it was the supreme example of love and friendship, and more than that, it was the paradigm for how the universe works. It was the ultimate show of God's power and from it we learn how upside-down our ideas really are. The cross is all of these things and more. The main mystery - how God died - will never be understood by humans, I don't think. Even if God could explain it to us, we probably wouldn't get it.

Anyway, I think the main point of the cross is love, not sin, and defeating death (by submission). So I don't think my sin held him there. And in my near-drunken state I don't know if this has made sense (this cold has my head completely stuffed plus I'm way overtired). But I know I need to stop and lie down again. So I'm sorry to end this abruptly, but I gotta rest and get better. I can't take most medicine so I want this overwith fast.


Unknown said...

Here's my take on the whole Palm Sunday from an Children's Pastors perspective-

I struggled yesterday with our children parading around the building waving palm branches. One because they really do not understand what it is that they are doing, two because it is out of place in the service and seems only a "way" to have the kids participate and finally because the song that they are singing doesn't line up to the fact that the same people who were shouting hosanna's to Jesus were indeed the same individuals who shouted to crucified, mocked and jeered at Jesus on the road to and on the cross itself.

I think that this is one of the travesties in many Evangelical churches - because as a whole in the movement's attempt to move away from the structured, liturgical, formulaic worship, they have also lost the sense of historicity and appreciation/understanding for the rubrics of why things happen as they do. Thus when they attempt to move or include something like waving and parading of Palm Branches, the joyous music and failure to include the passion etc., you wind up with the experiences that many of us do. Thank goodness our sermon was well thought out and conveyed and did much to move people towards the Cross - and that our community has a Trididum (minus Sat. Vigil).

I'll miss ringing those bells at the Vigil with you all this year. Ring em once for me!

Get well - and praying for your finals/papers.


Hagar's Daughter said...

Reading about "7 Last Sayings of Jesus" reminds me of the tradition in the Baptist and Pentecostal Churches I attended while growing up in the south. I haven't attended a Good Friday church service in years where there were different preachers/speakers preaching about Jesus' last words.
My father was writing his sermon on this evening for Good Friday and I wish I were able to fly home an worship with him and my mom.

I can't wait until you post what you guys worked on.

Get better...