Finding Ourselves in Holy Week

X HOLY WEEK CENTRAL DRAMA OF CHRISTIAN FAITHX TEMPLE MOUNT FROM MOUNT OF OLIVESX MOUNT OF OLIVES FROM TEMPLE MOUNTX DEMONSTRATION OF SUPPORTX FACE TO FACE WITH OUR HUMANNESSX SOMETHING DIFFERENT CAPTURES OUR ATTENTIONX MORE TIME WITH THE STORYX MAUNDY THURSDAY  TENEBRAEX DEATH AND RESURRECTION IS TRANSFORMATIVEX FAITH IS EMBEDDED IN NEURONS & GENESX INFUSING OUR FAITH WITH HOPESLIDE 3: HOLY WEEK CENTRAL DRAMA OF CHRISTIAN FAITH
Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. This is the central drama of the Christian Faith. We are at the beginning of an emotional roller coaster that will take us from the high point of the crowds hailing Jesus as King, through the intimacy of the Last Supper, the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane to the low point of the crowd demanding Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. Then we wait at the foot of the cross sinking ever deeper into despair, until we take his poor dead body off the cross and place it in the tomb. We travel through the emotional wrench of Holy Week to arrive at Easter Sunday, when the Empty Tomb proclaims the joy of resurrection. But we can’t get to the joy of Easter, without experiencing that roller coaster of Holy Week. And so we begin at the beginning with the Palm Sunday Parade.
SLIDE 4: TEMPLE MOUNT FROM MOUNT OF OLIVES
The Mount of Olives is a large hill/small mountain that lies to the East of Jerusalem opposite Mt. Moriah that was the high place where the Temple was located, and today is the location of the Dome of the Rock. The Mount of Olives is somewhat higher than Mt. Moriah, so the view from the top of the Mount of Olives looks down upon the Dome of the Rock, and in the time of Jesus as he crested the top of the Mount of Olives he was looking down on the Temple.
SLIDE 5: MOUNT OF OLIVES FROM TEMPLE MOUNT
The Mount of Olives is the peak of a climb from Jericho up to Jerusalem. This is a considerable incline that rises from about 1400 feet below sea level to approximately 2700 feet above sea level. So over a distance of about 20 miles the road rises over 4,000 feet. The Mount of Olives was home to two villages Bethphage on the Eastward slope of the mountain facing away from Jerusalem and Bethany lying almost on the crest of the mountain.
SLIDE 6: DEMONSTRATION OF SUPPORT
Jerusalem was crowded for Passover. Many Passover Pilgrims camped on the sides of the mountains surrounding the City. As Jesus and his disciples came over the Mount of Olives creating a “demonstration of support” for Jesus, thousands of other Passover Pilgrims may have joined the parade, if for no other reason than to see what was going on. This enthusiasm then created a kind of circle of protection for Jesus as he proceeded to challenge the authorities in the Temple itself. They could not arrest him for fear of the crowd. This also explains why he left the City each evening to spend the night with friends in different undisclosed locations on the Mt. of Olives, so he could not be arrested without a crowd around him.
SLIDE 7: NON-VIOLENT CONFRONTATION
Jesus’ purpose appears not to have been to foment violent rebellion but to engage the people and the Temple authorities in honest confrontation about pressing issues of justice, the future of the Jewish people and their faith. Did he know when he led the Palm Sunday Parade that his effort would result in his death? Very possibly, after all he had the example of the execution of John the Baptist. But maybe he still had a glimmer of hope like so many other non-violent heroes after him that peaceful change might still be possible.
SLIDE 8: FACE TO FACE WITH YOUR HUMANNESS
The Story of Holy Week is one of the most compelling dramas of history — idealism, aspiration, confrontation, treachery, disloyalty, betrayal, despair, death and then against all odds new life, hope. The last week of the life of Jesus brings us face to face with our humanness.
SLIDE 9: SOMETHING DIFFERENT CAPTURES OUR ATTENTION
Every year we travel the same journey of Holy Week, but each time if we keep our eyes and ears wide open, God can reveal something we have never seen or heard before. Maybe this is the year we finally understand Peter’s fear, when he was accused of being a follower of Jesus, or the anguish of his guilt and shame, when Peter heard the cock crow. Maybe on Maundy Thursday we will recognize ourselves arguing about who is the greatest at the Last Supper, or standing around embarrassed with the other disciples because only Jesus was willing to wash the feet of the guests. Or possibly we can see the screaming unwashed mob from the point of view of the more established leaders, who were afraid things were getting out of hand. Maybe we finally come to an appreciation of the man who lent Jesus the donkey for the ride into the City, or we find ourselves at the foot of the cross rolling dice for a dying man’s cloak.
SLIDE 10: MORE TIME WITH THE STORY
We need to spend more time with the Holy Week Story. Liberal Protestants too often have abandoned the reading of the scriptures, because we don’t want to be like those Bible thumping fundamentalists. Many children grow up in church without any appreciation of the principal Bible Stories. On one Easter Sunday a story teller asked the kids during a children’s sermon, if they knew what “resurrection” meant. The young people looked bewildered until one little boy raised his hand and volunteered, “I don’t know, but I think if it lasts more than four hours, you are supposed to call a doctor.”
SLIDE 11: DEATH AND RESURRECTION IS TRANSFORMATIVE
I want to encourage all of us to take some time and imagination during this next week to project ourselves into the Holy Week Story. I don’t know what will grab you, or what will catch my attention as I relive the Holy Week story, but I do know that this narrative of the arrest, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus is transformative. We can read the story by ourselves, but the most powerful way of experiencing the Passion narrative is in the context of worship, where scripture, hymns and prayer — liturgy, bread and wine, combine to speak to our spirits.
SLIDE 12: MAUNDY THURSDAY COMMUNION AND TENEBRAE
I know we are all very busy people. We are lucky if most of us show up for Sunday morning worship much less coming in the middle of the week. But let me encourage you all to come experience the Holy Week story on Maundy Thursday evening. We have actually conflated Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, by having the Tenebrae Service, the Good Friday portion of the story after celebrating the Last Supper communion on Thursday. So we are saving you time!
SLIDE 13: HOW GOD CHANGES YOUR BRAIN
Why am I encouraging, some might even say, “nagging,” you all to spend time with the Holy Week Story? I have picked up a book entitled: How God Changes Your Brain – Breakthrough findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. Even as adults, our brains are constantly being rewired. Mental activities, spiritual activities and physical exercise all contribute to changes in our brains. Let me share with you a paragraph from this book:
SLIDE 14: FAITH IS EMBEDDED IN OUR NEURONS AND OUR GENES
As a neuroscientist, the more I delve into the nature of the human brain, the more I realize how mysterious we are. . .
. . . I’ve learned that behind our drive to survive, there is another force, and the best word to describe it is faith. Faith not just in God, or in science or love, but faith in ourselves and each other. Having faith in the human spirit is what drives us to survive and transcend. It makes life worth living, and it gives meaning to our life. Without such hope and optimism – synonyms for what I am calling faith – the mind can easily slip into depression or despair. Faith is embedded in our neurons and in our genes, and it is one of the most important principles to honor in our lives.
Some people put their faith in God, while others put it into science, relationships, or work. But wherever you choose to place your faith you must still confront a deeper question: What is your ultimate pursuit and dream? What do you truly desire in your life – not only for yourself, but for the world as well? And how will you begin to make that desire a reality?
SLIDE 15: INFUSING OUR FAITH WITH HOPE
The Holy Week Story can infuse the faith embedded in our genes and neurons with an ultimate hope. Yes, there is injustice in the world. Bad things happen to good people. Reformers who dream of a better world are often martyred. But in the end after wealth, power and evil have done all they can do, love wins. Love triumphs over death. And that hope is transformative. You need some of that transformative hope? Then come with me on a journey through Holy Week. Go home and read the story. Then come back on Thursday and gather around the Sharing Table. Come share the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper, and then as we extinguish the Tenebrae Candles remember the last twenty-four hours of the life of Jesus. And then return next Sunday and experience the hope and joy of resurrection. The Story of the Passion and the Resurrection is the hope that can fill our genes and neurons with life – a life of hope that transcends death.

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