William Blake’s Holy Thursday (1794)
“Holy Week” (the week before Easter when we remember the last, painful days of Jesus’ life) was not a term I grew up hearing a lot. In our family and church we celebrated the joy of Palm Sunday and the victory of Easter Sunday. But we didn’t have Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services. We often sang, “I serve a risen savior, He’s in the world today” and I’m thankful for that heritage. Yes, the cross was sung about and preached about as well. My preacher dad would call people to repentance and faith based on Jesus’ finished work on the cross. And all during the year we sang rousing hymns and gospel songs about the power of the cross and the blood. But Easter week was altogether a joyous experience of colored eggs, new dresses, choir songs, and the biggest church attendance of the year!
Mother directed the choir’s Easter Cantata that always had a song or two about the sadness and suffering leading up to Easter. But we didn’t dwell there long. At the same time, in our personal lives I think we didn’t really know what to do with the emotion of sadness. In those inexplicable moments when a weight of sadness came over you and threatened to smother you, what did you do? You smothered it back! Maybe you had “a good cry” in private then put on a brave face and smiled for the family, the world, and the church. That’s what I saw my mother do.
I’m thankful for the legacy she gave me of loving God, loving people, choosing to be an over-comer. And truly, “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” And that joy is a fountain that wells up from deep inside as a result of the presence and work of Christ in us through his Holy Spirit. But I have learned by experience—and from the saints of old—that that joy is greater and purer and fresher when we allow periodic remembrance and identification with the sadness and suffering of Passion Week. The very word “passion” means “suffering.” Over a decade ago Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, brought this truth to the fore. In the past twenty years liturgy and observance of the church calendar have come back into many churches, and I find this enriches my Christian faith and experience. For instance, observing Maundy Thursday and Good Friday helps me know what to do with times of sadness.
Holy Week reminds me that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). In the Garden of Gethsemane he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). He experienced sadness and sorrow to the depths, for me.
Whatever the source of my sadness …
- sorrow for my sins and the suffering they caused my Lord.
- waves of grief and sadness over personal losses, such as losing my mother at a young age.
- sadness in the face of the cruelties, tragedies, and injustices I see people oppressed by.
… during Holy Week I am reminded of what to do with this “weight of sorrow,” these tears: bring them to Jesus …
- See him kneeling in the garden, overwhelmed with sorrow, in anguished prayer and sweating drops of blood.
- See him enduring the cruelest injustice, ridicule, and inflicted pain.
- See him hanging on the cross agonizing, bleeding, and dying, because of my sins.
I can allow my occasional sadness to help me identify with Jesus, the man of sorrows. Then, when the resurrected Lord wipes those tears from my eyes, what JOY!