A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

It's Not Just the Last Act of the Play; It's the Entire Drama: Some Reflections Post Holy Week

I was raised in a very low-church Protestant tradition. What that meant for me was that the church we attended never had Holy Week services and my family never attended Holy Week services anywhere else. Of course, that also meant that we did not observe Ash Wednesday nor Advent, but my focus in this post is on Holy Week. We celebrated Christ's resurrection every Easter, but Maundy Thursday and Good Friday was something the Catholics did, and I was raised in a church environment that determined what worship practices were to be done or omitted based upon whether or not the Catholics did or didn't do it. So when I asked, as a young boy, why we did not observe Good Friday, I was told, "The Catholics do that."

I was not exposed to Holy Week observances until my days in college. In attending my first Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, I experienced a widening of the Gospel narrative that made the celebration of Easter even more significant. Of course, I knew that Jesus celebrated a last supper with his disciples and I certainly knew of his crucifixion. Those two things were significantly highlighted in my worship experience throughout the year. But for the first time in worship I was on a journey with Jesus and the church in worship that made Easter Sunday and resurrection much more than coming into the theater for the last act of the play, which is what I had been doing all of those years when Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were just two regular days, while we pulled out all the stops for Easter Sunday. For all of those years, I had been missing out on Holy Week in the same way as one misses out when one reads only the last chapter of a book.

Many years ago, I read an article by L. Gregory Jones, the Dean of Duke Divinity School, who recounted a conversation he had with a visiting pastor from South Africa, who said he had trouble understanding why in the US Good Friday services are among the poorest attended services of the year, with Easter Sunday only a few days later being one of the best. Whatever the reasons for this, one thing is clear from the New Testament-- cross and resurrection cannot be understood apart from each other. Indeed, according to the New Testament the two make up one saving event. One cannot have resurrection without the cross and the cross is useless without the resurrection.

So, as a pastor it can be quite discouraging to have a fraction of the people at Good Friday service that will be in worship on Easter Sunday, but I am thankful that years ago I was introduced to the entire narrative of Holy Week worship. It is my favorite week of the year for good reason; and after journeying with Jesus from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane, and then to the hill called "Calvary," the joy of Easter and resurrection comes into full view and clear focus.

My only wish is that more and more believers would come to see the significance of participating in the entire divine drama of Holy Week, and not be content with witnessing only the last act of the play.


Betty Newman said...

I agree with you. I was just thinking the other day, that if I ever did an Easter sermon I would say that "coming to Easter Sunday Morning, without having been at Maundy Thursday or Good Friday is like coming in on the end of a movie!"

While I do get discouraged with the "church calendar" sometimes in that (to many pastors) it totally dictates what they preach, still some things just have to be taught in their entirety!


John Montgomery said...


Thanks for the post - I would simply add two comments. First, following your metaphor of a play...is this the last act, or just an intermission? And secondly, at least this past Holy Week, I was struck that while at Christmas time, we readily discern that there are at least two stories present in our received tradition - even a third, if we count the script of the performances our kids give, but this time of the year, we sometimes miss the fact that maybe there are two different plays - certainly about the same general themes, but very different plots. As I was writing just now, I overheard the TV ad for the latest movie Robin Hood - what does it mean for us to allow all of the versions to teach us to affirm the diversity in our contemporary experience?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The Cross stands for the injustices in the world, where the Resurrection is the 'hope" for justice to be rectified.

I don't see where in actual life that the Cross should be something we seek. We should not seek the Cross, because the Cross is a grossly distorted view of "justice".

America's view is "equality under law". That is more enlightened and more to be sought than the Cross.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Yes, I do agree with you on the church calendar. While I follow the seasons which inform my preaching, I do not follow the lectionary. That's just my style.


Yes, you are quite correct to point to the larger narrative beyond Holy Week. My post was specifically addressing the Holy Week journey in particular, where Easter is observed without Last Supper and Cross. So resurrection is the last act only in the narrow sense of the Holy Week narrative, but it is really the beginning as the church moves forward toward Ascension and Pentecost.

I am not completely sure what you mean by the two different plays this time of year. Could you please clarify?

PamBG said...

Well, I know why I wasn't at Good Friday services. Because I had to work. If you work in any kind of retail establishment, you're not going to get Good Friday off. If there had been an evening service, I would have attended it.

I really value the "in time" observance of Holy Week. I'd rather have a Palm Sunday, a Maundy Thursday, a Good Friday and an Easter Sunday.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Pam, I suppose if one is in a larger population setting, there will likely be the option of attending a noontime service or an evening service. In our community there has been a community Good Friday service at noon every year, but because of many people now having to work, attendance, of course, is way down. I believe our church is the only Protestant church in town that offers an evening service and this was our first year.

It would be a good thing for churches in our communities to organize perhaps three options on Good Friday-- morning, afternoon, and evening-- to give folks the opportunity to attend.

Since we are not going back to the days of everything closing on Good Friday, the churches should do something to provide more opportunities.