Holy Week has always been special for me as a Christian and pastor. Frankly, in the church year it always meant more to me than Christmas, though I adore Christmas for the deep cultural sense of family, baby Jesus and joy.
Holy Week is not the same tone. It is juxtaposed with an equally perilous spiritual history, Passover, when the Hebrew people were delivered by God from slavery and oppression, but not without great anxiety and fear. For Christians, it is a somber week that strips away, day after day, one human pretension of pride after another until all that is left is Jesus, alone in prayer while his closest companions slump wearily into sleep nearby. I don’t fault them—I identify with them. They are most like me. They are overwrought, afraid, wary, unsure of themselves.
The week ends in death and tragedy, the annihilation of every hope they had entertained. They were enveloped by a tidal wave of despair washing three years of growing excitement away with the words, “It is finished.” But it is ever so real to human experience. Not all of life, of course, but there are moments when everything is dashed to pieces and you wobble on the high wire. Most Christian kitschy art and movies rush to the resurrection, much like our tendency at a funeral to skip the empty space in our souls and offer glib denial and quick tours of heaven. There is little real drama, because you already know everyone will dance around and be excited shortly.
So that is my special week. But it is personal. Fifty years ago, liturgically (it was a week later than this year), I sat in the choir loft on Sunday night at Crestview Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio during a communion service. That evening we observed it in complete silence, an odd prelude to an important reality for me in years to come, and in that stillness, I had an experience of such forceful clarity that altered my life. I went before the church the next Sunday to announce that I believed God had called me into ministry.
Every year, when I walk this week with Jesus, I revisit that strange moment. I have agonized through the years to keep peeling it back to understand it better. I have, like the disciples, slumbered too much and been thickheaded about what is going on at important moments. You cannot do this work without a sense of genuine calling. And you cannot do this work faithfully without a real sense of self-questioning along the way. It is a window through which I have looked out at everything all these years.
Now, in retirement for a month, I find myself there again, asking, “What is my calling now?” It feels as new and uncertain as age sixteen again, a reminder to me that life is never “set.” There is a simple call for us who are Christians, “Follow me,” and a vast web of reflection that asks, “What does that mean? For me? For now? For this time?” And I am grateful that a mysterious Benevolence seems to dwell among us, not seeming to give up on us, and offering something extraordinary around the next corner, even when it is utterly unmarked and full of uncertainty.