This week is Holy Week. I am what is called a “cradle Episcopalian,” which means I am a lifer, having grown up attending Christ Episcopal Church in Nashville and then worshipping in various Episcopal churches over the years. We have been regulars at All Souls, a few blocks from where we live, since the mid 1980s. Embry is now on the vestry, and I have had various leadership positions there.
Holy Week is a big deal for most Christian churches and a really big deal for most Episcopal churches. It all begins with the Palm Sunday service, which is solemn and dignified and when (in our church anyway) the entire Passion Narrative from one of the Gospels is chanted, starting with Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. Then there is a service on Maundy Thursday (the Last Supper) when the alter is stripped and people leave the church in silence, another at noon on Good Friday, then a very long service on the next evening when the Easter Vigil happens, a service which begins in darkness and ends with the first Easter communion. Then finally there is the Easter service on Sunday, with fabulous music by the choir, often accompanied by a brass quartet, lots of incense and bells, and fancy robes and garments worn by the clergy, followed by a champagne reception in the undercroft. (After all we are Episcopalians!)
How do the clergy get through the week, I often wonder, realizing how close I came to being ordained myself.
For those who have been following Faux News, you know that I have been obsessed with what I believe is the most dangerous threat to our democracy and our country that I have witnessed in my 76 years. This weekend you are getting a breather from Faux News. In fact we all need a breather. This dark night of the soul will surely pass. We will be stronger and more just as a nation. We will get through this. Holy Week gives us a chance to pause and reflect and to think about what is really important.
What is really important is that there is something more to life than this secular world we find ourselves in. There is more than politics, than finding satisfying work, than fighting for good causes, than being “successful,” than maintaining strong personal and family relationships, and than struggling with the day to day challenges we all face. There is more than being happy. There is a spiritual dimension to human life. This is often illusive and seems to hide from us in places where we do not look. Holy Week and Easter remind us that this spiritual dimension is real. If we are lucky, Holy Week gives us a chance to look in the right places.
While I have “practiced” Christianity my entire life and have, as they say, paid my dues, I have struggled with questions of belief and doubt and am not one to say that I have found all the answers. Too often I wonder if I have any of the answers. But what I know is this: all of us humans on this small, blue planet are born, and we all die. Because we are human we ask the question, why. Why are we here? Why is the world the way it is? What is going on in the rest of this vast universe? What is the ultimate meaning of the all-too-short life we have been given and the cards we have been dealt to play the best we can as we slog along through the years?
Holy Week provides a fleeting glimpse of the answer. I believe that we humans yearn for meaning and for assurance that there is a reason and a purpose for our lives. This applies to all humans. Whether we admit it or not, most of us are on a spiritual journey. I believe there is one destination of this journey, yet many pathways. The Easter story is one pathway. That it happened and that the story is still alive today gives us a ray of hope on this troubled planet.