The following is written by Dale Pratt of the Cedar Community Church in Buckley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re in the middle of Holy Week today.
I was asked, not long ago, about our traditions around Lent. I responded that I grew up in a Christian tradition that didn’t pay any attention to Lent – what that means is that I have no recollection of a time that Lent was mentioned, addressed or explained in any way. Holy Week traditions like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were not even a blip in our week.
We went straight from a nod to Palm Sunday to a full-on “It’s Easter! This is Resurrection Day!” And the day started with a sunrise service, usually near some cemetery. Mom and Dad would roll us out of bed well before 0-dark-30, herd us into the family van and haul us off to some frosty, sometimes snowy, location where the wind might be blowing snow or rain sideways, and we would shiver in the cold while Dad and another pastor or two would read some Scripture and talk about how the stone rolled back, under angelic influence, at sunrise, on that first Easter morning.
I will always remember the emphasis on the power of the resurrection and I will forever struggle with whether that recognition had anything to do with the interruption of my morning of blissful sleep to be plunged into the cold, Easter morning air. No, I’m not angry or bitter about it and I haven’t been to more than a handful of those early Easter morning gatherings since I left home and went away to college. But, I’m forever captured by the majesty of this resurrection celebration.
And each year, when Easter rolls around, I’m captivated once again!
So I don’t know how to celebrate Good Friday. I spend some time rereading the Gospel narratives of those few days in the life of Jesus and I spend a lot of time meditating – as I drive down the road or sit in my office or enjoy my lunch or coffee – and the images of Jesus and his journey through this world, following his mission in this life, fulfilling his purpose and contemplating just how that impacts me some 2,000 years later…and there’s an inexplicable joy and peace that settles into my heart and surrounds my day…somewhat like my comfortable old Harris tweed overcoat on a chilly day, and I mutter, “Wow Jesus. You and the Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit came up with this plan, somewhere back in an eternity past, well before human memory kicked in, and now, all these years later, I get to enjoy the benefits of what you did and the benefits to me will follow me out of this life and into the next. Wow! Thank you.”
And I see him smile and whisper, “You’re welcome.”
Another emphasis of our tradition was on the horrific events surrounding the death of Christ. As I’ve – well, I think I’ve matured – I think I’m enjoying the privilege of some renewal in my own soul over the years and I’m finding that the big emphasis from the Gospel writers was on some personal encounters before the crucifixion, and then some more personal encounters after the resurrection with no real emphasis on the horrific events of the death, only the superb benefits to me of that death and, more significantly, that the reality of death was somehow overcome for him, and he was returned to life, nearly as though nothing had happened, but in a more dynamic manner. I’m still working on this…
But I’m so captivated by this reality – well, this reality for me as a Christian. And I’m recognizing that this one factor alone is what separates me, as a Christian, from every other either religious or nonreligious faith structure.
I’ve had conversations with folks that believe – this is a faith structure, by the way – that they’ll become just a rock or some dirt after they die. Our conversations always acknowledge that the birth-to-death ratio has held pretty steady at a solid one-to-one for as long as we can remember, so there’s not much faith required in getting a grip on the whole dying thing – gonna do it, then gonna go on to whatever the next reality is, and the reality is gonna show up, ready or not. Kinda reminds me of playing hide and seek: “Ready or not! Here I come!”
The beauty of the Easter story is that it purports a solid reality of life after death. For years now I’ve been exploring a little “What if?” question – “What if this Jesus really was the son of God and really did sacrifice himself for me, and really did come out of the grave alive again, and what if there really is a life payoff if I put my faith in him? What if?”
And of course, to be fair, I have to play the same game with the whole rock thing, too, so, “What if there’s really nothing beyond the grave except I’ll be a rock in someone’s garden for the next few generations?”
I like the life story better than the rock story.
Here’s to Easter morning! My life began there!