My surgical rotation ends today and it will come as a relief to be able to hang up my stethoscope for the weekend. The first five days of Holy Week are a strange and not particularly comfortable experience; normal life has not yet been allowed to stop, but it would be all too easy to slip entirely into the thoughts in my own head and only surface properly, chrysalis like, at some point after lunch on Easter Monday.
I am not an evangelical; indeed, I tend to regard what we think of as Christian evangelical denominations with a faint sort of horror. In spite of that, I do sometimes wish that I were more of an evangelist. Sometimes, my own experience of my religion is so overwhelming that it’s all I can do to not tell the story of it to anyone who will listen.
On Maundy Thursday last year, one of my tasks was to lay out the altar for communion. I do that with some sort of regularity, but to do it at that service struck a very particular chord. The thing I remember about that night was how much of the power of it came from the stark contrasts. In the beginning, we seemed all to be in a remarkably good mood. It was the end of a long Lent, and the sun was shining and we were making ready to celebrate Passover with our friends. It was a celebration. But as I got up and began setting the table, I realised somewhere deep in my soul what I was doing and what I was representing, and, inevitably and awfully, what was going to happen next.
There is nothing comfortable about the second half of a Maundy Thursday service. The temple was destroyed. The altars were stripped bare. And as we made our way to the Garden, I tasted the adrenaline in the back of my throat and felt my heart thumping in my head as a hundred voices cried out around us into the wilderness. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
At midnight, the sun was long gone and the tears were salt on my face and I felt as though I had lived whole lifetimes since the Passover just a few hours earlier.
Tonight, we will do it all again.
Tomorrow, it will all be finished.
In an old episode of the West Wing, a former Congresswoman said something about what Holy Week means to us. It was a political analogy made at the end of a political career, but I keep coming back to it. She said this:
“In my religion, the whole symbol of the religion ended in crucifixion and humiliation. But that wasn’t the measure of the experience. That was just the way it ended.”