A number of years ago, I was asked by a friend from a different faith tradition to talk about Holy Week. He said that he knew what Easter was about and he understood why we made a big fuss over that, but that no one had ever told him what this week leading up to it was really about. He asked if I could explain.
Oh, I told him the names of the festivals — which he already knew. And probably I could have offered a historical account of the events of the week according to Mark, if I had been moved to do so. And while stumbling over my own incompetence I may have slipped in a, “… and then on Holy Saturday we clean everything.”
We ended dinner with him more baffled than he had been and wishing he hadn’t asked, and the reputation of informed intelligent Christians in tatters on the plates before us.
You must understand that I used to avoid Holy Week. I knew the story of the Passion, but I didn’t live it; and I had a theoretical knowledge of what each of the services was supposed to be re-enacting, but I didn’t really get what it was about. I slipped into a back pew for the big festival service on Easter Day, when the flowers were in bloom and the place had been polished to within an inch of its life and, so I was told, a miracle had happened. I hadn’t been a guest at that very particular Eucharist. I had never witnessed the tearing apart of the temple, or been the friend who fled when they came out to arrest him, or wept at the foot of his cross. I had never crept out of my house in the dark and stillness of a Sunday morning to visit a tomb, not knowing whether there had been a resurrection.
I had not yet taken seriously the promise that had been made to me that if I kept Holy Week in the place where I now keep it, that it would change my life and change my faith.
And so I didn’t know.
I didn’t know what it was like to have incense in my nose and cold tile against my face and adrenaline in the back of my throat, and to lie there silent and terrified and furious.
Or about the love and the joy and the betrayal and the fear and the anger, and that I would experience all of those things in a few short hours.
Or why Judas betrayed him, or why Peter denied him, or why Thomas doubted him. I didn’t know why he didn’t just run when he had the chance. I didn’t know that they were all just as human as I am.
I didn’t understand why it was important.
That it might be about something that happened in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, but it’s about things that have happened in Germany and Rwanda and Bosnia and the Sudan. It’s about what happens in Jerusalem today and in Syria and the Ukraine and in Glasgow too.
I didn’t know that it’s about being willing to live it.
I didn’t know that it’s about being broken up into a thousand pieces and hanging onto the faith that tells us that in the dark and stillness of a Sunday dawn, we will be put back together.
And I didn’t know that I would never ever be the same.
Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness;
that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice.