This is Holy Week. It began with Palm Sunday (which was last Sunday, April 9) and ends with the celebration of Easter on Sunday, April 16. In between those two days we will remember the last supper of Jesus and his disciples on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday, and the agonizing experience of the disciples as we await the resurrection during the Holy Vigil on Saturday.
It’s a busy week.
But what does that mean…Holy Week?
Are the other weeks not holy? Do other weeks somehow mean less? Is this week more meaningful because of the historic events that we commemorate and celebrate?
I realize that some of you will call it blasphemy when I say this, but no…not really.
Holy Week is not any more ‘holy’ than any other week. Holy Week does not imbue the days with special meaning, nor does it hold back any of the normal events that can occur during a week.
For instance, today is Maundy Thursday, and today the US bombed Afghanistan using the largest non-nuclear weapon in our arsenal. Can we all agree that bombing another nation (even for good reasons like eliminating an ISIS stronghold) does not qualify as an action that is holy? And please don’t start talking about how we must stop ISIS before they kill more Americans, because I understand that…and bombing and killing people is still not a holy action. Remember, God does not love the American people more than He loves the members of ISIS. And if, for some reason, you don’t agree with that idea, then you and I need to admit that we are not practicing the same religion at all and that perhaps you should find something else to read, like maybe something off infowars.com?
Are we all on the same page now? Good.
The truth is that Holy Week is just another set of seven days, like all the others sets of seven days that come before it and after it. A week is a week, and every week is made of seven days…and a day is a day is a day, and that’s all there is to it. None of them is holier than any other.
And this matters, because…?
There are two major reasons that this matters.
- Setting aside certain days as holy gives us permission to forget that all days are holy to God and all people are holy to God. There is no time or person or situation that is not holy to God. All of creation belongs to God: time, space, people, plants, animals…you name it, it belongs to God and everything that belongs to God is holy. Christian vegans will tell you that they became vegan because they could no longer sacrifice the holy lives and bodies of animals to satisfy their need for food and clothing items. While I am not vegan, I get where they are coming from. Proclaiming all thing holy has implications for how we treat the environment, how we treat material objects, how we treat the animals we farm, and for how we treat each other.
- If everything is holy all the time, then we human beings are holy all the time, and this has huge implications for how we treat our bodies. It isn’t just the obvious stuff like how we eat, how much alcohol we drink, and whether or not we exercise, but also how often we take time to laugh, how much of our resting time is dedicated to connecting with friends and family, and how much time we take to simply contemplate where God is leading us in this life. I can’t tell you how many people set aside extra time for spiritual practices during Lent or Advent who then fail to set aside time for spirituality at all during the rest of the year (outside of time spent in corporate—church—worship). Think of it this way: we need to feed our spirits just like we need to feed our bodies. Imagine what would happen if we took time for meals during Advent and Lent but then failed to eat (except once a week) for the rest of the year. How long do you think you’d be healthy if you did that?
I understand that many people need special holy times so that they don’t become habituated to the holy. This is a common problem for clergy because we spend a lot of time around what are considered to be sacramental things. It’s easy for those things to lose their sparkle, their special value, when you are around them all the time. This is why I’m not suggesting that we stop practicing things like Holy Week, or that we let them pass without setting aside extra time to observe all that they mean. There is nothing wrong with the Christmas and Easter seasons; actually the problem is that we make them into singular events instead of exaggerations of our daily realities.
I am suggesting that we put a little more value on the rest of the year, that we allow each day to embody a little of the holy for us. Perhaps that would involve becoming more mindful of the blessings that God is raining down on us all the time. Perhaps that would involve becoming more aware and appreciative of the kindnesses we experience through others who are often total strangers. Perhaps that would involve taking time to appreciate the beauty of the smallest things in creation: flowers, fallen leaves, grass clippings on the sidewalk, a cloudless sky. Sometimes it might be as simple as letting yourself stop and actually taste the coffee you are drinking, looking for those herbal notes that Starbucks swears exist in the Sumatran beans they roast.
If all of creation is holy, then holiness is waiting around every corner to stun you with its power and fill you with awe and gratitude. The world is a wearying place for souls, and awe and gratitude are excellent remedies for weariness.
This Easter, I wish a year of holy days and sacred discoveries for you. As for me, I’m about to get a cup of Sumatran roast and sip it very slowly.