I love Easter.
I love the let's-start-it-off-with-a-bang of Mardi Gras, the solemnity of Ash Wednesday, the sacrifice of Lent, and the crescendo of Holy Week. It's not only the highlight of the the church year, let's face it: it's great drama.
Palm Sunday has always been a favorite of mine and I look forward to it as much as Easter Sunday. I find the images of the crowds following after Jesus, waving the palm branches, straining to get a glimpse of this miracle worker on a lowly donkey riding into Jerusalem, throwing down their coats for the donkey to walk on just such a stirring image. I am also a huge fan of the music of Palm Sunday, with it's air of celebration tinged with bittersweetness and the sad knowledge of what is to come. Ride On, Ride On in Majesty floats in my head for days afterwards. (Ride on, ride on in majesty, in lowly pomp ride on to die...Ohh! So beautiful. So poignant.) I told Dan last weekend that Palm Sunday was one of my favorite Sundays and he said, Really? And I said, Sure... it's the only time Jesus sort of gets the praise and pageantry he deserves. Hosanna! (Save us!) Hosanna to the Son of David!
Dan and I attended Good Friday service last night and I am always, always moved by it. Our church does a Tenebrae Service with readings from the Gospels and music and hymns. After each section, part of the church goes dark until the entire sanctuary is blacked out when the story of Jesus dying is read. Each section of the Passion of Christ has a passage or two that just kills me each time I hear it... Jesus finding the disciples "sleeping for sorrow" at the Garden (and, incidentally, I always thought Sleeping for Sorrow would be a great band name) while He sweats blood of agony, Peter's denial of Christ and hearing how "the Lord turned and looked at Peter"(I mean, really think about that... in the midst of all that chaos, all that pain, knowing what is quickly approaching Him, Jesus hears and knows Peter has denied him and stops to look at the disciple, His Rock... can you imagine? The betrayal! The disappointment must have been crushing... yet He knows this is what has to happen. It just pierces me. For awhile I entertained the thought that maybe the Lord the passage talks about is really The Big Guy Upstairs and that just terrified me. But at some point it was clarified to me that no, the passage is referring to Jesus)... the cryptic, stilted conversation with Pilate: "Are you a king?" "My kingship is not of this world..."... the chants of the crowds asking that "His innocent blood be on our hands and the hands of our children"... the ripping of clothing, the rioting people, the bloodlust, and of course the mocking, the ridicule, the scourging, and the actual crucifixion.
Since I've had children, the image of Mary watching all of this unfold has been especially harrowing to me. I remember when I saw Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ for the first time: the part that really made me weep- openly, uncontrollably- was when Jesus starts to carry the cross and Mary says to Him, "I am right here with you" and she has a flashback to when He was a child and fell and she scoops Him up and comforts Him by saying, "I am right here with you." And you think of how many countless times you do that as a parent. And all of a sudden she is not a saint-like person in a book but a real, loving, terrified, frantic parent watching her son go thorough the most awful torture imaginable.
Can you imagine watching your baby be lead to die?
Last night I was particularly moved by the section where Jesus, being lead to Calvary, hears the women following Him mourning and wailing and says to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then they will say to the mountains, 'Fall on us! and to the hills, 'Cover us!' " As someone whose womb is full of her third child and who has nursed her children waaaay longer than she'd care to admit, let me just say that passage hit a little close to home.
No question: Good Friday is a horrible event to have to relive every year. But it is so much part of the Arc of Holy Week and Easter... if you don't have Good Friday, can you really feel the joy of the Resurrection? Do you really feel the promise, the hope, the redemption, the peace? Easter is always done so perfectly at our church: full of loud music, shouts of joy, filled to the rafters with people just thrilled that He lives. It's a party, a celebration, and of course all the kids dressed in their finery just add to the fun and smiles.
I can't wait.