And so, the most dynamic week of the year begins … The loud "bang" of Palm Sunday is followed by three days of outward calm. Behind the confines of the closed church doors, however, one will find a beehive of activities. All the 'normal' things continue … worship on Monday night … Board of Directors on Tuesday night … dress rehearsal for Friday night on Wednesday night. I won't bother boring you with the details of the daylight hours.
Then comes the day strangely called Maundy Thursday (I am ready to go with the trend of calling it simply Holy Thursday - a day set aside in Holy Week for the holy purpose of getting us rightly prepared for the three days to follow … each a step higher and closer to Sunday's crescendo). What we do at STL I believe is truly unique - a literal walk with Jesus from baptism through the upper room, and all the way to his tomb. We call it "Journey to the Cross". Every year I treasure the special time I am privileged to spend with each individual who "journeys" with us.
And what a day Good Friday is … fasting … noon devotions … extra time in prayer and ministry to God's special people … Tenebrae drama … packing Easter food baskets before we go home. For many years now, Monica and I have concluded the day breaking our fast at a restaurant as the anticipation of Resurrection Sunday continues to grow.
Then comes Saturday … the sanctuary is transformed in preparation for the grand celebration … holiday meal baskets are distributed to the multitude of vehicles lining our parking lot … exciting conversations with the occupants of those vehicles … and volunteer workers filling every corner of our building, as some prepare Easter breakfast, while others man the clothing closet … joining with those decorating the sanctuary and those distributing food baskets in the growing excitement. Somewhere around noon the building becomes very quiet - another treasured time for me.
The next day begins a littler earlier than normal … and, for me, includes a couple strange customs like parking around the corner from STL and taking a late afternoon nap in the midst of an active family gathering. Easter sunrise starts the day off … the news is better than just good … it never seems like there is quite enough time to talk to everyone in the gym for breakfast … and then the crescendo at 10:30 … orchestra … choir … balloons … Good News … a candy-coated message for the children … and the Feast of Victory.
Wow! I get goose bumps just writing about it! How great is our God, and most worthy to be praised. Paul says it best in a run-on sentence that translators mercifully divide into many: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Ephesians 1.3-10)
I better stop here, because in my excitement I could just go on and on … and be remiss in transmitting the real message of the day … the gift of hope for those feeling lost, forgotten or alone … the light shining from the open tomb for those who grieve and struggle with the pangs of death … the message of full forgiveness and unending fellowship for those experiencing failure, frustration or disappointment.
I wish I could wrap my arms around every one of you and transfer into your heart the joyful anticipation Christ has placed in mine. You see, as grand as this week is, in reality it is just one long "Holy Thursday" … a time set aside for the holy purpose of getting us rightly prepared for all that follows … and the crescendo that will surpass all crescendos. Our life, from our baptism on, is simply a journey to the cross … a walk with Jesus through many gardens, to multiple tombs, yet never stopping for more than a moment. For "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye … the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed." (1 Corinthians 15.52)
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." (2 Corinthians 4.16-17). And I am sure you know what that will be … the CRESCENDO!