I have written a lot on the liturgical year in the past. Here's something I wrote several years ago when I was still involved in a church. It contains a sentence which moved me to tears when I wrote it (at a time when I was feeling betrayed by people I thought were my friends): One of the sub-texts of Holy Week is that Jesus was stabbed in the back by his own followers before he was nailed on the Cross by the Roman soldiers. I have a good idea which wounds hurt him more.
Being betrayed even in a small way by the people who are closest to you hurts more than almost anything. For me, the entire story of Biblical salvation history amounts to the saga of God's efforts to get humans to understand that God loves them and will take care of them, and the humans' responses ranging from "not now, I'm busy" to crucifying God's Beloved Son. The Biblical story is the story of Creation turning on its Creator, over and over again, and the Creator forgiving and beginning again in love. Any parent who has ever had a kid look at you with fire in their eyes and say, "I hate you" has experienced just the tiniest hint of God's infinite pain. Some of us are better than others at the forgiveness and beginning again part.
It is almost as bad when the kids fight among themselves. In the case of the Holy Week saga, the other children gang up and murder the Beloved. God stands by and watches in horror.
Christian churches have typically approached Lent as a six-week long ordeal during which we are supposed to identify with the suffering of Christ and feel deep repentance for our "manifold sins and wickedness." The problem I have with contemporary Christian Lenten observance is that ... well, the whole thing just so freaking much more complicated than that!!!
Yes, the Story is about betrayal and sin. Yes, the Crucifixion is a symbol of the worst evil humans can commit: the murder of God. Palm Sunday and Holy Week stand as warnings of the evil that lurk in the darkness of our hearts. It is important to look there. Artists (especially painters, actors, and writers of words and music) have leg up in that department because we look into our hearts of darkness for material. We know "what evil lurks in the hearts of men" (and women) because we peek now and then. It's nasty business, but it's necessary.
Contemporary Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity would have Christians live their entire lives in the shadow of the Cross. That is a distortion. Yes, we live in the shadow of the Cross, but we also live in the glory of Easter! Our Lenten observances need to somehow take seriously the evil and sinfulness of the Crucifixion in the light of Easter. Anything less gets us nowhere.
If we stand in the Christian tradition, we are Resurrection People. We are called to a New Life, every day. We are not bound by our past or our present. Our future is open, and Life calls us to embrace it, freely and joyfully. Our family is all of Creation. The Holy is everywhere, both outside of us, manifest in Creation, and inside of us, often hidden deep in our hearts. Sometimes it hides underneath all that Darkness and sinfulness. But it is there.
I ended the Holy Week reflection quoted above by saying that Jesus was never, ever alone. Even on the Cross. At the very moment when he thought he had been abandoned by God, God took him in God's arms and loved him into life eternal. I wrote in my Journal the other day that I have recently learned there is "no such thing as being Alone". I guess I forgot that I already knew that. It appears my Not-Aloneness is one of those things about which I need periodic reminders.
Even though we are never alone, we often feel alone, lost, betrayed and afraid. As contemporary psych-babble would have it, all feelings are legitimate. It sucks to feel alone and afraid, whether you really "should" feel that way or not. The worst thing you can do when someone is afraid and miserable is to explain to them rationally why it is not necessary for them to feel that way. The best thing you can do is to simply be with them and convey (preferably not in words) that you understand how awful they feel. Instead of saying "don't cry," try saying "Come. Cry on my shoulder and let me hold you."
The funny thing is that in that moment of blessing neither of you are alone anymore -- and healing can begin, usually for both people.
We are in the world and we are very much of the world -- our world, today, right here, right now. Religion (Christian or otherwise) errs if it tells us otherwise. Instead of groveling in the the passion and death of Jesus or focusing so much on his resurrection that we lose sight of the suffering and dying going on all around us ... or the resurrections.
A lot of Church people will say that the Easter Event was qualitatively different because Jesus was the Son of God. Yada. Yada. Yada. I have heard that story a thousand times. I don't doubt that Jesus was the Son of God. So is my husband and my boss and the mailman. What makes Jesus different was that he was a totally obedient child. They will say that the whole point of Christianity is to follow Christ. I'll give them that, but my question is: follow Christ where?
I don't want to go back to Golgotha every year. We've been there and done that and we get the message! I want to look forward not backward. I want to stand at the foot of the Cross and look not at the "mud and the blood and the vomit" one person told me were necessary to contemplate in order to fully experience the Crucifixion, but at the hope of resurrection.
Maybe fifteen years ago, on Holy Saturday I was at the church helping with some of the final preparations for Easter. We were hiding candy and plastic eggs for the Easter Egg Hunt and generally getting organized. It was remarkably quiet even with a crew of workers. I remarked that Holy Saturday always seemed so empty and frightening to me. I said I felt that something was missing. One of the other ladies said softly, "Of course, Jesus is not with us." Then she paused and winked and smiled, "But we know, he'll be baaaaaaaaaaack!" Ever since then, I have thought that was the perfect attitude for Lent.
It is a tightrope walk. Go too far one way and you could fall into the abyss of either sin or despair. Go too far the other way and you'll fly away to some kind of religious la-la land that has no basis in any reality that is in any way helpful to anyone. Keeping Lent requires a struggle to hold ourselves in a balance between past and future, sin and redemption, death and resurrection, or real-world reality and religious mumbo-jumbo.
The struggle of Lent is not to go too far down any rabbit trail. When we get too fascinated by the Cross, we need to hear the echoes of the Easter Alleluias. When we get too carried away by the love and the blessing and the totally amazing aspects of Resurrection, we need to remember the only way to get there is by dying first. When we get too focused on the life of Jesus, we need to look at the suffering of the contemporary children of God. When we start feeling too helpless and hopeless at our inability to respond to the crushing need in our world, we need to sit in the Garden at the feet of our Risen Lord.
This reflection is particularly scary for me because "balance" is a physical challenge to me (because I have inner ear problems), an emotional challenge to me (because I'm a workaholic who doesn't really "get" leisure) and a spiritual challenge to me because I am a person who likes to be totally committed ... this balancing thing is hard.