We have entered Holy Week once again. As a child, Holy Week never seemed particularly holy to me. Jesus knew a trip into Jerusalem couldn’t end well for him, so from Palm Sunday on we are “celebrating” a walk toward death. My child-brain just couldn’t figure out why we would use “holy” to describe that journey.
The small Presbyterian church we attended during my growing-up years didn’t do a whole lot during that week; in fact, I don’t remember much of anything happening at church until Easter morning. My memories of that day are all about the grown-up corsage made of a single gardenia my dad always gave me, the new clothes everyone seemed to buy for Easter, the egg hunt before church, and a really good home-cooked dinner afterward. Maybe I ignored whatever did happen at church the week before because it didn’t fit with all that Easter day cheerfulness.
Perhaps that growing-up experience of the Jesus story left an indelible mark of confusion on me. As an adult, I learned all about the doctrines of resurrection victory over death and salvation … but the too-quick Friday-to-Sunday leap has never worked well for me.
Maybe the cause of my struggle lies in the nature of being human. I realize we aren’t the only creatures who grieve the loss of a loved one — orcas have been known to beach themselves (a sure way to die) following the death of their lifetime mates — but we are surely the only ones who can communicate the intense sorrow we feel. We talk about our sadness with others, we ritualize the pain and finality of our loss, we observe the anniversary of our grief year after year.
This, in fact, is exactly what we do during Holy Week. We remember the life of the one we loved, we rehearse those last days and what might have been done differently that could have saved our beloved (and us) from the horrible loss, we experience the aching tears of sudden and wrenching absence.
So where do the corsages, new dresses, good food and joyful celebrations come in? The empty space that is created in our hearts when someone dies is never completely re-filled. We do not forget them, or the wonderful music that was made between the two of us. We can sing the song, but it will never again have the fullness of all the voices.
And yet … the rawness of our grief does eventually ease. The memory of our dear one softens and lightens. Joy does return to our lives and our hearts, and we move on. We do so in the certain knowledge that both the life and the death of that one have forever changed us, and we are both stronger and more gentle because of it. We embrace the love of others again, even though we know that eventually these bodies, too, will be separated from each other. But we have also learned that nothing, absolutely nothing, can change what love has done, and will do, in us.
Love has been working its best in our hearts from the very beginning, in spite of the wounds we suffer and the ones we cause others. And so the awful agony of Holy Week is our reminder that, no matter what comes our way in the inevitable march toward bodily death, Love will continue its merciful work of transformation in our hearts.
So be it.