Dispatches | April 05, 2007

Last week I blogged about the awful week I’d had the week before.  But this, the week of April 1, is a good week.  True, it began with April Fool’s Day.  But I only had one joke played on me (my eleven-year-old hair-banded the trigger on the sink sprayer in the on position, so that when I turned on the faucet, I got blasted in the face). And April 2 was my dad’s birthday –he’s seventy-five but active and healthy. My dad is a wonderful father.  I love him, and I’m very happy that he reached this milestone with no major health problems.

Also, it’s Holy Week, the week-plus-a-day that begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter.  

It’s a week that juxtaposes group celebration and personal contemplation, Jewish tradition and Christian, and there are a number of highlights that mean more to me each year.  On Sunday the kids in our congregation marched down the aisles at the start of the service, waving palms, to reenact Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem days before his crucifixion.  They had fun, and we got to take the palms home afterward, but it was more than just a ceremony with a touch of the exotic in the palms; it was a demarcation: from here on out, things would grow increasingly sobering until the following Sunday.

Upon his arrival with his disciples in Jerusalem to observe Passover, Jesus got ready to die by doing the same thing he had been doing all along — teaching by word and by example.  He expelled the moneychangers from the temple for their unholy practice of profiting from Passover pilgrims. He stood up for God’s holiness, and he spoke for Him. The gospel of John relates some of the difficult spiritual wisdom Jesus attempted to leave to his disciples (who struggled to grasp it) as a legacy:  that his departure was necessary so that he could prepare an eternal place for them; that in his absence they would find guidance from the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth-aka the Holy Spirit.  That love was fundamental to the Kingdom.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you,” he told them. “I do not give to you as the world gives.” Reading the otherworldly John, one has to agree that the teachings of Christ were not what the world would give: extraordinary in their simplicity, they are often elusive to the pragmatic intellect. And demanding.  And impossible to follow perfectly on earth.

Thursday in the Christian calendar is Maundy Thursday, so named for the Latin mandatum, or “commandment,” for the “new commandment” Jesus gave his disciples after he washed their feet following the Passover meal: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  At our church we will have a special evening communion service to commemorate the Last Supper.  Aside from Easter itself, this service, and this day, is my favorite part of the week, a moment of soul togetherness before we all plunge into what will be the very private and stinging reflection of the next two days:  Good Friday, when God was crucified, and Saturday, when he was thought to be irrevocably dead but when his disciples could not attend to the anointing of his body because that was strictly forbidden on the Jewish Sabbath.

And then Easter.  Easter has been my favorite holiday since childhood, way before I was a Christian.  No, it wasn’t the candy I liked, but the symbolism, which I understood quite young, of renewal, of life, of . . . discovery.  The individual spiritual experience of the serious Christian is analogous to the events narrated in the gospels:  Lent can seem deathly, a long entombment in awareness of your flaws, but at the end of it a stone is rolled away, and you discover something amazing. I have experienced it before and have faith that at the end of  these six weeks (some not too good) there will be a change in me and in millions of others who have all been praying for the same thing — to know God a fraction more.