"Were You There? Will You Be There?" - Bishop Reed's 2022 Holy Week & Easter Message
The Rt. Rev. David Reed, Bishop of West Texas, offers a Holy Week & Easter letter to the Diocese.
"That we may enter with joy upon the contemplation ofthose mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality" (fromThe Liturgy of the Palms, Book of Common Prayer pg. 270)
Dear Friends in Christ,
Where does Christian faith begin? Christmas comes to mind, of course, with the birth of Jesus. Easter is another good answer, given that the life, actions, and teaching of Jesus finally began to make more sense post-resurrection. Advent could get a nod for its longing and preparation for the Messiah, or Pentecost because it’s the birth of the Church.
This year, Holy Week gets my vote. Choosing the story of Jesus’ last week of earthly life and his horrible death may seem like an odd choice, and it hardly feels like a beginning when so much is ending. But the four Gospels devote so much space to capturing that single week—about 30 percent of their combined verses—that several New Testament scholars describe everything else in the Gospels as a prelude to the events of Holy Week.
Aside from the Resurrection itself, it seems that the earliest Christians remembered and observed the events of Holy Week even before other festivals were developed. As baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection is our entry into new life in Christ, so it seems that Holy Week is our entry into the Way of Jesus, the starting point for following Christ. The events we remember during Holy Week are at the very heart of Christian believing and living. The words, movement, and drama of this week are not play-acting, but a recognition that we are participants engaged in conversation with the living Word with questions to ponder and decisions to make. “To converse with” has an older meaning of, “to walk alongside.” And that’s what we are drawn into, together, during Holy Week—a pilgrimage walking along with the living Word.
And always, we begin again. Every Palm Sunday, I’m startled by the noise and happy confusion of the parade that marks the beginning of our worship, followed by the sudden shift to anger, fear, betrayal, torture, and death. At the beginning of Palm Sunday worship, we ask God to “assist us mercifully…that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality.” To “enter with joy” indicates movement – the same grace-filled movement captured in the haunting spiritual, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” We are, indeed, called to show up, to be there with Jesus during this week above all weeks.
So many of the events recorded in the Gospels during this week jump from the Bible’s pages like paintings or photographs, framing moments that have enduring meaning far beyond that single point in time. The palm procession…the money-changers in the Temple…the arguments with the religious authorities…the Last Supper…the bread and wine…the foot-washing…the Garden of Gethsemane…the betrayal and arrest…the trial…the cross…
Every scene invites us to linger and beckons us to enter in. Like the Prodigal Son, we are given opportunity to “come to ourselves,” to find our place in these unfolding days so that we can truly say, “Yes, we are there, by grace, with Christ.”
Many of us will have walked this short holy road many times. Others may be walking this pilgrimage alongside Jesus for this first time. As we begin again on Palm Sunday, it will be good to remember that all our beginnings happen in the middle of other things that are going on. What is different about us this year? What is the Spirit calling us to see, not just in these stories, but through them? How does the continuing regathering of our churches affect what we hear and see during Holy Week? What does the light and darkness we will encounter have to do with Russia’s merciless invasion and devastation of Ukraine? What does Holy Week have to do with the myriad personal, societal, and church issues we face? How does it speak truth to my joy and sorrow, my hopes and fears?
Thanks be to God, people are returning in healthy numbers for worship, fellowship and ministry in so many of our churches in West Texas. Bishop High and I have been in several churches lately where the atmosphere and crowd were more like Easter than Lent. (Can I sneak in a “Hallelujah!” about that?) For those who have forgotten how much it matters for Christians to gather, or are just out of the habit, I encourage you to come and worship. Begin again as Holy Week begins. Come and find yourself anew. Walk this scriptural landscape and take your place.
We “enter with joy” into Holy Week because we trust and believe that in Christ’s passion and death, sin and death are defeated forever. The pain and suffering we remember in our worship—and the pain and suffering we encounter in our life—are not the last thing to be said about us. Hope abides, and love prevails. Resurrection comes, the tomb is empty, and Christ is risen. In him, we, too, are raised up. And when Easter Day dawns, may joy fill our hearts anew, and roll outward to cover the earth.
Love in Christ,
Bishop of West Texas