For nearly 40 years I worked “Holy Weeks” as an active pastor in the Presbyterian Church. This year of I free of that responsibility but I share some of my observations and feelings.
In 1970, my first year as a student pastor, I was introduced to “Maundy Thursday” and the services of that weekend of Easter. Basically, I just went along with it, feeling a bit refreshed to observing the week in ways I never had as a Baptist or in a church which did not follow the Christian Calendar very much. I also accepted the 4th Century Apostles and Nicene Creedal statements of what happened that week. I did literalize the events but would to use them in a metamorphical application to our lives. The betrayal of Judas symbolized our oft betrayals of goals and commitments to follow God; Jesus’ death on the cross the price he was willing to pay for our sins which offend God, the Resurrection on Easter as the assurance there was something after death, at least for those “covered by the blood.” My talks and teachings were filled with the traditional ideas of guilt, shame, reproach, and finally, some forgiveness and joy. As the late Fr. De Mello once told me, the usual church spiritual renewal times are periods of deep emphasis on our guilt, shame and sins until at the point of depression, release is suddenly thrown in! Everybody then rejoices, throws in a big offering and goes back home.
These ideas changed little for me until after nearly twenty years of leadership. I was then introduced to Eastern spirituality and the idea that this physical world was not real but only a dream of unreality. About this time I began reading and trying to understand the Course in Miracles, a radical leap even beyond the idea of the world being illusion, but it being a symbol of our revolt and guilt. As I struggled with these ideas, the awareness of the 1985 “Jesus Seminar” was given to me, a group of scholars seeking to determine what actually did happen in the life of Jesus, and how much of it was accurately portrayed in the Bible. Their conclusion from the use of scientific reasoning was, “not much.”
All of these sudden exposures, occurring within just a few years, jammed and began to loosen my hard wired theological ideas. I have been working to rewire and sort through ever since. So how do I look at this week, traditionally called in many minds, “Holy Week”?
I certainly don’t take any of it literally. I doubt if any of it ever actually happened. All the stories of which this week is based were written scores of years after the purported walk of Jesus on earth. They were written by unknown authors and as such, based on hearsay and speculation rather than verifiable facts. If I were leading observances of this week, I would seek to explain this to those before me. I would then seek to interpret it as part of the early church’s myth in symbolic ways that might be meaningful to our lives. I first heard this manner of using these stories a couple years ago from a scholar in the Armenian Eastern Church. He claims in his tradition, none of these stories were to be taken literally. They are used to symbolize the journey of life from bondage and sadness to freedom and joy.
One aspect of the myth I would emphasize is the loneliness and confusion one must face in any serious search for truth, for answers to the questions, “Who am I? Why am I here?” and “Where did I come from and where might I go, if to any place?” Such questions, going past the many pious platitudes we heard for so many years, puts one at odds with simply accepting it without questions.
Maundy Thursday could be approached then as symbolic of needing to accept the fear and loneliness of questioning orthodoxy and accepted traditions. The symbol of Jesus is poignant in the story of gathering his few close followers together, seeking to give them courage as he realizes his physical end will come violently within hours. I would also lift up the idea that even within suffering of body and mind and in the face of imminent death, one can remain at peace. One can remember none of this is “real” in the sense of it being able to destroy or alter anyway my status as the Child of God, One Spirit with God, the Eternal.
Good Friday could be emphasized as “good” not because an angry God was appeased by the “perfect lamb’s blood,” but because there is no death, only a transition to freedom and release. At his most lonely and painful hour, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It reminds me again of the disciple of the Dalai Lama, who imprisoned for years by brutal guards, said his worse fear was of hating his captors. I would also seek to remind ourselves that the only person who can literally crucify us is ourselves, our skewed thinking that we are bodies rather than Spirit. I would then want to help us remind ourselves daily to give up crucifying ourselves as victims but to choose again our freedom from body in Spirit and love.
For Easter, I again would emphasize that resurrection does not mean anything physical but the awakening to our True Selves in Oneness with God. As I taught in my last Easter Sundays as pastor, the word for “resurrection” in Greek, the language in most old manuscripts, is Anastasia which can be interpreted as “to wake up, to arise from sleep.” The celebration of Easter then can be a joyous reminder to awaken from self abuse, from guilt, fear and shame, to the realization we indeed never left our Home in Spirit. Whatever we have done to others which was less than love, and whatever was inflicted upon ourselves which was less than love, never touched our or any others Oneness, Spirit, and Eternal Love. We can let it go, we can forgive, and truly be free and “fly above it all.”
This season of Holy Week/Easter, however, I am free from the duties of leading the services I did for so many years. I will be leaving Wednesday to join my son in Florida for a few “holy week” rounds of golf. Hey, I might even get a “ho-le-one!” On Friday, when so many years I would join with our neighbors in going through the stations of the cross, I may be sharing a round of golf with my son, in what I will think of as “Stations of the Course” with a sense of release, joy, and love for all.
Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, may today and the week be one of renewed identity with your True Self, giving you a deep sense of freedom, joy, and power to overcome any temptations to anger, loneliness, and guilt. Be free, go with the Wind, and share such with others wherever you are!