A Pastoral Letter for Holy Week 2011

Dear friends:

More than half a lifetime ago I co-wrote my first book, The Transforming Vision. And there was one response to that book that continues to ring through the years to me. No, actually, there were two responses, and they are deeply connected to each other.

The first response was from my friend and co-author, Richard Middleton. Upon completing the manuscript and offering up prayers dedicating this work to the furthering of the Kingdom of God, Richard looked at me and said, “You know that there is something missing in this book.” I thought that was an odd thing to say at this particular moment, and I couldn’t guess what he was talking about. Then he said, “This book says nothing about suffering, even though suffering is so central to the biblical story.” And then Richard added, “But that’s okay, we don’t know anything about suffering.”

An honest and telling moment of self-evaluation. These two young men had written a fine book on a Christian worldview – indeed, a book still in print – but missed a central motif in biblical faith.

The second comment was more inexplicable to me at the time. A friend and former student simply said to me, “It’s a great book, but you don’t know anything about the Eucharist.”

I had no idea what the woman was talking about. The book wasn’t about the Eucharist. What was her point?

Well, if you don’t know anything about suffering, then you likely won’t know anything about the Eucharist either, will you.

If you promote a Christian worldview without reference to suffering, then of course this will be a worldview without the Eucharist. It will be, if you will, a worldview without the cross. Or at least it will be a worldview without a deep enough grasp of the cross. And it will be a worldview that knows nothing of a profound dwelling in Holy Week.

As I look back on that period of my life I also recall that I was studying with Douglas John Hall at McGill University. Professor Hall was always talking about the “theology of the cross” and I was always pushing back with a “theology of resurrection.” Around that time, Hall wrote:

“Against the promotion of easy solutions to difficult human questions, the Bible offers the cross: that is God involved in the ambiguity of existence, broken by alienation, powerful only in the weakness of love.”

There was something about a God who was “powerful only in the weakness of love” that didn’t sit well with me. And that is likely why I knew nothing about the Eucharist.

And it wasn’t until suffering entered into my life that both the cross and the Eucharist began a path of deep transformation in me.

I’ve said more than once that the Eucharist saved my life. I know that is true spiritually and figuratively. It might even be true literally. Sitting with Jesus at the Last Supper, taking bread and wine as nothing less than body and blood, and therefore weekly entering into Holy Week and retelling the story of redemption through the lens of suffering – indeed, the very suffering of God! – this has become the heart of my Christian spirituality, and the heart of my worldview.

This is the heart of Christian faith.

This is why we celebrate the Eucharist.

A celebration of the bleeding hands of Christ defeating the principalities and powers.

A celebration of redemptive power found only in the weakness of love.

A celebration that for God, “there ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure, there ain’t no cure for love.” (Leonard Cohen)

And this is why we have Wine Before Breakfast.

Yes, it is a cool name for a worshipping community. And yes it is fun to play with the image of Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard.

But at its heart, we drink wine and eat bread early on Tuesday mornings because this takes us back to the cross, recognizes our brokenness, and heals our deepest wounds.

Every week we come back to Holy Week.

But only once a year are we are called to enter that Holy Week for the whole week.

My sisters and brothers, because of his deep and incurable love, Jesus enters into a week of drama and betrayal that will take him to a Roman cross. He moves from the loud “Hosanna’s” of Palm Sunday to the cruel “Crucify Him!” of Good Friday.

This week will take him from the subversive donkey ride royal entry into the Holy City to the radical street theatre in the Temple, the betrayal of Judas, Peter’s denial, and the scattering of his friends. He will ride from royal acclamation to the cross. He will go from adoration to scorn. He will be praised and mocked – both as a “King of the Jews.”

And only by traveling this path of suffering, only by embracing the pain of all pain, only by suffering rejection and death, only by being buried in a borrowed tomb, will this story experience its most radical reversal on Easter morning.

My friends, Jesus took it all. There was no part of Holy Week that he could avoid. And he knew what it all meant. That is why we have the tears in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And I want to encourage you as your brother in Christ, and as the pastor of the WBB community, to also take it all. I call you, in humility and in fear and trembling, to enter into Holy Week this year with a deep spiritual intensity.

I encourage you to dwell with Jesus during this week.

“Stay with me, remain here with me,
Watch and pray, watch and pray.”

Stay with Jesus as you read the gospel narratives of this week of all weeks. Perhaps you could read each of the four gospels’ telling of the story throughout this week.

Remain with Jesus in prayer and in worship.

Of course, I encourage you to be with us on Tuesday morning at WBB as Rebekka King leads us into the Garden with Jesus.

But I also encourage you to keep the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Even better, let me encourage you to also attend a Great Vigil on Saturday night.

It seems to me that there is no more important week to be in church than this week. If your church doesn’t keep all of these days, then go to a neighbouring church that does. I know that our friends at the Church of the Redeemer would be happy to have us join their worship on these days.

Without Holy Week there would be no Wine Before Breakfast.
Without Holy Week there would be no embrace of our pain.
Without Holy Week there would be no redemption.
Without Holy Week there would be no resurrection.
Without Holy Week there would be no hope.

And so I encourage you, my beloved friends, keep Holy Week holy in your life.

In the solidarity of the cross,
Brian Walsh,
Campus Pastor.

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