Tomorrow begins the Easter Triduum of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday—the culmination of Holy Week and the 40-day journey through Lent. Here, Tanya Lee Hodel, a second-year Master of Divinity student, writes about the painful process of learning to slow down and feel the mystery and glory of the moments between death and resurrection.
Back when I served on staff at a church, I would affectionately call this week “Holy (hell!) Week.” You can imagine what kind of response my little play on words received. I was trying to make light of the busyness and chaos that, to me, felt counter to the actual message and mystery around Holy Week, but I did not have the language yet. On Palm Sunday Mother Katherine said: “Between palm procession and his Passion, Jesus is leading us if we will follow; he is showing us the way into the mystery of our faith and the glory of God.”
I think the idea of following Jesus into the mystery of my faith was missing from my past practice and experience of Holy Week. What took precedence was my commitment to put together the most impactful, edgy Good Friday and Easter Sunday services that I could. They would hopefully attract wandering souls back into church, and that made all the effort worth it, right? But what could have been an exercise in teamwork always seemed to end up being the work of a few stretched thin, like butter spread on too much bread. I often ended up on Sunday afternoon fairly numb, and to quote the Psalm, with ‘my heart poured out like wax and my bones all out of joint,’ wondering what had really been accomplished. I missed the mystery of my faith and the glory of God. That bitterness crept into my heart and pitched a tent. Burnout was not too far behind.
In recent years I have been given the opportunity to walk through Holy Week as a parishioner—which has not always been comfortable after being in nearly full-time ministry for the bulk of my adult life. There is an immature terror that often needs a gentle, kind talking to when it comes to looking for my worth in performance instead of in presence, but as I lean into this year’s Lent I can’t help but notice that I am changed. Instead of worrying about what I am not doing, I am more interested in what I am being invited into.
As I find myself contemplating Jesus in the Garden and his release of control into the Father’s hand—“Not my will, but yours be done”—I realize that has been the journey. As I contemplate the renewed sense of life after burnout, life after what felt like the death of all things ministry-vocational, I am seeing the Passion in a whole new light. What I have been invited into is death—a death unto life. A death that strips away all pretense, a traumatic crucifixion that leaves all in question and yet, as Shelly Rambo writes in Spirit and Trauma, “She thinks she sees a light, but the darkness at the foot of the cross has disoriented her.” It seems that death produces something. Rambo continues by saying, “The wound becomes the site of growth—creative, generative and alive.” But the death had to come first.
I think many of us at The Seattle School have had moments of death—some are possibly in such a moment right now. These deaths, these Holy Saturdays, are not to be rushed or pushed through. As you move through Holy Week, take a moment and savor the possibility of what you are being invited into. It might be stillness, the quiet of the grave, in order to taste the beauty of the new life that is waiting to be reborn. It might be to feel the depth of the pain you are already in and allow it to have its full sway—“Not my will, but Yours be done.” Or possibly the invitation is the uneasy tension of the ‘now and the not yet.’ In any case during this holiest of Holy Weeks, may you allow Jesus to lead you into the mystery of your faith and the glory of God.