The Rev. Steven Paulikas
April 5, 2020
We have now entered the mysteries of Holy Week. Palm Sunday begins a week-long journey with Christ. We start by joining in his triumphal entry to Jerusalem. It is a wonderful feeling to raise our voices together in a loud shout of praise. Hosanna in the highest! We have a great God, a compassionate God, one who knows and loves us and does wonders for us. He will save us from our greatest enemy. He will even save us from ourselves. Let us rejoice as we welcome this Jesus into our midst.
But the journey quickly takes a dark turn. Very quickly, we turn on this savior. Pontius Pilate asks us which prisoner we would rather have released, a notorious criminal or Jesus. “Let him be crucified!” we shout. Pilate is stunned and asks what he has done. But we don’t need to explain, nor can we. “Let him be crucified!” Pilate obeys our will and washes his hands of the matter.
Having sentenced him to death, we walk with Jesus on the way of the cross. He is humiliated, tortured, and crucified with two bandits. This is our lord, the one we just greeted with a parade. Now he hangs from the cross, offering his last grace to these criminals. When he gives up the ghost, we watch as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go with Joseph of Arimathea to lay Jesus’ body in the tomb. And then the tomb is sealed shut. Jesus is gone, and we are left alone—but with the knowledge that we are the ones who put him there.
We make this journey every year so that we may be united with our Lord. In his truth and his light. In his pain and his suffering. And ultimately, in his resurrection. This is a difficult journey, filled with pitfalls. It is a walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet we go because it is the path to God. With God. In God. There is no other reality. This is real. Jesus is real. He was flesh and blood, just like you and me. He knew the joys of this life—and its challenges. He understood the rational and the irrational. And he showed us by his suffering that other side of the cross is the empty tomb. That’s the only way. There is no way to the resurrection except through the cross. This is reality.
If you come to All Saints’, you are used to having companions on this journey. On this morning every year, we gather on the steps of our beautiful church. We bless palms right there on 7th Avenue, then we enter the church singing, All Glory Laud and Honor. You know what’s coming next, but it’s okay, because we’re all in this together. This week, daily worship leads to our service of foot washing and special meal on Maundy Thursday. We watch the altar be stripped then return for the solemnity of Good Friday. The next evening we celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter with our friends at Iglesia San Andres. And there are few feelings like the joy of Easter morning, when the church is packed and the spirit soaring. Christ is risen and we have completed our journey. Until next year.
But this year will be different. Fr. Spencer and I would make a pretty sad procession, and we can’t even give you these palms. This year, we just assume that everything and everybody is infected. We cannot assemble. We cannot touch. We cannot see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears, at least in person.
But let me tell you this: it’s okay. Don’t worry that you can’t be in the church for Holy Week. And if you are joining us online and this is your first Holy Week, welcome. This very well may be a spiritually transformative time for us all in ways none of us ever could have expected.
And why? Because this journey of Holy Week is a journey within yourself. It is a time when we turn in on ourselves and acknowledge those things that separate us from God. It is a time when we get brutally honest with ourselves and admit that a lot of the things we do and care about really don’t matter. It is a time when we stand before God’s awe and majesty and simply fall down in worship. These things are too hard for a person do to by themselves. That’s why we come together in this building. But you’re not by yourself this morning. You won’t be by yourself at all this week. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—witnesses in the cloud. Feel them. Believe they are there. Because they are. Just one click away. We are here, together.
I believe that this Holy Week could be one of the most spiritually fulfilling for you and for us as a community. The circumstances have jolted us out of our familiar patterns, so we must think through what all these grand old traditions of ours really mean and why they matter. With people stuck in their homes and suffering all around us, we are looking for meaning. Well, the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides that meaning, and our traditions are the conduit through which we understand that Gospel truth. Now is not the time to be downtrodden about church. Now is the time to put your faith into action. Now is the time to invite a friend to online worship, to live out your values, to have important and deep conversations. Now is the time to invite the Holy Spirit into your homes, your lives, and to let everything around you become sacred.
Yes, Holy Week is different this year. But it could be transformative for you. Let me suggest some practical things you can do to make it that way.
First, pray. Prayer is not presenting your Christmas list to God. Prayer is allowing the Spirit to speak through you, so that God’s desire becomes your own. Prayer focuses your energy and attention on what is real and true and good. Pray. There are opportunity to pray with All Saints’ every day this week. Why not try it out this week? Pray on your own. And if you don’t know how, ask us. Don’t be shy. That’s what we are here for.
Meditate. Remember those times Jesus went off by himself and sat in silent prayer? If even he needed it, so do you. Especially now. Sit and be still. If you’ve never done it before, set a timer for 3 minutes. Close your eyes. Pick a verse of scripture and concentrate on it. How about Psalm 46, verse 10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Journal. Write down your thoughts. Just for yourself. What are you seeing and understanding, maybe for the firs time? What are your frustrations? Keep a covid journal. It shouldn’t be fancy or for anyone else. Just the thoughts you’d only share with God.
Repent. As you go deeper into this journey, you become aware of the things you do or have done to hurt yourself and others. Contact someone you have hurt and tell them you’re sorry. That you don’t even need to hear back from them—just, you’re sorry. Oh, and those people you’re living on top of right now? They’re driving you crazy. But you’re probably driving them crazy too. Do something to acknowledge what they mean to you right now. Something humble and loving. Repent and return to God.
Be generous. On this journey, we discover that your resources are far less limited than you thought. There’s plenty to go around. Be generous with your kindness, your patience, your concern, your material wealth. Share with those who need it. Maybe that means reaching out to someone who is wavering. Or giving some extra space to the people in your life. Or sharing your money with those in need. God is far more generous than any of us will ever be. We can only try to emulate this generosity.
Those are just some suggestions to make this week truly holy for you. But just remember: this week, you are walking with Jesus. He’s there with you every week. Maybe this week you just need him a little more. That’s fine. He’s not going anywhere. Wherever you go, he’ll be walking by your side. Amen.