Have a Great Week?
"Have a great week," people say casually. Chrysostom, 4th century church father, called Holy Week the "Great Week" because of the great things worked by the Lord in it (Reed, 497). You're supposed to note that something changes with the start of this week, did you? We chanted no Gloria Patri in the Introit. We won't again till Easter. We dropped the joyous Greater Doxology, the Gloria in Excelsis, at the beginning of Lent now the Lesser. The Anglicans add a note of joy to the 8th century Collect adding the phrase that it was of the Father's "tender love of mankind" that He sent His Son. Lutherans didn't adopt this change in the 16th century (Reed, 498). So in having a Great Week do we take away or add a note of joy? The Lutheran answer? Yes.
The week in review. The New York Times had a feature called "Week in Review" beginning in 1935. Since then, you find the idea in all sorts of information venues. This Great Week starts with the Palm Sunday processional from Bethany to Jerusalem. On Monday Jesus curses the fig tree and cleanses the temple. On Tuesday, most of the day was spent in the temple disputing with the Old Testament church leaders who were trying to trap Him. Later to the disciples and the crowds Jesus formally pronounces woe on the scribes and Pharisees. Then privately to His disciples Jesus describes the end of Jerusalem, the world, and His Second Coming. Late Tuesday afternoon, Mary anoints Jesus in preparation for the death He had been foretelling for a year but the disciples refused to accept. On the Wednesday before Maundy Thursday the Gospels give no indication what Jesus did. Thursday the disciples ask where He wants to eat the Passover meal (Kiehl, The Passion, 43-4). You know happens from there.
Throughout this week think of the intro to "Wide World of Sports." There's the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The Gospel reading has the thrill of victory as Jesus says to His enemies: "If My disciples stopped hailing Me as king, these very stones would cry out." There's victory in Jesus with a word cursing an unfruitful fig tree to death and saying that's nothing, "My word can move mountains." There's victory even while Jesus is abused, ridiculed, and tortured. He confidently tells the Sanhedrin, "You will see Me seated at the right hand of God coming with power." But there's the agony of defeat in His closet friend betraying Him for money, in His soul being overwhelmed to the point of death in Gethsemane, and in 3 of His closest disciples unable, unwilling to stay up with Him. And there's defeat when He cries in orphaned-agony and dies knowing not even His own mother believes in Him anymore.
Agony and ecstasy are caught in Luke's Palm Sunday account. On the journey from Bethany to Jerusalem, the city comes into view twice. The Gospel reading says of the first sighting. "When Jesus came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen." But here's what happens when Jerusalem comes back into view: "As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it." Ecstasy for the crowd; agony for Jesus. A Great Week for both?
The German word for Holy Week is Charwoche. It's probably derived from the Old German word for sorrow, mourning, or punishment, penitence (Strodach, Church Year, 131). This fits with other ancient names for this week: Black Week or Lamentations. There is definitely sorrow, mourning, punishment and even penitence this week. The Jesus who knew no sin, no original or actual, was publicly covered with the sins of the world at His Baptism. There He, in the words of St. Paul, "who knew no sin was made to be sin itself." It takes a horror movie to depict this. This is the man who awakens to discover he's become a slug; the woman who looks in the mirror and sees her hair has become snakes. By all means shudder: this is what it means for the holy, pure, sinless, God to become sin.
Charwoche the guttural German conveys the harshness and brutishness of this week for Jesus. This week we see what God's wrath against your smallest of sins looks like. See Jesus standing up perfectly to every temptation thrown against Him by men and devils. See how loveless the disciples are in many small ways not believing He was going to His death, fighting about which of them was greater, denouncing the only person, Mary, who understood what this week meant for Jesus. Yet in the midst of all their lovelessness, their dimness, their hardness we read, "Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the very end." That's John 13:1 in the chapter which Jesus tells of His betrayal and Peter's denial. Then in John 14:1, He tells the disciples who have every reason in the world to tremble: "Do not let your hearts be troubled."
Why not? Because all the troubling is going to come crashing down on Jesus. In the upper room, He tells them, "Stop being troubled." Earlier that day in the temple He said, "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour" (Jn 12:27). All God's wrath is steadily coming down on all sin, sinners, and sinfulness that Jesus bears. Yet, He weeps over Jerusalem and tells the daughters of Jerusalem, "Don't weep for Me, but for yourself." So, maybe Chrysostom's "Great Week" is supposed to be our Charwoche our week of sorrow, mourning, punishment, penitence?
There's another ancient name for this week: Indulgentiae, "Indulgence Week." We Lutherans have a kneejerk reaction to indulgences, but hear me out. It was called this because this was the week prisoners were released by the emperor and penitents were brought back into the church (Strodach, 130). We aren't able to indulge ourselves in such acts of grace. If we or a loved one has been jailed, neither of us were let out scot-free. We paid our debt, did our time, at best we saw a reduction of time or money. Others have been let out of jail but that's because they were wrongly convicted. Those truly pardoned are done by the President, and rather than seeming gracious they seem fishy. Neither do most of us have any since of being reconciled to the Church. Our relationship to Jesus is personal, on our terms, and we have as much or as little to do with Him publicly as we want to. Our lives our lived like the 1972 song "Me and Jesus Got our Own Thing Going": "Well me and Jesus got our own thing going; Me and Jesus got it all worked out; And we don't need anybody to tell us what it's all about."
Listen to the song. There's no church, no ministry, but just me and Jesus. The man works his sins, his drunkenness, and his lostness out by going out into the woods and making an altar out of a stump. Most Christians don't do that. They come back to the altar of the Church, but without any sense that they are coming back as a penitent in need of God's indulgence for Christ's sake. About the only time we have a sense of being graced or forgiven is in family. When we've sinned against spouse, parent, sibling, or child, and are crushed by our guilt, but are received back into the relationship, we have a sense of grace. That sense of being forgiven, welcomed back, indulged with grace, mercy, and peace is found in the ancient Propers for this week. The Propers are the parts of the liturgy that change week to week but not year to year. The Introit, Collect, and Gradual are the Propers we use.
The Great Week has Propers appointed for services every day. The Collect for Tuesday prays for "grace to so pass through this holy time of our Lord's Passion that we may obtain pardon of our sins." Wednesday's Collect prays "that we, who for our evil deeds, are continually afflicted, may mercifully be relieved by the Passion of Thine only-beloved Son." These Collects have been prayed by the Church for over 1,400 years. This same notes of forgiveness, grace, indulgence can be heard in the Graduals appointed for Monday and Tuesday of this Great Week, this Charwoche, this Indulgentiae. For Monday the Church chants: "Draw out Thy spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me, say unto my soul, I am thy salvation." For Tuesday this week since ancient times the Church has cried, "Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me. Take hold of shield and buckler and stand up for mine help."
What a far cry, cry' being used on purpose, what a far cry these public calls for help, for forgiveness from Jesus are compared to our personal, privatized Christianity which is closer to Quakerism than it is to New Testament Christianity. You've heard of locked-in syndrome? It's "a rare neurological disorder in which there is complete paralysis of all voluntary muscles except for the ones that control the movements of the eyes. Individuals with locked-in syndrome are conscious and awake, but have no ability to produce movements (outside of eye movement) or to speak" (/rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/locked-in-syndrome/). Find the account of a doctor who was a proponent of euthanasia till this happened to him, and he was screaming on the inside that he didn't want them to pull the plug. Go ahead shudder again. That's what can happen when your faith is only personal, between you and Jesus. You become locked-in with only your sense of sin, guilt, forgiveness, salvation. All those passages about the wickedness of our hearts from Jeremiah to Jesus should warn us off of such inwardness.
There is indulgence here this Great Week. Not for money or anything else paid by you. But for the sake of what Jesus actively does to keep the law in your place and what He passively and horribly suffers at the hands of a wrathful God, beastly devil, and unbelieving men. The palms you take home can be like Plutarch noted parsley was for ancient Greeks. He said the herb was by some placed on graves, so it was symbol of death. For others it was the crown of victory at athletic games ( Live of Noble Greeks, 229). The green palms you take home are going to turn brown and deader reminding you that Christ humbled Himself not just to death but even death on a cross. But they also are a reminder that His death in your place wins for you the right to stand in heaven with palm in hand. Have a Great Week. Indulge yourself in all that He did for you there and gives to you here. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Palm Sunday (20190414); Luke 19: 28-41