I have been blessed to pastor churches with great musical talent. One of my churches had (has) an excellent adult choir. I was surprised, though, to find out that they had a tradition of doing a choir cantata on Passion/Palm Sunday. This was not a bad thing, just different from what I was use to. The cantata took up the majority of the service, and meant no sermon (also not a bad thing!).
In my first year at the church, our choir director tried hard to figure me out. About two weeks before Passion/Palm Sunday he gave me a copy of the cantata to look at. This was a cantata that they had used at least once before. When I read it, I saw that we had a problem. Instead of being a Passion/Palm Sunday cantata, this was an Easter cantata. The last piece of the cantata joyfully celebrated that “He has risen”. The problem was that it was a week too early. My poor choir director! He looked pretty crest-fallen when I told him that we couldn’t sing the last piece of the cantata on Passion/Palm Sunday. My suggestion was that we stop right before the last piece, then start Easter Sunday with it. I asked to talk to the choir to share my thoughts.
Our Adult Choir was very gracious to the new pastor. I explained how we needed to travel through Holy Week before we could sing “He has risen”. It is in the midst of Holy Week that we find out the price that Jesus was willing to pay for each of us, and how much we are loved. This is where we find out that Jesus was fully committed to the cause, even to the point of death. Even though it wasn’t convenient (Holy Week is seldom convenient), the choir agreed to my plan.
My concern is that we often want to go from one celebration to the next. From “Hosanna in the highest Heaven” to “He is risen”. It is far more comfortable to skip the cries of “Crucify him!”. It is during Holy Week that we struggle with the pain of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, crucifixion on the cross, and death. This is where we dip into the darkness of despair, and we ask the question “Is there any hope?”. As Christians who know the story, with confidence we can say “Easter is on the way”.
Perhaps one of the harder questions that we can ask during Holy Week is “What would I have done” if I had been with Jesus? It’s easy to say that “I would have been the one to stand strong with Jesus”. I have my doubts. Would I have joined in with yelling “crucify him”? Or would I have changed the story by boldly yelling “Let Jesus go!”? When the cock crowed, would I have found that I still stood with Jesus, or that I had denied Jesus? Maybe even as many as three times! We can’t really answer these questions with confidence, but we can honestly answer about what we are doing now. Are we faithfully standing with Christ?
Jesus brought radical ideas on how to change society, and encourages us to grow in our thoughts and actions. He taught about loving and not judging. He ate with sinners and saw people as people. He challenged those without sin to be the ones to cast the first stone. He healed the sick and gave sight to the blind. He wasn’t impressed with those who had power, but reached out to the powerless. Jesus didn’t come into the world with a message to keep everything the same! Are we hearing Jesus calling to us? Are we following where Jesus is leading us?
Several of my choir members shared with me how emotional Holy Week had become while waiting to sing “He has risen”. I encourage you to wrestle with Holy Week. Find Holy Week services to attend. Read the passion story in the scriptures. Take the time to look at your own faith walk. Don’t rush from one celebration to the next, but risk walking for awhile in the valley of darkness. Use this time to recognize that even in the darkest moments of our lives we don’t stand alone. That our God, who created all that there is, stands with us. That with God there is always hope.
So many thought that the statement “He is dead” was the end of Jesus’ story. This Easter let’s join together again in shouting (this isn’t the time to stay quiet!) that the tomb is empty and that Jesus has risen! Feel free to even sing it!
Your brother on the journey, Mark