In the fourth century, as recorded in the diary of a young traveler named Egeria, Christians in Jerusalem marked Holy Week by keeping Vigil night after night, reading huge chunks of scripture and singing psalm after psalm, traveling to the various mountains, caves, and gardens where Jesus prayed, ate, suffered, died and rose. In many places in later centuries, people cleaned their homes from top to bottom during Holy Week, a sign of their determination to clean their hearts and start anew at Easter.
Most modern Americans mark Holy Week by purchasing jelly beans and Peeps, which are already discounted because we are “late” in buying them.
Not everything about the penitential practices of our forebears in the faith is salutary; some is best consigned to the bin of history. But what I admire, and actually yearn for as a spiritual being, is their willingness to be disturbed. They overturned the tables in the temples of their hearts in a way that is very rare these days.
My friend Adam sent me a link to a new blog called “Peculiar Faith” where the author writes, “Living as a Christian ought to set one apart from the ordinary, the usual, the expected, and routine. The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls for radical change, renewal, and transformation — a lifelong process of conversion.” Yes. So what does that look like?
Many folks these days will spend lots of money for the personal challenge of an Outward Bound adventure. Yoga studios are full of people willing to give their time and money to a good teacher, seeking “transformation” physically and emotionally. Plenty of date nights involve deliberately going to a theater, spending easily $50 for tickets and refreshments, to see a thriller that takes one away from the ordinary, the usual, the expected, and the routine. We are willing to organize our routines around watching “Mad Men” or the Celtics game.
So it seems to me that to celebrate the Paschal Triduum (that’s church-speak for the three days leading up to Easter) and Easter itself should take at least that much out of us. It should be at least as intentional, as dis-locating. Church traditions are a good start: maybe stay up keeping watch between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday; maybe give generously to the saints in Jerusalem on Good Friday. But I think each of us is called to respond personally, creatively, whole-heartedly.
After all, God responded to us personally, creatively, whole-heartedly.