Relearning Holy Week

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[Pysanky egg art by my friend Ashly]

Easter week is a time of unlearning and relearning.

We often read and reread these final chapters of the Gospels as if “the answer” could not be more obvious. But I think that is incorrect and misleading. LIterally, it leads us away from what we need to see and how we need to live.

The disciples did not experience “Holy Week” as if they were watching the final jigsaw pieces falling into place. It was a week in their lives–like this is a week in ours–albeit a tense one. They knew trouble might be coming. Of course, we’ve all heard that they had a skewed view of “Messiah” and hoped for a triumphant military leader instead of a suffering servant. I suspect the colt of a donkey imagery might have gone over their heads at the time.

We, in our comfort and knowledge, might shake our heads and cluck our tongues. Silly disciples. Such obvious references to Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

We need to get off our high horses.

Not only is it wildy doubtful–like St Peter’s winning March Madness longshot–that we, in their places, would have understood what they did not,* but I think we have to stop and examine our view that we have it all figured out, as if our only challenge is to fine tune how we live this truth we already have wired.

The disciples seriously had no grasp of how Jesus intended to respond in love to the violence and hatred, the fear and control that drove his enemies to frame and murder him. He’s foretold his coming suffering and they have not comprehended it. Instead, they’re arguing over who will be greatest in heaven. They’re telling Jesus no one will abandon or betray him. His three closest disciples fall asleep on him the one time Jesus asked something of them. They think they know what’s going on when clearly they do not.

We, in our overconfidence, act as if we’ve fully grasped this whole “respond in love” concept. We haven’t.

I don’t just mean we have room to improve at applying what we know. I truly believe we haven’t gotten the concept down yet. Believing we should treat those who treat us violently with anything less than “what they have coming”–that is, with grace–eludes us so consistently that we’ve built a whole theology to justify why we can ignore grace and still follow Jesus. This is odd for a people who believe “God is love.”

The surefire best way to do something wrong is to think you’re doing it right when you aren’t and reject all input to the contrary.

Let me say that another way: “When the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Luke 11:34-36).

I don’t understand the savage attack–by Christians–on people who speak up and say, in regard to their beliefs about Jesus, “I don’t think I was doing this right and I am trying to unlearn what I had wrong and relearn to get it more right.”

Okay, I do understand that this behavior threatens those who don’t want their understanding challenged and who feel more secure in their beliefs when others agree with them and no one asks questions. The insecurity raised when someone who used to agree fully begins to question and wrestle can set off hostility and attack. I get that. Insecurity can set me off, too.

When I say “I don’t understand,” I mean I don’t get how people follow Jesus and expect not to have their views challenged. I don’t get how so many people seem to have started with the idea that Jesus might rock their world, blow up their paradigms, and turn their previously upside down understanding rightside up…but now act as if they have it all figured out and anyone suggesting a different view is some raging heretic. That, I can’t grasp. But it does discourage me. Mightily.

I trust it’s obvious that if we’re attacking people who are reconsidering their beliefs, we’re not showing grace. That’s utterly clear, right?**

Beloved Folks, kind Readers of my stuff, we would not have understood Jesus’ plan better than his disciples, had we gotten to hang with Jesus for three(ish) years. The point of their real-life example for us is to hold up a mirror and cause us to grasp that we are like them: prideful, defensive, quick to assume, and slow to have our minds changed. Slow to love–especially slow to love our enemies instead of calling down

lighting from heaven.

“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!”

Luke 24:25

“But Mike,” someone might ask,”how do you know that I’m so wrong and not understanding things properly?” That’s a fair question.

“Grace is greater” means we don’t yet understand how great grace is. However great you think Jesus’ grace for you is, it’s greater than that! And now that you understand that it’s greater than you thought–it’s greater than your new idea, too!

Get it? The good news is, there’s no point at which we have seen it all and know it all about God. This means we always live in a state of unlearning and relearning. That is the life of a Jesus follower.

In my view, we also never fully understand what the Bible has to teach us, because as we grow and transform, the words apply differently to our lives. It is a “living word” because it speaks to us differently as we change. The Gospel of Luke reads differently to me now than it did when I was 19 and first began to grasp whom Jesus is and differently than when I was 22 and convinced I understood everything. Living in Nicaragua changed how I read Luke again because living there changed me.

Yes, people are quick to point out that “God never changes,” but we aren’t talking about God’s self-understanding. We’re taking about our unlearning and relearning, our changing perspective that (Lord, hear our prayer) improves through our lives. As a comparison, I understand my parents better now than I did when I was five or twelve or seventeen. I had to unlearn what I had thought was true about them to relearn a more accurate–though still imperfect–perspective. Their parenting of me when I was five or twelve didn’t retroactively change; I changed, my view of them changed, largely through my own parenting which humbled me.

As with Lucy in Narnia, as we grow, Aslan gets bigger. When we think we have it all figured out, God doesn’t “stay small,” but we miss seeing more of who God really is.

Personally, I believe Holy Week is a time to remember–before we start shouting “Hallelujah!” on Sunday to celebrate Resurrection–that Jesus surprises us all the time. We are the disciples who don’t get it. That’s fine–in fact, that’s wonderful–when we accept it and are willing to go look in the tomb to see what the women are talking about.

*An attitude which, let’s confess, we carry with us, pretty similar to Peter’s, who thought he got it when the rest didn’t and insisted, “Oh, no, let them all run off and hide, I’ll die with you!”

**Some will ask, “But if they’re starting to believe the wrong things, don’t we need to correct them?” Not like that. We’re not “defending the faith,” as if God needs our protection. We’re not attacking the people who are wrestling with Jesus. Our response must be in humility. My answer is always: if they’re struggling with their beliefs, we need to show grace, pray, and trust God is with them. They may be questioning things that need to be questioned. They may be questioning things we need to question. Yes, there may be a time to confront, but in grace, not with hostility.

2 thoughts on “Relearning Holy Week

  1. Sarah Riggio

    This makes me think of a song I heard called “God is a River”, Peter Mayer. It was *really* hard for me to listen to the words of the song — “God is a river, and not just a stone” and to take them in. I wanted it ALL to be stone. It’s hard to embrace our faith shifting. That does require grace. Lots of it.
    This is one reason why I like the practice of Lectio Divina, because it allows me to be open to hearing the scriptures, in particular, in a new way. What is speaking to me upon this particular hearing, in this particular moment.
    If you have never listened to Peter Mayer before, I highly recommend!!! You will like, I think.
    Holy Week blessings to you.

    • Thanks, Sarah! I don’t think I’ve ever heard Peter Mayer before. I’ll listen to him.
      I was just recommending Brian Webb (no relation to Derek, I believe), who has a song I used in a sermon many years ago, “My Religion.” It reminded me that other folks have been talking about this for a long time; it’s only become a hot button recently. “It’s hard to embrace our faith shifting.” And it’s hard to embrace others’ faith shifting, too. Thanks for the grace, Sarah.
      Holy Week blessings with your spirit, as well!

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