A prayer for Monday in Holy Week (a.k.a., today)
Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Philippians 2:5-11 (read in many churches yesterday)
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The first Christians were not called Christians. They were called people of the way. I wonder if we might not be better off if that name had stuck. No prospect of the frozen chosen with a name like that.
What do I like about the name? It presumes movement, growth and transformation. We hear about it as our Presiding Bishop talks about our church as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. We’re part of a movement, folks. We don’t stay put. Pope Francis preached a sermon in which he said that there was no such thing as a stationary Christian, that a Christian is meant to walk or move. That movement is actually part of our healthy identity. We see it in our liturgy as the gospel, the story of Jesus is moved to the center of the people, and as we are moved to come forward to say yes to the bread and wine.
Jesus himself said: “I am the way.”
So which way do we go? That is in many ways the question of Holy Week. The prayer crafted for the Monday in Holy Week (see above), asks that we may find that the way of the cross is the way of life and peace. Paradox alert. Think with me as we begin this Holy Week about what the way of the cross looks like, and how it could possibly also be the way of life and peace.
The way of the cross includes the journey that went from that raucous Palm Sunday procession, with Jesus’ high approval ratings helping him make his way through Jerusalem streets. As we read yesterday, that festive parade soon becomes a crowd pressing for prosecution and execution. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus makes his way from the head of the table to kneel at the feet of disciples. Jesus washes those feet. A big move. Jesus makes his way to the garden where he prays for deliverance from what is to come. In a lesson for me about my prayers, Jesus finds that his prayer is not answered in the way he might have wanted. He makes his way to the hard wood of the cross, where he hangs between heaven and earth, stretching out arms of love to draw us all into his saving embrace. Do you see how the whole week involves movement, from life to death to life?
So what do we make of the way of the cross? How do we walk in that way? Is it a way of humility? Is it a way of service? Is it a way that moves toward confrontation with religious and political power of the day? Is it a way that knows grief and loss, that does not hide from the pain of the world? Is it a way of compassion and sacrifice? Is it a way that extends forgiveness, even and especially to those who don’t deserve it or even ask for it? Is it a way of life and peace?
However you observe Holy Week (and I urge you to dive into as many liturgies as you can. It’ll just deepen the joy of Easter), think about the way of the cross as a way of life. You do have other choices, the gospels tell us. You can choose the way of Pilate, entitled indifference. You can choose the way of Peter, bluster giving way to cowardly denial. You can choose the way of Judas, grasping at your own agenda. You can choose the way of most of the disciples, and just check out, hopping on the first Greyhound out of Jerusalem.
Or we can ask: What does the way of the cross mean for us in this Holy Week? What does that mean in the weeks that follow? May God’s grace allow us to see it as a way of life and peace.
Apparently our world stands in need of that kind of way.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.