Holy Week begins with water and fire.
On Palm Sunday, I wake up in the dark to the rolling of thunder, echoing around and around these mountains that ring my city in, a sound that seems to go on for whole minutes before dying into dim, rumbling whispers and going out. It reminds me of the way the thunder held us down in the house where I grew up, the way it became a comforting roof over us in summer rainstorms. I loved the thunder as a child–the way it curled around me, muffling, gentle, soft, like a thick blanket. I love it now. I pull the quilt to my chin, look out at the streetlights shining on dark, rain-soaked sidewalks before the sky has lightened into grey. The triumph of Palm Sunday is made familiar by the rain. It shimmers, joyful, though the recklessness is dimmed in these soft-growling echoes that run circles around the valley. In Jerusalem, the Son of God weeps for us, because we do not know what will bring us peace, even though He rides before us and we shout hosannas and spread our cloaks and the sound of our voices carries to the ears of our enemies and they wonder. If we kept quiet, the stones would have cried out in our stead, but still, we would not have understood what it meant to be holy.
On Holy Monday, the Cathedral burns as Christ clears the temple of the corrupt. I watch the flames and listen to the jumble of confused voices reporting on a tragedy we do not yet know the scale of. The work of our hands burns, it is destroyed by time, by rust, by the trespass of thieves and the brush of moths’ wings. We are cursed like the fig tree–where is our fruit? Where are the signs of our living faith? It is only the fruits of God’s Spirit that last, and we have not grown these. The streets are full of people crying out for mercy in one voice, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, a plea that sobs in our throats. Our cathedrals, our sanctuaries, our temples are crooked still, are full of empty sacrifices, are full of vice and the seeking after profit, are full of those who stand by the old law and will not see the One who has overcome it. Christ will burn away all that is dead.
On Holy Tuesday, I watch the rain turn to snow against the raw wounds of yesterday. The rivers leap their banks. We still don’t know the answers. We still have not learned to render to God what is God’s. We have forgotten to be watchful, we have fallen asleep, I have fallen asleep. I stand with the Sanhedrin, eager to take Christ’s life–or maybe I stand with Judas, eager to give it to them. I do not want to stand on the Mount of Olives and hear of my destruction. I do not want to be taught. It has never occurred to me that the life of Jesus is not mine to give or take.
On Holy Wednesday, I open my windows to the sun, new and bright in the morning, full already with birdsong and the trickle of the floodwaters as they begin, slowly, to dissipate. The hard winds of the flooding have turned gentle, the sky is blue again, I go out without a coat. When I return, my apartment smells like nostalgia, like memories, like the back bedroom in my grandmother’s old brick house that looked out over the yard and the woods and was always full of teddy bears and sunlight. The image prickles behind my eyes and I breathe deep to catch it, press it, never forget it. There is so much to cherish. Christ rests in Bethany, and I rest in these memories, and in the middle of Passion Week maybe we all need this day to rest. There is so much we have done, and so much we have left undone, and here in the middle of it all there is a moment of calm. Fling wide the windows, brush away the ashes of what has died, soak in the living light, seek for the company of family, of friends, of the woman who anointed His feet with her tears and the expensive oils. Be still and know that He is God. Be still and know. Be. The river leaps over falls, rainbows flying in the mist above the spume.
On Maundy Thursday, the rain comes back. It falls hard, straight, drops of ice all morning. We are all waiting, holding our breath. Christ prepares for the Feast of the Passover, but this is not like the years that have come before. This is the beginning of an ending–the Last Supper. I remember the first time I learned what it meant to lose something. The refrain chasing its tail in my head: you never really know what you have until it’s gone. Loss, to me, is summer-sky-blue, the color of the house I grew up in. Loss is red doors, grape arbors, and a stained-glass Lamb. Loss is stenciled rabbits and going to bed at seven o’clock, even though the rest of the world outside the window is still awake and blazing. Loss is deep, but loss is narrow. I sit now with the Disciples and like them, I can’t comprehend a loss that is wide, that grows and grows until it encompasses the very world. Christ kneels to wash our feet, but we beg Him not to. We are still no good at accepting grace. The sacrament of the Eucharist lies before us, and we fight over it, squabble to interpret what it means, slap hands away, spill the wine in our attempts to be holiest, to be most righteous. The Son of God weeps drops of blood while we sit in the corner and bicker like children. We fail His most important command before He has even finished speaking it. We fail to love. We always fail to love. This is our last night. These are our last moments. This is the last day we will have Christ among us, and we cannot even stay awake to pray. We betray the only One who can save us into the hands of our enemies, and He is gone. This is the beginning of our disaster. This is the beginning of our denial. This is the beginning of our second fall. This is the beginning of an ending greater than any other. We do not yet realize it is also the Beginning of everything.
On Good Friday, we wonder how anything can ever be good again. Crucify Him. It’s a different cry from our lips today. We have the audacity to believe that the Creator of the world cannot save Himself from this ugliness. Crucify Him. His blood is on us and our children–we have called for it. He is your king, Pilate says. Shall I crucify your king? Is he the only one who gets it? Crucify Him. We cling to our own corruption rather than face the compassion of God. Crucify Him. We mock Him with thorns, with nails, with drugged wine and the thrust of a spear. Crucify Him. Christ forgives but we refuse it. Crucify Him. We fling our hatred at the One who shows us grace. Crucify Him. We are the guilty. Crucify Him. We are the damned. Crucify Him. We are the beloved. Crucify Him. We are the beloved. Crucify Him. We are the beloved!
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The Father turns His face away. The earth shakes in her chains. The sky goes dark, and the Savior of the world takes His last shuddering breath. What slow-dawning horror, in the faces of the guards who stand at the foot of the cross, drenched in the full, terrible, all-seeing light of what we have just done. In the city, the temple curtain rips in two of its own accord, top to bottom, and we stand frozen in the middle of this most heinous act, staring God in the face at last.
This is the end. This is the end of everything. There is nothing, can be nothing, nothing left for us but darkness, death, terror. We kneel at the gaping mouth of the borrowed tomb and are undone.
Yet, on the third day after the sky goes dark, the Son will rise again. On the third day, I will turn away from that dim, empty place, struck by the living sound at my shoulder of my name on His lips.
It is finished. A victory cry.