Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
“Because he loved”
The week preceding Easter day is observed as Holy Week throughout the Roman Catholic Church both in the East and in the West. It was and is a period of devotion set aside to remember the betrayal, trial and crucifixion of Jesus.
Over the centuries various rites were developed for each day of the week. Some say these probably began to develop in Jerusalem around the 4th century when pilgrims made their way to the city to re-enact the last scenes of the life of Jesus. These included Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, the Paschal Vigil, and Easter.
Although Holy Week began as observance of the Roman Catholic Church, other churches today both in the Orthodox Church and the Protestant Church have held their own observances. Over the last decade we have held a service on Maundy Thursday here at Keawala‘i.
For some the occasion is a extremely somber one. It is not intended to be a “happy service.” Instead it focuses on the betrayal, abandonment and agony of the events that came to mark Jesus’ final days on earth. Our Maundy Thursday this year began with candlelight and ended in near total darkness. At the end of the service everyone was asked to leave in silence.
Someone said to me, “Kahu, that’s a bummer!” And then asked, “Who would want to go to such a service?”
There was a time when I felt that way too. After all, Easter is supposed to be a time of Easter eggs, Easter bunnies, Easter baskets, and Easter bonnets. It is supposed to be a happy time because “hippity, hoppity Easter’s on its way.”
We have come to declare that we will have none of that doom and gloom stuff. Only “Happy Easter!”
In many ways I get it. Easter comes in the spring, a time when we celebrate new birth; a time when we are aware of the abundance that earth provides; a time when we attribute our happiness to an egg, a bunny, a basket or a bonnet. But such happiness is fleeting. It comes and goes with the season.
Holy Week reminds us that Easter is not so much about happiness, as it is about joy. It is about a profound joy that is only possible because it comes out of a profound sorrow.
Another kahu or
pastor put it this way: “If (we) see only the happy ending of a movie,
everyone who saw it from the start is elated, but (we) go away saying,
‘So they were all hugging each other? So what?’ But if (we)
see the beginning and the middle part, with all the suspense and grief,
(we) understand what the characters overcame, and the happy ending is all
the happier. So to me, attending Easter service without attending Holy
Week services is like watching the happy ending of a movie without seeing
the middle – (we) only rob (ourselves) of joy.” (What is a Tenebrae
Service? Rev. Ken Collins’ Web Site, http://www.kencollins.com/questions-19.htm)
Holy Week can leave us feeling empty and discouraged. When we remember the last days of Jesus, we become aware of how cruelty, injustice, and suffering remain present with us in our lives and in our world today. We know of pain and suffering, we know about despair and death.
Yet we notice the change in the colors around us and in how we feel this morning. After the intensity of the week, we welcome the chance to celebrate this day with joy and that is as it should be.
Through the centuries the story has been told of the great earthquake that struck when Mary Magdalene and Mary went to the tomb where Jesus was buried. It was far from an ordinary day for them.
Once at the tomb, they saw an angel whose appearance they likened to lightning. Although they and the men guarding the tomb were fearful each knew that from that moment on whatever they may have known or understood about life and death would never be the same.
The angel speaks words of peace to them and tells Mary Magdalene and Mary to go and tell the others. Along the way they stop for an extraordinary moment when they meet Jesus on the road. He tells them what the angel has already told them. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:10)
Immediately, they continue on their way. The women witness not only to the joy of seeing the risen Christ, but the assurance of his forgiveness of the disciples who abandoned him and who denied him. They tell the men who deserted Jesus in his time of suffering that he still chooses to call them “brothers.”
Like the early disciples we may also offer our testimony about the resurrection. We are not called to prove that resurrection occurred but to hear the call of the risen Christ and to respond in faith and to go as the women did to tell the good news - death itself is no more.
If it happens that some of us this morning may be feeling like we are stuck in the middle of Holy Week and that we know only about pain and suffering, betrayal and desertion in our own lives, may the good news of this day give us cause to celebrate God’s promises. The first promise is that Jesus came into the world that we may have life in all of its abundance now, not after we die; and the second promise is that when we do die there is the promise of a new birth, a new life.
“No ka mea, ua aloha nui mai ke Akua i ko ke ao nei, no laila, ua hā‘awi mai ‘oia i kāna Keiki hiwahiwa, i ‘ole e make ka mea mana‘o‘i‘o iā ia, akā, e loa‘a iā ia ke ola mau loa. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Because God loved, because Jesus loved, may this Easter Day for all of us be filled not only with happiness but with joy! If we were to look about us this morning we would quickly discover: “‘A‘ole oia ma‘ane‘i. He is not here. Akā, ua ala a‘e nei ia. He is risen.”
Christ is risen, indeed! (Luke 24:6)
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