It’s ironic that Holy Week falls into what may be the most stress-filled week of many students’ lives. There’s nothing holy about the first week of exams. In fact, as I prepare at Church for a week of worship, contemplation, and sacrament, a week set apart from all others, my office at the college is a steady stream of stressed, maxed-out students. This is ironic because in both contexts it is a week like no other. Everything else is put on hold as we focus on one thing which seems to matter more than anything else in the world.
I warned my family that I’ll disappear this week. I’ll return after resurrection/graduation.
But what isn’t so ironic is that at the precise moment when students are carrying more than they can bear; when they wonder if they’ll make it through; when winter has hung on right into finals week and the burden of the cold and darkness feels overwhelming; at that exact moment Jesus is making his way through Jerusalem and toward the cross. At just the moment when students need to hear the words, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest…” Jesus is taking their heavy burdens with him to the cross.
And some of their burdens- just like some of yours- are indeed very heavy, more than their small shoulders can bear. Holy Week is, in essence, the week of the suffering. The week of the poor and broken ones. It is the week when at last we are free to walk the road to Calvary with Jesus. There is no pretending during Holy Week. The joyful hope of Palm Sunday has faded and we are freed to say it aloud: this is a dark and painful journey. There is nothing glamorous or beautiful about the Way of the Cross.
Yet even through the dark hours of Thursday and Friday, there is hope in this week. Because Jesus is there and we do not suffer alone.
There is a fundamental difference between Holy Week and finals week. When finals are over, students move away for the summer and quickly get on with their lives. Like a woman holding her new baby, they forget how long and painful those final days of the semester were. Life just goes on.
After Holy Week, however, the world is never the same. Having walked that road with Jesus, through suffering and death and out the other side of new life, we cannot possibly look at the world in the same way again. We have seen the underside of life, and there is a certain innocence lost in that knowing. But we have also seen life spring up in places long ago condemned. When we trudge all the way down into the suffering of Christ and into the suffering of those in whose faces we see Christ reflected; when we are willing to sit in the stillness of death which we experience on Friday, then we are freed to experience the joy of new life in all its fullness.
As the second letter to Timothy proclaims, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” So whether your suffering this week is metaphorical, as you follow after Jesus toward the cross, or whether your suffering is much more personal and present, I invite you to cling to this promise. The Christian story is not one which ignores the painful experiences of real life. It is one in which God descends down, all the way into those darkest places with us so that we can be healed by the overcoming power of new life. It is an old, old, story which we experience anew during this holiest of weeks and even in the midst of finals.
So walk on and do not be afraid. Jesus goes ahead of you and will bring you out the other side of new life.