A couple who renews their wedding vows after 20 or more years of marriage knows deeply and concretely what “for better, for worse” really means. They didn’t originally and don’t now pledge to find the right balance between the good times and the bad times. They said “yes” to it all — and say it again. Looking back and looking ahead, they see more clearly than ever the need to ask for God’s help in it all.
Similarly, when a couple brings their child to be baptized, the priest tells them they have the task of raising the child in the faith, and asks: “Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” Older parents can be forgiven if they laugh a little when first-time parents say “We do.” They don’t know, concretely, all the joys and challenges and anguish that lie ahead. But, again, they don’t pledge to find the right balance. They say “yes” to it all, and ask for God’s help in it all.
So also, when Jesus took on flesh, He didn’t aim to find the right balance between the highs and the lows of human life. Holy Week shows, with stark clarity, that He embraced it all. Judas betrayed Him, Peter denied Him, our sins crucified Him; it doesn’t get any lower than that. But He triumphed over every darkness, and rose from the dead; it doesn’t get any higher than that.
That’s an important lesson for us as we enter Holy Week. Holy Week shows us, with special clarity, that faith doesn’t ask us to steer a middle course between the highs and lows of life. We’re not trying to find the right balance between the dread of Good Friday and the joy and relief of Easter Sunday, or the deepest dread and greatest joy of our own lives. Rather, faith invites us to bring all of our highs and lows to Jesus because He embraced them all, and embraces us in the midst of them all.
What will visitors experience when they join us for Easter Sunday? (They will, you know — lots of them! And thanks be to God for that.) Will they find a community that helps them bring their lowest lows and highest highs to Jesus? Or will they find a community that tries to steer a middle course, avoiding both the highs and the lows, and merely decorates the middle way with pretty flowers?
St. Paul looked at his life and saw the lowest of lows, like his persecution of the Church, and the highest of highs, like being chosen in Christ. I look back on 35 years of being a bishop and see peaks and valleys that bring tears of joy and tears of sorrow. Each of us can look at our lives and see places of both deep anguish and amazing joy. Holy Week invites us to bring it all to Jesus.
Holy Week is not about finding the right balance between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It’s about experiencing all the highs and lows of Jesus’ life; it’s about bringing all the highs and lows of our lives to Him; it’s about inviting our visitors to do the same. This week shows, more than any, that our highest highs and lowest lows find their deepest meaning in Him.
Happy Holy Week.