A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Holy Week is a bit of an exercise in futility for some of us liturgically-minded pastors. While the Sanctuary may be full on Palm Sunday and overflowing at Easter, the empty pews at our midweek services beg for some attention. I urge my congregations yearly to appreciate the joy of Easter by attending to the depths of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, but only a few take me up on it. Evening Prayer services, Stations of the Cross, walking a labyrinth, footwashing, Holy Communion, Tenebrae, Seven Last Words, special music, dramatizations, prayer vigils, the Reproaches…I’ve done it all.

Let’s be honest: the pressures of the weekly routine for many of our congregants don’t let up just because the Church slows down to observe the Triduum. I’ve loved sharing midday Community Holy Week services here in Nacogdoches, and we’ll have about 100 people each day. But even that seems light for an East Texas town of 30k+.

So I’ve come to think that Holy Week isn’t just about the drama, and the contrast between death and resurrection–though the liturgy, as many have said, is inherently dramatic. Could we truly “forget” that Easter is coming? I’m beginning to think that answer is no.

Instead, Holy Week is about watching and waiting with Christ. It’s about being moved by the faithfulness Jesus displays in the face of suffering, humiliation, imperial victory, and death. It is even, in the face of (shall we say) intimate gatherings, to reenact the obedience of Christ. Eugene Peterson popularized a saying of Nietzsche’s–

The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.

which Peterson applies to discipleship. A trajectory of faithfulness, inwardly and externally, is what we see–and might yet be seen in us–at Holy Week.

Francisco de Zurbarán, 1638

Last year in Lent, Enuma Okoro introduced to me this painting, entitled Agnus Dei, “Lamb of God.” I had a visceral reaction to it, this helpless lamb bound on an altar, ready for sacrifice, neither squirming nor flinching. Faithfulness, at the end. A long obedience, in the same direction.

May God bless us all in this Holy Week +

One Response to “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”
  1. wcuniff says:

    Josh, I have had some of these same feelings. We clergy types work hard to bring the drama and sorrow and depth of the Triduum to our parishes, and are often met with very small faithful remnents of our usual congregations. It makes me wonder if we couldn’t combine congregations for some of this…the Maundy Thursday footwashing and meal at one church,The Stations of the Cross at another, etc. But there’re my eucumenical leanings hanging out.

    Thank you for the Agnus Dei photo. A long obedience, indeed.

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