Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

A Very Holy Week

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"Gospel Treasure." Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr; licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


Dear Working Preachers, I suspect that your Holy Week plans and preaching are well in place by now. The palms are ready. The supper is prepared. The passion of our Lord has been appropriately staged, creating a meaningful reenactment of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial.

If your sermons are still in the works, remember this: much of this week doesn’t need a lot of preaching. That is, it does not need our over-interpretation, our extra angst so as to elicit passion, our efforts to make the week matter or make a difference. Rather, this week needs only one thing -- to witness to the Truth. God’s dwelling among us in the flesh, even to the point of death. But don’t let what happens in between get lost in the cross.

Preach the pathos of the whole week, each moment in the week. What it means for Jesus to enter Jerusalem that one last time, knowing what was to come. What it means to share a meal with your friends one last time. What it means to watch your friend leave the room for good, without saying goodbye, only to show up with your enemies, to that familiar place, that garden where you had talked and laughed, cried and hoped, learned and loved. What it means to go on trial, to be flogged, to be crucified. What it means to look into the eyes of your mother one last time. What it means to ask, “Where are you, God?” What it means to inhale your last breath. Feel the pathos of each moment in the week and there’s your sermon. Preach the holy. Choose the holy moment for that moment and preach it for all it’s worth.

If your sermons are mostly set, worship services in place? Well, now, I imagine you are thinking that all you have to do is just get through the week. At least, that is what I suspect you feel. It all reminds me of a cartoon. The first frame -- Christ is risen! The second frame -- the clergy is dead!

But, what if this year could be different? What if this year you let yourself recognize the holy, at least once? And what, during this week, will be that holy moment for you? That moment when you yourself sense the pathos of the moment? When your faith feels the holy? Rest in that. Wonder why it’s this moment this year and not another. Ask yourself, what about this moment, during this week, makes it holy for me? And, what is holy for me?

Because Holy Week should never be a week you endure but every year a week when your faith is allowed to wonder how it endures. Dear Working Preachers, you need Holy Week as much as everyone else. No matter how many show up at your services, no matter how all of the worship ends up, no matter your perception of the effectiveness of your proclamation, at the end of the week, you and your parishioners have walked through the week together. And that should matter. Every moment should matter, not for all, but a moment for one.

This is a week where the part can get lost in the whole. Where a meaningful moment is passed over for the sake of the performance and for the sake of the end. Don’t let that happen, Dear Working Preachers. Choose your moment. Take your moment. So that you let yourself imagine what living in the holy can mean.

And, I think that when we have a holy mindset, when we know that the holy is, even when we think it isn’t, it changes our perspective. When holy is expected, you insist on the holy. When holy is anticipated, you see the holy in those others say are unclean and unworthy. You see the holy when every other thing suggests that holy cannot exist. And, you point to the holy from that which, and that whom, most would look away.

At a certain point, the reason for Holy Week then ends up being this -- to teach us to detect the holy when the world denies it. To show us that the holy is present when most will resist it. To witness to the holy in those places and spaces where the holy is deemed not to be and not to belong.

And so, I think Holy Week is less about the what and more about the why and the how. That is, Holy Week preaching, Holy Week being, is not insisting on what happened, arguing for the fact that the what has meaning in and of itself, but preaches that Holy Week matters for how we live our lives. How we interpret our lives. And why we inhabit the world as we do.

A very Holy Week, Dear Working Preachers.

Karoline

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