Within the Christian community, this is Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, remembering the actions of Jesus in Jerusalem, his Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
Within the Jewish community, it is Passover, Pesach, eight days of remembering the epic journey of Exodus as the Hebrews journey from slavery in Egypt to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
The week is set aside in both communities, the literal meaning of “holy”. Something special is happening. Of course, the Hebrew story of the Exodus precedes the experience of the Crucifixion/Resurrection story of Christ, but both have the same focus on transformation. The Exodus/Passover was clearly in the mind of the early church interpreting the events of Jesus’ life.
For Christians, the week traces the final week of Jesus’ life, beginning with the triumphal parade into Jerusalem. It continues with the remembering of special moments in that week, marking them as special, for they accentuate the passing through death by Jesus, becoming the central theme of the faith narrative: that Jesus took on the fullness of human life, including death, and showed us a way through.
The week has several notable moments that stand out.
There is Maundy Thursday, referring to the mandate to love and serve one another. Jesus ritualized this by a pregnant moment of washing his disciples feet, embodying the mode of servanthood that he calls his followers to continue. It is curious to me that the “foot washing” got second billing in Christian practice through history. Wonder why?
It is also the ritualization of the Lord’s supper, the blessing of the bread and wine as symbols of our connection to Jesus, to be remembered after he is gone. This has found various expression in Christian tradition, but tended to be central in the community’s gathering.
On Good Friday, the three hours of Jesus hanging on the Cross, suffering, and his death is remembered in a powerful liturgy, recalling his final words from that Cross.
Holy Saturday is an odd day, as we wait with Jesus in the tomb. Tradition has it that Jesus went to Hades to release the captives from death.
And Easter morning marks the resurrection of Jesus, overcoming the bonds of death, appearing to the women of his group and later, to his disciples who had fled in fear.
This is the central meaning of this Cross event. The narrative is the retelling of Jesus’ passing through death and coming out on the other side. It follows the Exodus pattern of the Hebrew people leaving the slavery of Egypt, passing through the wilderness, and then entering the Promised Land. It is a three-fold pattern that is part of our human existence, what I have called the Paschal Paradigm.
The Paschal Paradigm states that the character of life is a process, repeated throughout our life. We experience many endings, or deaths, within the course of our life. When that ending occurs, it begins a time of transition which is marked by a disorientation. The way we lived life before is up for grabs. The familiar roles are no longer true for us. And that time, literally feels like death, something has been stopped cold.
We enter into this time of transition, not knowing what is to come. It can feel like the wilderness, even a desert, dry without relief. The paradigm presses us to move through this tough time with an eye of hope on the horizon for the new that is to come.
This is more than a mere history lesson, a ritualistic observance. It is, rather, a way of being, of leaning into our lives with a faith that does not deny suffering, loss, or death. Rather, there is the call for trust and faith, confidence in a connection that will survive the reality of death.
The same is true of Passover. Jews remember the journey of faith that began in slavery in Egypt. The Hebrews are released from bondage but head off to an imagined Promised Land. Their slavery ended, which would feel like good news, but they found themselves in transit, cut off from the security of what had been, even if it meant being slaves. At least then, they would recall, they knew where their next meal was coming from, and so now in the desert, many began to wonder as to the wisdom in leaving what was familiar. Some began to “murmur”, a phenomena any pastor knows of from his/her beloved flock. “Murmur” means complaining, wishing we could be back in captivity, what was familiar, even if it was slavery. Tradition says it was forty years for the Hebrews in the wilderness. Forty years is a Hebrew idiom meaning “a long damn time.”
Jews, looking retrospectively, remember God’s faithfulness even in the wilderness and God’s deliverance of God’s people to a new freedom, across the Jordan in the Promised Land. Passover is a remembrance of this historical fact, but more, it is a recalling of a way of life, a way of faith, as God delivers us through the variety of changes in our life. It’s this history that gives them a sense of reliance on God, though the exact “how” may be unclear.
This Paschal image gives us a lens through which to view our lives. We can recognize endings when they occur. It can be the ending of a time of life, such as school, when one must now move into a more adult way of being. Or if can be the ending of a career, perhaps retirement, where things are no longer as they used to be. Some endings come in the life of an organization as leadership changes, and the culture is altered. The ending might be in a relationship where there is a tear or a disruption in roles. Or, it may come at the very moment of death, where the landscape changes for those connected but left behind. Things are not as they were before. There is an ending that needs to be acknowledge, recognized.
It has been my observation that endings are difficult for most folks to admit. There is a hope that things will remain the same, that status quo should be maintained. The disruptions are ignored, hoping the situation is not changing significantly. This denial is most always problematic as reality relentlessly presses the change that is in play. Naming the ending, or death, is a way to move on to the process of transition.
Transition seems to not be easy for us. We want to move quickly from what was to the next thing. Taking one’s time to process the loss, living in the “in between”, can be helpful in finding one’s way into the new state. While one probably does not want to take forty years of wandering, it is good to take a break and allow for this time when things are a bit fluid. My colleague, Dr. Charlie Palmgren, refers to this as a threshold moment, a pregnant space which offers the possibility and danger of creative change. This gives us time to weigh some options, seriously playing with what might be our next step or phase.
The tendency is to move to quickly, as we are uncomfortable with not knowing, of feeling “at sea”. For many people I have worked with in such a process, there is a push that may lead to a premature closure in order to resolve the issue. At times, I would use the phrase, “I want to do SOMETHING, even if it’s wrong!” to line out that tendency to press for closure. Most times, this is an unforced error.
After a time of living in the time of transition, an option will emerge, a new possibility that may not have occurred to you if not for the ending that happened. Many times, one will come to see, only in the rear-view mirror of reflection, that the ending was, in fact, a blessing in disguise. That certainly is not guaranteed as endings can be incredibly disruptive to plans, imagined futures, bringing about pain and suffering that is real. However, most folks find some silver linings in those dark clouds of loss.
So this pattern of endings, transitions, and new beginnings are intimated in our cosmic dramas of the Exodus, and of the Christ paradigm. But I am suggesting that it is a pattern that is part of our very existence. Seeing those parts of a process, naming it as we go through it, can be incredibly helpful, yield fruit, and assist us in negotiating our way through the passage.
Think for a second. What are the the major transitions, the moments of change that you have experienced? Did it follow the Paschal Paradigm in terms of phases? How did you consciously decide to move through the process? What did you learn/have beaten into you along the way?
Name some of the endings you have experienced: some that were expected, predictable, and some that seemed to come out of nowhere. How did you respond to endings, deaths that happened?
What about transition times, those in between times when certainty and clarity eluded your grasp? How did you make your way through the wilderness? What blessing or blessings did you wrestle out of the encounter with the ambiguity of not knowing?
And what of the new beginnings? How many new beginnings can you name, new chapters in your life, some chosen, some imposed? How did you show resilience in finding a new way?
And where are you NOW? Where are you in this paradigm as we come to the end of Passover, and the Sunday of Easter? It’s been a hell of a year for most of us. A lot of endings, a lot of death. Transitions seem to be the order of the day as we adjust to the disruptive reality of a pandemic. Are there new beginnings on the horizon?
Could this Springtime of new birth in Creation signal a new beginning for you? Where are you as you move through this time in our common time, and in your particular and peculiar journey? I would love to hear from you, either here on my blog or writing me privately at my email address firstname.lastname@example.org .
Blessings as you move through this pregnant season.