In recent years I’ve often begun Holy Week petulantly, grudgingly. And each time I wonder, will this be the year when I decide not to do it at all? It’s such a chore. And what would be so wrong, for a woman who has pondered the Passion for over forty years, with just, once, making the glib jump from Palm Sunday to Easter? No washing feet. No Holy Thursday communion. No stripping of the altar. No trying to stay awake in the middle of the night. No stations of the cross. No contemplation of cruel and taunting guards, nails tearing flesh, terrified disciples, devastated women. It’s the central week of our liturgical year – and it’s all about suffering, torture, being tested and failing, losing everything, being scared witless, being alone and without God. Why do we do this to ourselves? No other religion does. Even among Christian denominations it’s not so very common.
But something in the story always ambushes my heart. Some new understanding always lays me low and then opens me to the incredible love of God.
Today it is this tale of the last Passover Jesus celebrates with his disciples. His betrayer is with him. His betrayer is with him, and them, eating and drinking, integral to the little gathering. When Jesus says, “this is my body,” the betrayer, right along with everyone else, takes it into himself. When Jesus says, “this is my blood of the covenant,” the betrayer drinks with the rest of them. He has not been abandoned or excluded, despite what is in his heart. Nor will he ever be, except by his own choice.
If Judas Iscariot had repented his betrayal, if he had asked for forgiveness, if he had lived on into being the sort of guy who commits terrible wrongs and turns back, he would have been forgiven. He would have been accepted once again into the community of Jesus-followers. I am certain of it.
This convinces me that participating fully in Holy Week is important. In fact, it’s all I can do. The Body of Christ transcends suffering not through blissful spiritual practices that help people detach or ignore it, but instead through the slog of accepting, embracing and transcending. There is nothing in following Jesus that encourages us to rise above human experience into some happy state where brokenness and violence no longer exist. No, we carry our betrayers along with us – in our communities and within ourselves. We carry them, as God does, with the desperate hope and longing that they will turn around and see, that we will turn around and see. We suffer them, we suffer for them, and we are ourselves suffered, always in the hope of God’s love.
God makes us an Easter people not by removing the Passion but by living into it completely. God suffers even unto death – and beyond. And then God offers God’s hand to each one of us, saying, “turn around, turn away, turn back. Be in this reality where I AM. Be loved and be loving. Be mine.”
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.