Saturday, February 23, 2008

Holy Week vs. Easter Week

For those in the ancient liturgical traditions the above title may seem a bit odd. Holy Week precedes the Easter feast, and Easter week, as such, would be the first week of this new festival. Why then the word "versus"?

Recently someone who is participating is a community Easter cantata was struggling when she noticed that there would be practices during Holy Week, especially on the evening of Maundy Thursday. She is a Lutheran and the Holy Week observance has always been very important to her. When she brought up her dilemma, a local Pentecostal pastor (of the church sponsoring this cantata) acknowledged the "sacrifice" some of the "extras" were making during what he called "Easter week." Still, he did not seem to appreciate that skipping out on church during Holy Week is a sacrifice in a negative way. Then again, without any real sacramental theology he would be unable to truly appreciate the deep significance that Maundy Thursday has for the Christian who values the Blessed Supper of Our Lord for the forgiveness of sin.

It is equally troubling to see the avoidance of Good Friday among some in the more evangelical traditions, although this is softening in recent years. In a question to a Pentecostal minister about their lack of observing the historic seasons, the minister replied: "The only 'traditions' observed by the Pentecostal church are those set forth in New Testament scripture, (the Lord's supper or communion and baptism in water), which return glory, honor, and praise to God; because we know that we owe our life for the grace He has extended to us for our redemption."

So why then would Good Friday, the day on which observe and 'honor' the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, be something outside the New Testament? And why is Easter more biblical? Can you have the cross without the empty tomb? And what about St. Paul who said that he was committed to preaching "Christ and Him crucified"?

My theory of this avoidance of Lent and Good Friday among those in the Pentecostal tradition stems from the fact that this church body is founded on a theology of glory, not a theology of the cross. Because upbeat emotions and the experience of joy and happiness as the paramount virtues of worship, struggle and suffering have no place. Yet how can the Christian not have times of grief and struggle if he is a sinner? Is there no understanding of the believer as both saint and sinner in the sense of Romans 7? And how can we appreciate the joy of Easter and the glory of his ascension if we do not first stand at the cross and see the fullness of that suffering and death on our behalf?

Our society is largely based on the premise that happiness is king, and suffering is bad. Yet even recently scientists are recognizing that a philosophy that is all about happiness is not healthy. As Christians if we do not grieve over our sins we cannot truly understand what repentance is all about, or the necessity of the atoning death at the cross. Unfortunately this Pentecostal minister will continue to avoid this moment of discomfort and miss the beautiful mystery of the cross and it's place in the Christian life. For us Lutherans, though, Good Friday stays. We think Paul really was on to something when he decided to preach Christ crucified and Him alone....

1 comment:

Steve Newell said...

Traditionally, Lutheranism has started with Christ while Calvinism starts with the Glory of God. Much of American Christianity starts with the individual. This is a very dangerous place to start since we, in our fallen condition, place too much importance on the Christian and not enough on the Christ.

This can be seen in the design of many newer churches. There is the absence of a cross. There is no alter. In a traditional church design, the alter and font are in the center while the pulpit is on the side. In a "American" church, the pulpit, if there is one, is in the center. If one considers the front of the church a stage, who is getting the top billing; the pastor or the savior?