Holy Week, 2006

This morning the sea is quiet, smooth, and clear as glass, the horizon line between water and sky irrelevant, one dissolves into the other, the lines between things are blurred, everything softened. We are in the middle of Holy Week, tonight Passover begins, tomorrow is Maundy Thursday. All around, the world is waking up for another day of business, cars passing up the hill, a few trucks; people are starting to stir and get ready for work, children to school, dogs to be walked, news on the T.V. or radio, rumors of war and trouble. . .yet this strange and holy time of year time seems carved out of all that activity, a hollowing in the rock, or the smooth interior of an oyster, a mother-of-pearl week, cradled within the hardened ridges of the rest of life. Even as we go about our daily life, the words of the Gospel from Palm Sunday, the Lord’s Passion, carve out their space within the heart, giving our souls time for reflection. Holy Week does grasp us with its own rhythms. It is a different quality of time than any other week of the year. There is a sense of infinitude bearing in from above, a splendid somberness, a gravity, a dignity, and for us, here in the north, Holy Week in the midst of its somberness brings tenderness and beauty, light touches of loveliness, in birdsong and tiny buds on trees. Today, in the middle of the week, we are preparing for those final moments of Jesus’ life, an expectant hush, a stillness before the storm of Good Friday, a tenderness before the suffering.

Earlier today, I passed a book, lying out on the living room table: it’s called “Healing into Life and Death,” by Stephen Levine. Levine and his wife Ondine have worked closely with terminally ill people for many years, and this book, though it was written some time ago, is the fruit of some of their learning. The first chapter begins with a question about suffering asked by a woman in the final stages of cancer. A patient asked Levine: “should I stop trying to heal and just let myself die?” He writes: “Clearly it was a question only the heart could answer. And my heart, knowing deeper, whispered,’The real question is, ‘Where is healing to be found?'” As Levine and his wife began to explore that question with other cancer patients, they began to discover that preparation for dying led to a new opening to life, and sometimes “resulted in a deepening access to levels of healing beyond imagining.” The woman who asked the question pursued healing, and experienced healing, although she died. She experienced a wholeness in the last weeks of her life she had never known before.

Holy Week is our preparation for dying. And it is our preparation for the resurrection: baptism is that process. In those moments of baptismal washing, we are born into Christ’s death and life: we die into life. All over the world new Christians are preparing for their baptisms, confirmands are preparing for confirmation. We’ve been praying for them each week of Lent. Such preparation asks us to open oursleves to life, even when that opening perhaps leads us through death. That is the road of Christ’s compassion, moving into places of loss and terror, with mercy, gentleness, healing, and grace. Many of you have suffered great losses in the last year, and grief is a daily experience. For some of you, the losses are not only those of illness, but of jobs, and homes, land, the trauma of devastation by natural disasters. And we may be asking, as Levine did: where is healing to be found? Holy Week, with all its painful beauty helps us hold our grief and fear. It can be a time of healing for us. We are a people who are gathered by a man on a cross. And we know now, that the sorrow and suffering on that cross was transformed by God, who overturns death into a healing into life. This Holy Week, may God open us to life, and bring us all through into the resurrection on Easter Morning. May these next few days draw us deeper into the mystery of God’s grace and mercy, deeper into the profound comfort and tender strength of God the font and source of all healing. May the baptismal waters of Easter renew our lives.

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