Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday and culminating with Easter Sunday, is the pinnacle of the Christian year. Theologically the events of Holy Week – the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ – are at the core of the Christian religion. Specifically, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, defines the Christian Faith. Without Jesus being raised from the dead into new life there would be no Christianity. Every year we remember these world changing events in various worship services through the sacraments, dramatizations, music and symbols. For many pastors and church leaders this is the busiest and sometimes most challenging week of the year. We want the multiple services we plan and prepare and the multiple sermons we preach to do justice to the events leading up to and including Jesus’s death and resurrection. This is serious and sacred ground we tread during Holy Week.
This year Holy Week and Easter held a new, additional challenge for me. On Tuesday of Holy Week I had the difficult task, along with my sister, of telling my 99 year old dad that he could no longer drive his car or live in his home. For many aging adults these two eventualities happen well before the age of 99 years and 9 months, but my dad is a unique exception. He has stayed relatively healthy and very independent and active. He still bowls in two leagues, attends church every Sunday, makes hospital visits and until very recently was working out at his local wellness center every day. He is an inspiration to many people in his community, in his family and beyond. Two recent car wrecks and the diagnosis of congestive heart failure culminated in the difficult decision made by my self and my siblings.
In a week when I typically wrestle with preaching the message of sacrifice, suffering, death and resurrection, I found that wrestling match to be far more personal this year. I felt like I was placed in the position of judge, jury and executioner of my dad’s independence. When my dad entered the hospital one week earlier, he had no idea that he would not be returning to his home where he has resided for the last 38 years. Even though this decision is in his best interest and made out of love for him, the death of one’s independence is never easy. Sitting and looking my dad in the eye and handing down this death sentence, of sorts, was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.
As I prepared for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter services with this personal grief as a backdrop, I was bolstered and encouraged by the knowledge that my dad is a faithful Christian. He knows about resurrection. He knows that whatever he is going through that he is not alone and that Jesus died out of love for him. One of the messages I often preach at Easter is that resurrection occurs throughout our life and not just when we are raised with Christ after our physical death. Every loss, every grief, every death we experience in this life is an ending that marks a new beginning – resurrection, new life.
In the last week I have watched new life springing up all around. I have seen it in the baby birds, the bees on the dandelions, the bluebonnets in a neighbor’s yard, the redbud blossoms and the iris in my yard and the sweet fragrance of lilies that filled the sanctuary on Easter morning. All these signs, in tandem with the joy of Easter worship yesterday, have reminded me that new life is possible even for my almost 100 year old dad. He was able to go bowling last Thursday and even rolled a 171 in one of his games. His new assisted living residence is right next door to a United Methodist Church where he worshipped on Easter. While I know he will probably be grieving the loss of his car and independent living for some time, he is already embracing new life. My dad has said for many years that he wants to live to be 139, but if he leaves the world today it’s been a great ride and if heaven is anything like life here has been, it’s going to be wonderful! Thanks be to God that my dad knows what lies ahead. Because Jesus overcame death and because he lives, we have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to – new life in this life and the next.