Something gets lost when Holy Week becomes #HolyWeek. But you might as well prepare yourself for what’s coming–the holy hashtags are already starting to trickle onto social media and you can expect a flood when the weekend arrives. How should we think about encountering God in a time when the sacredest days transform into trending topics?
For this, I enlisted A.J. Swoboda, a pastor, professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and author of A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience. Drawing inspiration from what Jesus’ disciples must have experienced during the first Holy Week, he offers reflections on how to hope in times of uncertainty, ambiguity, and doubt. Here we discuss how Holy Week–even in the digital age–can be a time of spiritual renewal.
RNS: In a couple of sentences, how does viewing Christian spirituality through Holy Week change our thinking?
AS: [tweetable]Christians are very selective about the parts of God they are willing to love.[/tweetable] Of course, Holy Week as we’ve come to call it, has three ultimate days—Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday. Each of these days is of great importance for our understanding of the Christian faith. Jesus died a painful death, sat in a tomb for a day, and then resurrected to new life. I’m convinced that most Christians tend to pick and choose the one or two days that they like. But we are invited into the whole weekend—not just our favorite part. The Christ-follower must be open to the pain of faith, the awkwardness and uncertainty of Saturday, and the joyous victory of Sunday. Christianity is not a movement of preference, and experiencing Jesus fully as he is to be demands that we enter all elements of his passion.
RNS: You’re book is called A Glorious Dark, and you’re talking here about topics such as awkwardness and doubt. Is your approach to Easter weekend kind of a downer?
AS: Yes, but the gospel’s portrayal of the initial Holy Week was quite downer. One of the disciples, on that first Saturday, went to Pilate to get the body of Jesus. He carried it. Heavy. Hard. Smelly. Odious. And Joseph, they called him, placed the body of Jesus in the dusty earth of a tomb. Now, did Joseph ever think when he joined Jesus’ movement that part of discipleship would have been about carrying the body of his Lord? I don’t think so.
What a downer. But it is appropriately down because Joseph didn’t do so for no reaason. He did it because he had hope—hope in the resurrected Lord. If I’m being a downer, I’m simply trying to capture the original emotions of the disciples; emotions, I’m convinced, we have no permission to ignore as Christians in the 21st century.
RNS: If Christians want to celebrate Good Friday with their friends and/or families in ways other than a church service, what do you recommend?
AS: Regardless of where one celebrates Good Friday (or any part of Holy Week), I think it silly to mourn anyone’s death isolated and all alone. Death should make friends. But for the person who would like to do so outside the context of an actual church service, try going to a memory care facility in your area and spend time with someone who has been forgotten. Spend a moment with someone who has forgotten that they are forgotten. And in doing something like that, you will find the joy of Jesus.
RNS: Good Friday and Easter Sunday sort of steal the show. What is the importance of celebrating Holy Saturday, practically speaking?
AS: Holy Saturday–that awkward day of questions, doubt, and uncertainty–has been photoshopped out of some Christian calendars. But so much of faith is holy uncertainty. My favorite preachers refuse to iron everything out. When given the chance, they leave the wrinkles, a few kinks, a bump here or there in the road so that I would have to iron out, flatten out, and drive over the road of truth myself. The Japanese theologian Koyume once wrote that Americans love the cross so long as it’s conveniently given to us in the size of a lunch-pale and is equipped with an easy-grip handle. I guess I don’t like easy-grip, convenient preaching nor am I inclined toward easy-grip, convenient love toward God. Holy Saturday gives me a context for the difficulty of faith.
RNS: You talk about entering the “awkward silence of Saturday’s silence.” How can Christians participate in this?
AS: In silence, God is often the loudest. While some may well disagree, I’m persistently confronted by a Bible that harps on and on about silence as an integral task for the person seeking God. “Be still and know…” sort of stuff.
A child psychologist who attends the church I pastor told me that the average 14-year-old she works with spends on average five hours in front of a screen—texting, Facebooking, using the internet, gaming. I asked her what she thought of that. Her response, although heartbreaking, made he chuckle nervously: “Job security,” she said. Her point was that children were being set up for a lifelong dependence on psychological work.
Kids were created to get bored. I’m not saying that anyone who is in front of a screen a good deal of their day will need a shrink. But, I am saying that God didn’t create us to always be “connected.” Silence is a gift, not a curse. In silence, we face God. We face ourselves. We face Jesus.
RNS: What’s the most creative Easter celebration you’ve heard of or experienced?
AS: I was told there is a church in Portland that gets together on Sunday morning and begins Easter celebrations by sitting around and telling jokes—knock-knock jokes, bad jokes, rabbi and pastor and priest jokes. Turns out, it is an Eastern Orthodox church in our city and they do this to replicate and remind the congregation of the utter hilarity the first disciples would have felt when they heard about resurrection.
Resurrection is insanely silly, when the rational mind considers it. But it is real. And it should smack us every year as the cornerstone of our faith. Resurrection really, really, really happened. Not in a “in our hearts sort of way.” Resurrection—the kind where rigor mortis actually stopped taking over a body—happened 2,000 years ago. And it will happen again.