By The Rev. Marek Zabriskie
He will be laid to rest today after his unexpected death. He was our neighbor in Philadelphia, a good man, a fine father, a loving husband, and a successful businessman.
He had overseen the supply chain for one of America’s largest companies and switched jobs to join a startup that was focusing on improving the environment. He wanted to make an impact.
Then two weeks after surgery for a torn ACL, he had a blood clot and died quicker than it takes to clean your kitchen. The paramedics did their best.
Last year, I had invited him to write a reflection, two questions and a prayer for my latest book focusing on creation care. I wanted a businessman’s perspective among those who reflected on what Scripture says about creation and caring for it. He declined, explaining that he really wasn’t a person of faith. I respected his decision.
He wasn’t a reader or a writer. His mind worked in mathematical ways. He didn’t have that spiritual gene that causes a person to seek, see, and quest for God. Many people lack it. They cannot be blamed. Some folks are lazy. That is different.
I offered to help his spouse plan a graveside burial service. She welcomed that. I sent a list of prayers, poems and readings that could speak to an unreligious family about the man that they adored. When she told me that the funeral was set for today, I replied, “It’s Maundy Thursday. I don’t think that I could get to Philadelphia and back in time to lead our worship service.”
“What’s Maundy Thursday,” she asked. “It’s part of Holy Week,” I replied. “What’s that,” she inquired. I wasn’t sure how to respond. We spoke the same language but inhabited different worlds. “It’s the holiest week of the Christian Year,” I finally said.
What is this Holy Week? Why does it matter? Why can’t we all just be spiritual and not religious? What difference does it make?
Well, I’ve been a priest for 32 years, have buried hundreds of people and helped countless families grieve the loss of a loved one. What I’ve discovered is that the people who have not taken time to develop their religious faith fair far worse at death, their own or someone else’s.
They have no tools to process death, no hope awaiting them, no spiritual leader to turn to, no community of faith to surround them, no rituals, no words, no actions, no tradition, no God.
They are like someone two months from retirement who decides to start a 401K plan. It’s too late. Retirement will be grim.
The best way to know what Christianity means is to walk through Holy Week and listen with the ear of the heart to the lessons, the music, the sermons, and reflect prayerfully on the Passion of Christ – Jesus’ work on the cross. The crucifixion surpasses comprehension. It is a holy mystery. Anyone who offers an easy explanation will mislead you.
How we can humans really comprehend God with our finite minds? Fortunately, we have four gospels that tell the story of how Jesus lived and died and was resurrected. They promise His followers that if we believe in Him and follow Him the gates of death will never hold us and the doors of heaven will open to us. I truly believe that. I hang my priesthood upon it.
Tonight, is Maundy Thursday – the first day of the Triduum – the three holy days leading up to Easter morning. This evening, we commemorate the Last Supper, that sacred meal where Jesus broke bread with his disciples for the final time before his death. It was a Passover celebration, but this time Jesus said that he would be the pascal lamb offered up for the sins of humanity – sins like Russian invading Ukraine, raping, torturing, and killing innocent civilians in Bucha.
Each human is capable of becoming barbarian. Jesus didn’t die because humans are nice people. He died because there is something deprived in humanity. He washed the feet of his disciples in a demonstration of servant ministry and then instituted a sacred meal that has spiritually nourished and given hope to billions of people for two thousand years.
On Good Friday, we commemorate his death upon the cross. Jesus hung for three hours in agony. Christ Church Greenwich is one of the few churches in our region that still offers the traditional three-hour Good Friday service in honor of Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity.
In the first hour, our choir will sing the Lamentations, a hauntingly beautiful piece of sacred music that allows listeners to be drawn into the Passion story. This will be followed by seven brief reflections from Scripture by the Very Rev. Andrew McGowan – dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and one of the finest preachers in the Anglican Communion.
He will preach not on the traditional Last Seven Words of Jesus, but on the last seven words said by witnesses to his death. It will be the first time that these sermons have been delivered. It’s not to be missed. During the last hour, we will offer the traditional Good Friday liturgy.
On Holy Saturday, we hold the Easter Vigil, the oldest worship service of the Christian Year, which was celebrated long before Christians marked the birth of Christ at Christmas. This is the most mystical service of the year. It begins by the lighting of the New Fire outdoors. The Paschal Candle is processed down the aisle of a darkened church while the cantor sings the Exultet.
Eventually, everyone is given a lit candle. We listen to Scripture readings, have a sermon, and witness baptisms, ring bells and flood the building with light and joy fills our hearts on this the first service of Easter.
Finally, there is Easter morning – that uplifting service, full grandeur, music, color and glory. It is like a spiritual Super Bowl, celebrating Christ’s victory over death and his glorious Resurrection.
Taken together, these four days equip worshippers with a theological language and framework that prepare us for living today and facing our death and the loss of those we love. Each time we participant in Holy Week we make a significant investment in our spiritual 401K plan.
These days give us hope that in the midst of suffering and loss and things that we cannot understand God is mysteriously at work making all things new. Isn’t it time for you to invest yourself spiritually. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”