Scripture for Today: John 13:21-30
I love Holy Week. It’s easily my favorite holiday — if we can call it that — of the year. I was born on Easter Saturday and over the years have become more committed to attending all the Holy Week services.
My familiarity with the Holy Week rhythm is a gift, something I can slip into and let envelop me as I move through the powerful events of the week. However, the challenge of this familiarity is that I sometimes find myself skipping ahead: I really love this part in the Easter Vigil, or I relish the silence after Maundy Thursday, or I “know how the story ends.”
But the think about Holy Week that I, and I imagine we, must remember, is that there really is no end to the story of Jesus. I would even call that heresy. The story of Holy Week is an ongoing, non-linear, recurring narrative that is constantly taking place in our lives.
We praise and welcome long-awaited change.
We are angered and disappointed in what this change requires of us.
We betray those we love.
We learn how to love others in a way that requires death.
It is a living story and for that reason we are called back to it each year in order to notice how it is showing up in our lives at the current moment. We do that most fully by experiencing each day for what it has to offer.
Holy Wednesday remembers the point in the story where Jesus and others, to some extent, start to sense that something is awry. Notice how their attitude is described in this chapter: they are uncertain (v22), troubled to spirit (v21), and no one knows what’s happening (v28).
The study of these words in Greek reveals just how off things were.
The word for uncertain, aporoumenoi, here means: without any clarity at all or at a loss. And, when Jesus is troubled, etarachtne, can literally be translated as “troubled to the Spirit.” His whole being was shaken.
This state of utter confusion is very understandable. Their tight-knit community is undergoing significant change. Jesus, their leader and friend, is predicting his death and destruction. They are challenging the political and religious authorities in unprecedented ways, and no one, not even Jesus (it seems), knows what is next for them.
This is the type of confusion we try to avoid as humans. We build our schedules to safeguard us from aimlessness, we avoid the anxiety of the unknown through comforting (and sometimes harmful) behaviors, we try to use all our mental faculties to figure out solutions.
Our post-enlightenment brains are programed in every which way to shortcut uncertainty and end up at the end of the journey. However, it’s exactly this state of confusion that brings us into the holiest three days of our Christian calendar. Perhaps this is because as much as confusion is disorienting, it is also opening.
On a personal level, what would it look like to stop trying to master our least-desired habits or traits and instead surrendered to their existence? What might happen if we sat a bit more still with the fear of it all? What would we learn about ourselves, others, and God’s role in our healing?
And publicly, what might happen if we were willing to admit that we don’t know how to respond to the level of violence that exists around us? What would it look like to acknowledge that the ills of racism and marginalization are more than, “this political moment?” That despite the best strategic plans, meticulously organized campaigns, and charismatic leaders we still return to our old patterns of oppression? What could emerge if we felt confusion, grief, and bewilderment at the way our political systems betray the most vulnerable communities?
In both cases, how might the willingness to begin from perplexity, rather than resolve, change our experience of redemption? How might we more deeply know wholeness if we actually break down with the disciples and Jesus today? What if, instead of rushing to get through the next few days, we enter in fully aware of just how little we know about what God might be doing with and through our pain?
Stay with me, for I am troubled in Spirit, and the hour is at hand.
Pray: May I welcome confusion.
Reflect: In what ways is confusion present in your life today? What would it require to be more attentive to that experience of unknown?
Art: An Abstract of Grief by Nora Kasten
Audio: I offered this reflection at our cathedral’s Holy Wednesday service. Although it’s not a word for word match, the recording is below if you’d prefer to listen.