We carry things into holy spaces.
Two people carry the water and wine up and into the area around the altar to be given to the deacon as they set the table for the Eucharist. The women carry the myrrh to the tomb. The friend carries the urn of ashes into the church for the funeral and places it on a small table by a candle for the great leave-taking. The cook carries the food into the kitchen for its transformation onto laughter and candles, music and joyfulness. The dog carries his stick into the yard for the play-time in which he and his hairless-biped-friend make their life-love together. The Bishop carries her cross into the board room on her chest, heavy metal and a reminder of the suffering of the humans she will face in that meeting. The mother carries life into life, complete with attendant screams, blood and passionate connection.
We carry things into holy spaces.
And we will carry them into Holy week. And we should. Holy week is a space into which things may be carried. But too they must be left there when we transition into the glory of Easter. As soon as those trumpets blast, we lust let them go and not look back on them.
And that is the hardest bit of Holy Week. Stepping into the recovery of addiction to our suffering is so very hard. Many of us have had deep hurts in our lives and most of us can point to that one thing, that one hurt which seems to threaten to define us to ourselves and perhaps even to the world around us. Many of us carry a great darkness into holy spaces but then, sadly, we carry them back out, unable to leave them behind, unable to let them go.
When I lived in Haiti, the hardest thing about the baby clinics for mothers was getting the mothers to let go of their dead children. That passion was so dense and that grief so heavy that unfurling their fingers on those tiny hands and unfolding those arms from those cooling bodies was just too hard to accomplish without great love and tenderness around them from others. It is hard to let go of our suffering. And I talk to people all the time who have had great hard things happen to them. And they carry them like a card in a wallet. “Here is my ID. This is what defines me. What you need to know about me is on this card.” And churches do that too. And dioceses. And nations. And families.
The collective story of a group can so easily define a place and keep it spinning in a vortex of its own pathology. “We once had this Dean who….” And when you look up at their faces in Dagwell Hall you know that indeed the stories are true. But here’s the thing. That is not the only truth. There are other truths. Other stories.
Suffering either imprisons or it opens. If it imprisons, then the story of your suffering encloses you like bricks without a doorway. But the Gospel tells us that there is another way. When Jesus encounters the blind man he asks “What do you want?” We can think that a strange question. “Well, um…the guy needs to be healed of blindness….um….duh!” Really? Because were that the case, Jesus would have asked a different question. Many of us do not want to be healed because we do not want to let go of the suffering which we use to define us against a frightening world.
But what if we let Holy Week take our suffering and use it to open us up rather than enclose us? What if we are being invited out of the Downton-Abbey-glamor and into the fresh vulnerability of the nearby dew-draped forest beyond those elegant lawns? What if the suffering is used not to enshroud us in our little story of “this horrible thing happened to me or to us” but rather to open us up to a new kindness and a new compassion which takes Easter out of a church and into the messy world, into our evenings with family, into our board rooms and into our vestry work?
Suffering can so easily be our addiction. Or at least, one of them. That thing to which we are attached. That thing we cannot let go of. “Ok, so that happened. Yes. It was horrible. Sorry. Now, let’s go. Leave it behind. You need those arms to carry kindness and they are busy carrying your suffering.” What if that is our new story?
Holy Week may be that into which we bring our suffering. Yes. But it can be that in which we leave it behind. But that choice takes great courage; even while it offers great reward.