Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited . . . And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
In both personal conversation and public discourse, I’ve noticed that we find ourselves looking back on past trauma or struggle to help make sense of what’s happening now. Sometimes past memories are harmful, as old wounds surface with fresh pain. But it can also be both helpful and reassuring to remember how we’ve come through hard times before, and to learn from past mistakes.
So it is that we’re learning more about the 1918 influenza pandemic and how our families endured the Great Depression. Memories of the weeks after the 9/11 attacks are surfacing, and how long our collective attention was focused on the tragedies of that day and all that followed. My colleague, Paula Clark, a native of Washington, DC, told me that her touchstone is the assassistion of Martin Luther King, Jr., and how the city was forever changed. In our personal lives, we’re talking about the times we endured long stretches of unemployment or illness, separation from loved ones, and grief.
We’re doing what human beings have always done; to paraphrase the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, we’re living forward but looking backwards for understanding and meaning.
For Christians, this Sunday marks the beginning of our holiest of seasons, known as Holy Week. In our memories and rituals we’ll retrace the events of the last week of Jesus’ life, inviting God to speak to us, in our situation now, through them. The week culminates in a joyful affirmation that not even death can separate us from the love of God revealed to us in Jesus, but we will also take the time to ponder each moment of a truly heartbreaking story. In doing so, we open ourselves to God’s solidarity with us in suffering.
So while we won’t be gathering in our churches for these important days, I encourage you to take part in them from your homes, via technology or in the quiet of your own prayer. Given all that’s happening in and around us, I am persuaded God will speak to you through these ancient stories in ways that will give you the strength and courage, comfort and reassurance you need. That is my prayer.
As a colleague I admire observed, we are writing the story now that we and those who come after us will one day tell about how we made it through. Like our forebears, we’ll have stories of grief and endurance, sin and grace, suffering and solidarity, death and resurrection. But it’s not our story alone, for we are not alone. God is here through it all. We look back to the events of Holy Week for meaning, as we live forward by grace.