The images and stories that begin on the evening of Maundy Thursday and walk us through the great drama of the cross and resurrection are rich and powerful. We hear the splash of water as Jesus washes feet – and the splash of water on Saturday at the Easter Vigil as we experience anew the drama of baptism. We smell the wine that Jesus said he would not drink again until he drinks it with us anew in the joy of God’s reign that gathers all the earth to one rich and abundant table. We taste the bread broken at the Last Supper and broken anew by the risen Christ with his followers. We hear the cry of desolation, “My God, My God, Why has thou forsaken me,” and the voice of the angels declare, “He is not here. Come and see the place where he lay.” We see darkness and light and know that it speaks of death and life, sin and grace, bondage and freedom.
And what does it all mean? Something new is dawning in the world. The peace of the world is shattered by the sound of bombs and the cacophony of shouting voices, but heaven has drawn near to make peace. The death of Jesus is undone. God has vindicated his anointed one. God has declared that he spoke and lived truly. Heaven has sided with the rejected one. Indeed, Heaven has sided with earth. As dangerous and dark as the human heart can be, as bloody as our hands can be, God has come to make peace with us. The transcendent power of grace and life at the heart of all things has come to draw all creation into his peace.
We tell the story carefully over these three days. And the church invites the world to come hear the splash of water, to see the light in the darkness, to touch the wooden cross, and sing the songs of exultation. These liturgies may be ancient, but they are also timeless. They speak not just to the mind but to the senses. They speak not just words but sights and sounds. There is power in the crackle of a fire. There is drama in a single candle in the dark.
Even the unexpected sounds have power. A friend once came to the moment on Good Friday when a wooden cross is to be carried into the sanctuary, only to realize in a panic that the cross had not been assembled. As he grabbed a hammer to hurriedly attempt to remedy the situation, the sound of the hammer on the nails echoed through the sanctuary and changed forever the lives of those present.
This week begins the great mystery. And the church, so often forgotten and ignored, dares to tell its story of a love and faithfulness that took upon itself the sorrows of the world to bring us into the realm of grace. And whether people come or not, we will tell the story. For it is a story for the world, a story for a world that has been watching a father with the limp bodies of his infant children in his arms, a story for a world that debates from comfort what to do with unwanted refugees, a story for a world where fellow human beings lie abandoned and neglected, where men, women and children are hungry and hopeless. It is a story that God has taken up the wood and nails – and still he loves.
This week especially the church invites the world to come, to hear, to share in the wonder and the joy. Perhaps here can begin our healing. Perhaps here can begin in us those first few steps that lead from death into life.