Last week I took part in the Red Cross Blood Drive at St. Mary's School. Giving blood is quite relaxing. The staff is exceedingly friendly. First, they screen you for a few things. Bubonic plague, Ebola virus, sex with strange people in strange countries? No, no, and nope, you're good to go.
Then they have to be sure that you are you. They ask multiple times your name and birthday. They ask so often that you begin to wonder if you are you. I remained fairly certain that I was me. Next, you lie on a table kneading a red rubber ball. Finally, you get snacks and juice. It's like spending an hour back in nursery school.
Of course, the inducement is that you are helping someone, somewhere. Recently I got a card from the Red Cross encouraging me to give since supplies are short. It turns out I have AB blood type. As such, I am a "universal donor." I thought that was cool, even if it is merely a genetic fluke.
Giving blood got me to thinking about a different donor, you could say the real universal donor. Next week is Holy Week. On Good Friday we will recall Jesus giving his blood. Christians believe it was the ultimate selfless act. Our faith revolves around the days leading up to that and the implausible event that followed.
There is a certain other holiday that has grown to large prominence in our culture. (Hint: there are only 258 shopping days left till the next one.) Christmas is an important holy day, but Easter is the defining reason we are Christians. The Christmas season fills us with warm, tender feelings. Holy Week is not warm and tender; it is at times confusing, harsh, brutal, and finally triumphant.
Christians are called to engage with Holy Week, to go deep into it. We join the apostles in witnessing the remarkable proceedings. Our lives go on here in 2014, but parallel to that we are transported to Jerusalem two millennia ago. We live and breathe the days leading to the first Easter.
It begins on Palm Sunday with Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem. Thousands line the path. Word has spread of this compelling man. We walk behind the donkey and colt, pushed on all sides by the crowd. This son of a carpenter has reached the peak of his Earthly fame. Many are hoping this man can make a difference. He will. Only not in a way any of them can imagine.
Even during the jubilant entrance into the great city, things are being whispered in the alleys and shadows. Jerusalem is simmering with tensions. The Romans are an oppressive power. The Jews are torn into many factions. Small-minded people with small power find Jesus threatening.
Amazing days follow, chaotic days. Jesus preaches to large crowds, healing, touching lives. He goes to the temple several times. One time he throws over the tables of the money-changers. We are astonished to see this gentle man become so angry. Other times he encounters the high priests. Some of them are transfixed by Jesus; others are unnerved by him. He gives no easy answers to their prying questions.
Soon enough we are with Jesus sharing the Passover meal. Outside the room, it seems as if the city is pressing in upon the small band. Everyone loves Jesus or hates Jesus; no one is neutral anymore. The apostles are scared and would just as soon get out of Jerusalem. It is Holy Thursday. The passion is soon to begin. Jesus is heavy with anxiety. "My time is at hand."
Huddled in that upstairs room at table, Jesus offers a way to eat his body and drink his blood. He is offering a way to remain with them. The apostles don't understand. They can't understand. The bible says they all sang a hymn and went to the Mount of Olives. The longest night is at hand.
The hours pass in a blur. It is as far from the tender Christmas story as one can get. We are with the apostles and share in their utter helplessness. As Jesus is being arrested, one of his followers unsheathes his sword. He makes a desperate attempt to defend Jesus, only to have Jesus softly admonish him. "Put your sword back into its place."
What follows is awful, sickening. In our 2014 world, we are aware of places on Earth where human beings do despicable things to captives or victims. They are hard to read about. All the evil, violent behavior that man is capable of is brought to bear on Jesus. He is whipped, spat upon, crowned with thorns, mocked, stripped. Finally he is made to carry his cross to the hill where he will experience one the most terrible ways of dying ever conceived by twisted men.
The apostles are in despair. Nothing makes sense. This man, who took their lives over, heart and soul, is dead. A dream of a better world appears to have been snuffed out, reduced to ashes.
Finally we come to the end of Holy Week, a glorious and unimaginable end. Utter emptiness turns into unbound joy. It is Easter morning, and Jesus is not in the tomb. Here, right here, in this moment, is where we become Christians. Nothing will ever be the same in our lives, on Earth, and in Creation.
There is no gray area in this. Either Jesus is risen, destroying the power of the devil and sin. Or else he is a crazy man, and Peter and Paul and the rest are about to foist on us the greatest scam in history.
If Jesus has conquered death, we should be transformed by this miracle. I said there is no gray area, but we make one. Many of us are believers, but we are truthfully like the apostle Thomas. We want to believe. But the resurrection doesn't match any other experience we have ever had. We want to put our fingers in the nail holes in Jesus' hand. We are believers, we are doubters, all at once. We are human beings.
We are followers, but sometimes lose sight of the one we follow. We wander off the path for a time. It is good Easter comes around each spring. Experiencing Holy Week, we reorient ourselves. We get back on the path. We remember who we are following, the universal donor.