The concept of a "Holy Week" is pretty new to this girl, raised Protestant and a new Catholic. Protestants don't make too big of a deal about Good Friday - but certainly do about Easter. So, last week when several of my students informed me that they wouldn't be in class today because it's Good Friday, I wasn't sure how to respond.
Growing up, Good Friday was an optional evening service. Granted, my family almost-always attended and that observance was very special. I can strongly remember Good Friday services, whereas I struggle to remember most others. Growing up, the only time off you needed for the observance was from about 7-8:30 pm. So, as my students requested that day off from class, I wondered, "How is your observance different from mine?"
I admit that even as a Catholic (though, one year in makes me still more familiar with the 'old way' not the 'new'), I didn't quite understand why these students would need to miss my class at 10 am. I read the bulletin; I could see that most of the "festivities" didn't really start until noon. I was skeptical. Were they just trying to skip out? (I should admit, though, these are some of my better students, so I was fairly sure they weren't just trying to skip.)
Enter: Holy Thursday. (aka my Holy Week Epiphany)
Growing up, the Thursday before Easter was just a Thursday. In high school, we had a new pastor who brought us "Maunday Thursday," and we'd have a great big feast at church (with some amazing peanut butter pie) and usually have a re-enactment of 'The Last Supper.' Once at college, the church I belonged to treated the Thursday before like...Thursday.
Even last year as a month-in-Catholic, I didn't attend Holy Thursday service. Why? Because I was swamped? Had things to do? Because my 30-year-engrained Protestant brain didn't recognize the significance? (yeah, that one)
For my non-Catholic friends out there (which are most of you), let me give you a little insight into Maunday Thursday (aka Holy Thursday). The term "maunday" is derived from the "mandate" that Jesus gave to his disciples at the last supper - love one another, as I have loved you; as I have served you, and humbled myself to wash your feet, so you should do the same for others. We also recognize on Holy Thursday the institution of the gift of the Eucharist - the body and blood, broken and shed for us.
As I worshipped, contemplated, and participated in the mass last night, I was struck by the invitation Jesus extends to us to partake of Himself, to become one with Him, to share with Him all things. Our old testament reading was from Exodus describing the time of the passover. The Israelites were to partake, but be ready to be called to go at a moment's notice. I thought, "How prepared am I to go when called? I need to be prepared to listen and go whenever I partake in the eucharist."
As I prepared to receive, I thought of Jesus - prior to being nailed to the cross - his body bleeding, whipped, bruised - broken - for me. His blood was being poured out for me. Now, He has invited me to share in this; in Him; in His act of love.
What does He ask in return?
At the end of service, our choir sang these words, "Remain with me; watch with me; stay with me," over and over again. With each strain, the words seemed to plead stronger, "Watch with me, stay with me." This was Jesus request of His friends. In His final hours, He asked his friends to just be near him; be close; watch; be here; be with me.
Can I be a friend to Jesus? Can I stay near him in his hour of need and suffering?
...or are the cares and duties and responsibilities of my life pulling me away?
For today, can I watch, and pray, and stay?
In that moment, I got it. I understand the desire to use Good Friday as a chance to block out the other distractions and focus on our Lord; to be near Him in His suffering; to watch; to pray.
May God bless you as you ponder His sacrifice of love for you today.