Today is Tuesday of Holy Week. According to the Gospel, it is on this day that Jesus returns to Jerusalem where he is confronted by the Temple leadership for his actions the day before (Jesus cleared the temple in what seems to have been a pique of poorly managed anger). The next day the religious leaders justifiably question his authority and look for some answers. However, Jesus offers no apologies or even explanations; in fact, he answers with exasperating double talk. Apparently, the raging anger of the day before is now expressing itself in verbal tantrums.
Jesus is not in a good place. Tuesday was not a good day for him.
That’s funny because for me, Tuesdays are always good. Yeh, I know. This isn’t about me, it isn’t my Holy Week, I’m not Jesus in Jerusalem, and by comparing my Tuesday with Jesus’s Tuesday, I am violating all sorts of theological rules–not to mention, it’s a little weird.
However, as much as you may deny it, we all (Christians, that is) personalize Jesus until we think he is us. Or at the least, he becomes a person in our own 21st century culture. In one sense that’s not such a bad thing– it may be the only way we can relate to Jesus. And if our mandate is to “follow” him, then we are going to have to figure him out for ourselves at least a little.
But to say that my Tuesday of Holy Week is really good and Jesus’s Tuesday of Holy Week was really bad, is a little superficial, but I’m going to go with it anyway. Why is my Tuesday good? Because I am at the church all day on Tuesdays. The church office is a great place to spend one’s working day. I feel energized here. There is a pleasant atmosphere of optimism and hope in this building during the day. I don’t know if Marilyn and Janice feel it, but I certainly do. Everything has an element of joy. On Tuesday, Sunday is still far enough off that I am not in a panic about the sermon. On Tuesday all things are still possible.
Maybe Jesus wanted to feel that way. Maybe he wanted to feel that all things were still possible. The arrest, the betrayal, the cross were potential, future events. Since we know the end of the story, we assume Jesus did also. But maybe not. Maybe he was holding out hope that the “cup may still be taken ” from him.
And yet, even though Jesus was walking around Jerusalem with a dark cloud following him, he continued teaching. In the time between Tuesday of Holy week until Maundy Thursday (our names for the week of course, not Jesus’s), he taught some of his most moving parables: the parable of the wedding banquet, the vineyard, paying taxes. And in the middle of his own personal anguish, he gave us the Great Commandment. In other words, in the face of approaching disaster, Jesus stayed true to his calling.
Some would say that the mainline Protestant church is in the face of approaching disaster. And maybe we are. Nationally, everything about us is diminishing– numbers of members, congregational stability, money, energy, tradition. Some would say we are fast becoming an endangered species. Kenneth McFayden, Dean of The Center for Ministry and Leadership Development at Union Theological Seminary, writes in an articl about today’s church:
The ethos in which many congregations once thrived, regardless of their size, has changed. An era has ended. On some level, many congregations are keenly aware that how they discern and live into the future, not how they engaged in ministry in past years, will determine their viability and vitality.
The one thing Jesus did not do, is leave Jerusalem. He lived into his future–scary as it was. Jesus was onboard his own personal Titanic and yet he stayed. Didn’t even appear to grab a life jacket.
When I read articles like McFayden’s, I have mixed feelings. Mostly I feel frustrated. Why must the present generation of church people stay so cemented to the recent past–particularly the church of the past 40 years? We are always focusing on the past and how wonderful it was and then we sit stuck in that bygone moment.
I agree– it is “the end of an era”. Nothing evokes nostalgia and regret like that particular statement. And is OK to sigh briefly and mourn the passing of the era. However, anymore sentiment over it is pathetic. It is always the end of an era–for someone or something somewhere. Are we not called to serve the church as it is today? And if the Church is facing a time of instability and change, then why are we not rising to the occasion and embracing the opportunity to see what new life this change and instability might bring?
I feel fortunate that I was never a part of the church when the church was thriving– 1945-1985. People tell me that during this time the pews were full, children abounded, and money flowed. I wouldnt know–I spent a lot of those Sundays at Starbucks reading the New York Times and drinking latte. I started attending church in the late 1990’s and was ordained in 2004. As a pastor, I spend a lot of my time building up membership, talking about money, starting programs, developing social media, writing grants, developing community outreach, and doing informal, although nearly constant, strategic planning. All those efforts are squeezed in around preaching, teaching, pastoral counseling, serving the sacraments, visitation, and all the other stuff pastors used to do when the church was thriving and they didnt have to do all the other stuff.
So I would like to ask Dr. McFayden, “what’s the big deal?” Isnt this what being a pastor is supposed to be about?
Jesus had every chance to leave Jerusalem. His was a world in disaster. But he stayed and he died and he rose again. Yes, we serve an institution in decline. But I think we should stay and see where God leads us.
And anyway, it’s Tuesday. All things are still possible on Tuesday.