Holy Week is upon us. This Sunday is Palm Sunday (western calendar). For many Christians that begins a week of observances that include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter.
Also, this year Pesach or Passover begins Tuesday. Actually it begins Monday night since in the Jewish calendar the day begins at sundown.
Even for “nones” or secular people this is a time of hope rooted in fertility traditions–eggs and bunnies. I do not know what college basketball has to do with this.
But this is all supposed to coincide with the coming of spring in the northern hemisphere. However, in the American heartland, spring is delayed this year. We have just dug out from two major snow storms. The weather guessers tell us another one is due tomorrow.
Weather and seasons become metaphors for spiritual things. In the Narnia series C. S. Lewis imagined a godless world as one where it was always winter and never Christmas. The fact that endless winters do end becomes a symbol for spiritual hope.
I grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana. In winter, when the drifts were deep, we would load hay bails in a pickup truck and carry food to the cattle. Those bails were of hay that had been harvested in summer. Pressure somehow causes the hay at the center of the bails to become warm, even kind of hot.
So when I would break open a bail, I would reach into it and lift a bit of summer to my face. I could feel and smell summer even when the temperature was 20 or 30 below. Each bail contained a promise of the return of summer.
In the Exodus Jews may find a promise of freedom even in a hostile world that again and again has shown an inclination to oppress and kill them. Christian liberation theologians have also found in the Exodus a promise of the end of social and political oppression.
But if, as I maintain, much or most of the injustice in this world is not social or political and comes from natural disasters, cancer, the diseases of children, senility, accidents and so on, then political hope is shallow. It is like weather hope. Yes, the weather will change. And then it will change back. Yes, regime change will happen. Then it will happen again–not always happily.
So at best weather and politics only symbolize our ultimate hope. Thaws and revolutions are like summer hay at the center of the bail. They contain a promise. That promise comes from a God who is stronger than nature or nations. The thing about the Exodus is that God brought it about. The thing about the events of the Christian Holy Week is that God was behind them.
This seems to me to pin point the value of these holidays. They contain a promise backed by God. This seems especially true of the promise of resurrection conceived in Israel’s scriptures and verified in the New Testament.