One of the joys of having traveled to various parts of the globe is to observe and learn from different Christian traditions. To see the varying cultural expressions of Christian faith enriches my own understanding of Christ’s transforming work in my life as I see it through the prism of a new culture. There are remarkably different emphases given to various parts of Holy Week. A few simple, but important areas of emphasis follow.
At the time of this writing, it is Thursday of Holy Week, Maundy (Commandment) Thursday. I had never even heard that term until the late 1980s. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church and everything was focused on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It was a joy to welcome a new point of emphasis during Holy Week as we celebrated with the remarkably rich scriptures which occurred on Thursday of that week in Jesus’ life. We found new significance for communion as we celebrated with the apostles and saints across the ages. We spent more time in quiet contemplation, in reflection, in confession and in repentance. After this experience, each Maundy Thursday rings with Jesus’ words, “ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. John 13:34-35 My sporting friends who embrace Maundy Thursday find its benefit as they build deeper relationships with their coaching colleagues, with their players, and among their teammates.
In the Western Church, the normal focus of Holy Week is Good Friday. The atonement for sin is the major emphasis. We heartily sing, “The Old Rugged Cross” and other cross themed hymns and focus on Jesus’ sacrificial death in our place. The ministry with which I serve gives us Good Friday as a paid holiday. For that I am thankful. The university where I serve the sporting community is very secularized, but when I stand in a conspicuous place on campus on Good Friday with a twelve foot tall cross, hand out nails with a card attached, or simply read scripture and pray, it is received well because it’s Good Friday. The Christian sporting community that emphasizes Good Friday will focus on the grace of God in Jesus as experienced when their sin is exposed by the passions of sport. We find the mercy of God sufficient as we remember that Jesus has covered our sin and shame, and has restored us to right relationship with our Heavenly Father.
I was in my late thirties and reading Phillip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew, before I had any grasp of how other cultures viewed Jesus. Further study revealed the fact that the Eastern Church, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and others, places more emphasis on the resurrection, Easter Sunday, than on Good Friday. For them, the emphasis is on Jesus having risen from the dead, His victory over sin and death. The obvious implication is that we are in Christ and therefore free from the power of sin. Rather than simply living in a cycle of sin, confession, repentance, returning to sin, and repeating the cycle. The Eastern Church emphasizes victory over sin through Jesus’ power over sin because of the resurrection. My sporting friends who embrace Easter Sunday find that they live in sport with joy, freedom, and shameless enjoyment of their lives.
Regardless of your faith tradition, please embrace the beauty, the pain, the passion, the silence, and the glorious victory of Holy Week. Please also welcome the sportspeople you serve into your experience of Jesus’ love, grace, and mercy. This weekend is the perfect time.