I know in recent years I have become a bit of stick in the mud when it comes to Holy Week. While I always relished the increased attendance and enthusiasm of Easter Sunday I also have been known to make snide comments to a few confidants about the trend to skip straight from the high of Palm Sunday to the even higher high of Easter. It seems that many in our culture pretend that Good Friday is just a typographical error on the calendar.
I have always been a sensitive type, but without leveling too much guilt I have also been known to admonish people, “If you really want the Easter experience you have to be willing to slog through the despair of Good Friday.” Without Good Friday Easter is just “sugar and spice and everything nice.”
I love Holy Week—all of it! The expectation and hopefulness of Palm Sunday, the intimacy of Maundy Thursday, the deep, dark despair of Good Friday and the stunning ecstatic appearance of resurrection life on Easter. I used to believe, before I knew any better, that the Holy Week narrative was just a story. I have come to appreciate that it is a mirror for life.
Another person whom I think sees the Holy Week narrative as a reflection of our lives is The Boss—the rock and roll legend, Bruce Springsteen. A few years ago I preached a sermon series on the faith of our contemporaries. I was serving a congregation that was comprised of members who spanned the theological spectrum from evangelical conservative to progressive. Trying to give expression to the variety of spiritual orientations I chose as my subjects the Rev. Billy Graham, President Jimmy Carter, Mother Teresa, the poet, Mary Oliver, and finally The Boss himself.
I had already had an intuitive sense that Springsteen poetically and lyrically played with the same themes that we often preach from the pulpit—despair, hope, faith, love, and justice. What I wasn’t prepared for was how one his albums would feel like it was lifted straight out of the gospel narrative. When I listened to his 2002 album “The Rising” I found myself exclaiming out loud, “This is just a regurgitation of the Good Friday/Easter story!”
As I researched it more I was struck by how much this album was the product of our culture’s yearning for Easter in the midst of a Good Friday experience. The album was released within months of 9/11. Springsteen recounts the moment he knew he had to do this, saying, “A guy drove up next to me, rolled down his window and said, ‘We need you now.’”
Springsteen has been called an American poet, prophet and priest and this encounter supports how many people look to him in the same way our church members look to their pastor. In times of grief and tragedy our priests, pastors and prophets are called upon to speak the message of Easter—sometimes from the pulpit, sometimes from the street corner, and sometimes from the rock and roll stage.
I won’t go into all the lyrics that point to “The Rising” being a contemporary reflection of our Holy Week narrative (seriously, with a name like “The Rising” is there a need to!). But just a quick review of the song titles reveals how much this Catholic boy was shaped by the narrative of Holy Week—Lonesome Day, Into the Fire, Waitin’ on a Sunny Day, Countin’ on a Miracle, Empty Sky, Worlds Apart, Mary’s Place (a veiled reference to Jesus’ mother and the Kingdom of God), My City of Ruins, The Rising, and Paradise. Every title has Good Friday and Easter allusions.
While Springsteen, when asked, just smiles but never confirms the religious parallels, writer Jeffrey Symynkywicz writes of “The Rising” that it is “an Easterlike anthem arising out of the darkness and despair of September 11, a national Good Friday experience if there ever was one.”
To all the priests, pastors, poets and prophets out there this Holy Week this is your moment. We need you now.