Approaching Holy Week // M-Note 3.26.2021

“Jesus’ death is not the end of the story; it is the beginning”
 
This past week, my family left town for a few days to spend some time together. It was restorative for me and a gift to be outdoors and away from our phones for awhile. But the world didn’t stop. During that time our country was rocked by two separate mass shootings, one in Atlanta, GA and the other in Boulder, CO. Each shooting had its own complexities.

The shooting in Atlanta immediately demanded conversation about anti-Asian bias in this country, warped views on women and sex, misogyny, and violence. In Colorado, we witnessed another senseless act of gun violence, reviving conversations about our country’s near obsession with firearms and the right to carry them. All the while there is a crisis at our border where families are seeking to escape violence in their own countries. This same month, and closer to home, 9 year old Caion Greene was shot here in St. Louis while riding with his parents to deliver food to his grandmother. Caion died on the way to the hospital, the seventh child murdered in our city this year. Caion was part of our community at The Gathering, having gone through our Literacy Project at Peabody Elementary School.

As I sat down to write about these events, I was overwhelmed by the emotion and trauma that each one raises. I spoke about the shootings in Atlanta this past week on my podcast but I am reminded how insufficient an article, sermon, podcast, or social media post is to address the pain, injustice, and suffering around us. Words seem so vapid, and social media posts often feel too performative.  This week I found myself just crying, especially as I read the news of Caion. There is so much violence, so much pain, so much death. We cannot escape it. We have to fight the temptation to ignore it. We must not give in to it. The most honest thing we can do is face it, to be honest about the sin and suffering, and to rage against all that robs people of life.
 
In this context, we prepare for Holy Week. This weekend is Palm Sunday, marking the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life. He enters Jerusalem to great crowds and cheering followers. Thursday, he eats for the last time with his followers and by Friday he is arrested, abandoned by those same followers, convicted, tortured, and hung on a cross as a criminal. By Friday night he is dead, and buried in a tomb. It is a week of Jesus’ life filled with so much violence, so much pain, and so much death. We cannot escape it. We have to fight the temptation to ignore it. We must not give in to it. We have to go through it.

On Palm Sunday, we will finish our series Testify. I will be talking about Mary Magdalene and the other women that were with Jesus until the very end, after everyone else had abandoned him. On Maundy Thursday, we will remember the events of the upper room as Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, gave them a new commandment (maundy comes from a Latin word for commandment), and shared a last meal with them. On Friday we will remember the suffering, final words, and death of Jesus. All of these worship opportunities help us to confront not just the violence and death in Jesus’ time, but in our own time as well. It is critical that we do this work, if we are to be people of hope. For just as Easter doesn’t come apart from Good Friday, authentic hope only comes on the other side of confronting honestly our sin, injustice, and pain. Jesus’ death is not the end of the story; it is the beginning.

So this week I invite you to worship with me, as collectively we fight the temptation to escape, ignore, or give in to the sin and death around us. Instead let us move through it, holding on to the hope that God is able to save and redeem us and the world we live in. That is the hope of Easter. All the details for Holy Week worship can be found on our website.
 
I miss seeing you all but I am encouraged by the commitment you have to Christ, to the church, and to one another. God is doing tremendous things in The Gathering. If you missed it, check out the video we showed last weekend in church celebrating new people who have found Jesus through our church from all over the world.

Hold on to hope, and I look forward to worshiping with you Sunday.
 
Peace,
 
Matt
 
P.S. Easter Sunday is April 4th, and we will have a powerful online worship experience. The more I work on it, the more excited I am. The music will be incredible, the message memorable, a testimony that will inspire you, and there may even be dancing involved. Because geography doesn’t matter, I hope you will invite your friends and family to experience Easter at The Gathering, whether they live in St. Louis or around the world. You can find all the details for Easter here, including worship times (starting early at 7am and going all day). You will be receiving an email invitation that you can forward to others, and share it on social media as well.

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