It's easy to rip the death and resurrection of Christ out of its biblical context. Yet the events of Holy Week place the event squarely within the narrative of the Gospel in real time. We experience the servitude of Passover, just as the apostles did. We experience the darkness of that Friday with them. And we await the weekend for the Resurrection, just as Jesus' original followers did.
Easter Sunday is, of course, a blow-out celebration of Jesus' resurrection. It's the first Sunday in weeks, if you're following the liturgical year, where there is genuine celebration and joy. Every song includes the phrase "Hallelujah—praise the Lord!" The dark colors of repentance are gone and the sanctuary is bright and colored with spring flowers. Throughout the service, the pastor exclaims "He is risen!" and the congregation responds, "He is risen indeed!"
Celebrating Easter this way may sound overly formal and complicated. And to be honest, it is at first. There's really no other time that someone tells us how we should feel and when. For that reason, the Lenten season and Holy Week can be a bit like driving a car with one under-inflated tire; you're constantly working to keep the car in your lane while it wants to veer out. After all, there are times during Lent when I think, All right, I get it. I've repented; let's get a move on. But the season continues. In the same way, there have been many Easter Sundays when I didn't feel much like celebrating, but the calendar reminds me, Rejoice! He is risen!
There's no real benefit in being somber for its own sake. But in our daily lives, so abuzz with stimulation and celebration, the season leading up to Easter, and the Holy Week observances, creates space to detach from mass-marketing and busyness and to reflect on the death of our Lord. Then, after a season of darkness, the light of Easter shines brighter.
Last year at the close of our Good Friday services, the lights had been extinguished and my soul had been pierced by the sound of driving nails, when the congregation filed out into the winter darkness of silence. A friend of mine found me in the parking lot and asked me if I wanted to go out for a drink. I was disgusted. Where's the mourning? I thought. Good Friday isn't a day to celebrate; it's a day to reflect on the death of the Lord. That's quite a change since high school. But my faith has been richer for it.