In unprecedented and challenging times like the ones we are currently living in, there is an added challenge of applying the gospel to people’s lives. We want to be relevant. But sometimes the desire to be relevant ends up making things harder for pastors, as they stretch and strain to be creative and try to find ways to make connections to a situation that is unlike any they have ever faced before. What is the best approach this Holy Week?
Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
The key is to keep the main thing the main thing. Start by asking yourself what each service of Holy Week is about. Make sure the things that are true and need to be heard year after year are at the center. Current events and reflection on the pandemic will then doubtless play a role, but they should not be the main focus. I was reminded of this when my small group met on Zoom Tuesday night.
Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
The highlight of the meeting this week was when the leader of our group ended our time together by simply reading an extended passage from John 12, the passage you’re reading now. We didn’t have an elaborate or complicated discussion of the passage. We just listened to him read it and rested for a moment before he closed us in prayer.
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’
These words hit home. They ministered to me. It was one of the most Spirit-filled times I have had with brothers and sisters in Christ since our church closed its doors.
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
If you are a pastor, let me suggest that Holy Week already presents sufficient challenges to you. I remember from my time as a pastor, and I hear every year from friends and colleagues in local church ministry, that Holy Week is the most tiring week of the year for many pastors.
Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
And now you are having to adapt to doing ministry in a new and different way. Many pastors had almost no experience with Zoom, online worship services, and the wide range of other changes that have come in the past few weeks.
Maybe this year is a year to just let the story tell itself and trust the Holy Spirit to do his work in people’s lives.
This is a year to read Scripture in depth. Preach the text, not your experience or your guess about what others are experiencing. It is difficult, if not impossible, to comprehensively explain the meaning of something, especially when you are still in the middle of it.
One of the great things about Holy Week is it comprehensiveness. This week we will be confronted with our tendency to misunderstand God and God’s will for our lives. Our idolatry will be exposed. Scripture confronts us with our desperate need for salvation, especially when we see that everyone abandoned Jesus on his way to the cross. All need to be saved.
And then, thank you Jesus, we get Easter. We won’t get to celebrate in the ways that any of us want. But we need the message of resurrection now as much as ever. In the midst of a global pandemic, we need to hear that Jesus has trampled death by death. That not only sin, but even death itself, has been swallowed up in victory.
If you are a pastor, my hope and my prayer for you is that you would find comfort and confidence in the old, old story. Don’t put pressure on yourself to find a new take on Good Friday, or preach an original Easter Sunday sermon. This is not what your people need. They need to hear the words of truth and promise in Scripture.
On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20)
This season is difficult. It is ok to admit it. I cannot wait for it to be over. And I am frustrated by my complete lack of control over how long it will last. But, someday we will be together again. And Jesus will be among us.
May you lean into the Bible this week. May you keep the main thing the main thing. Do not make the mistake of spending more time talking about Covid-19 than about Jesus during Holy Week. Let the Bible ease your burden in preaching the gospel. After all, the Scriptures, as my own tradition has affirmed, “containeth all things necessary to salvation.”
The Holy Spirit has an astonishing ability to apply the Scriptures to our lives in every season of the soul, even those for which we were thoroughly unprepared.
Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.