Friday, April 4, 2014

Interview with Jennifer Snell, author of "Let Us Keep the Feast: Holy Week"

I have a treat for you today, and no, I'm not interviewing myself! :)  Jennifer Snell is the author of the Holy Week chapter of "Let Us Keep the Feast". Please welcome Jennifer to the blog!

the lovely Jennifer Snell
Me: Hi Jennifer - it's so good to have you here today! You’re the author of the Holy Week chapter in "Let Us Keep the Feast", so I wanted to start by asking you: what’s your strongest Holy Week memory, good or bad?

Jennifer: Thanks Jess; it's great to be here. What a good question. Superlatives are hard!  I think I’ll share one of my earliest Holy Week memories, which continues to impact how I experience the Church Year.

When I was old enough to finally understand that Good Friday was a somber day to remember Jesus’ death, I recall telling my mom that I wanted to spend the entire day in silence. No one told me to do this, and I didn’t know then that there was such a thing as a silent retreat. (And perhaps growing up as an introvert in a large family meant that the discipline of silence was something I would choose to tackle!) But I was given permission to spend the day alone, and my memories from that day are of quiet walks through the grass. (I also remember I especially appreciated that year’s Easter basket I received two days later.) I share this memory, even though it’s not dramatic, because it relates to how we— as humans— experience the Church Year. I’ve known other people also who as young children are drawn to the meaning of the holy day and who long to mark it with something special. We don’t have to know much about the Church Year to recognize our desire and our need for it. And now that I’ve learned more about the traditions, I see how they connect to the actions that kids like me are already trying to do.

Me: Wow, Jenn, that's a profound insight. As a follow-up, what do you think the heart of Holy Week is?

Jennifer: Ah, the heart of Holy Week. I love this question. The heart of Holy Week is: MESSIAH. Holy Week shows us who Jesus is: He is the Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the Messiah shows us who God the Father is: He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all. And the Godhead shows us who we are meant to be—partakers of His divine nature! But the special focus of Holy Week is: what kind of Messiah and therefore what kind of God we serve.

In my research for the book, this point really jumped out at me. Jesus wasn’t the ‘Conquering Hero’ everyone was expecting. He let himself be killed at the hands of his enemies! His closest companions couldn’t understand it; Why would God let this happen? Who was Jesus after all? The Messiah wasn’t supposed to die, right? There were so many puzzle pieces to fit together, and we see Jesus’ followers struggling with these questions even on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus had a lot of explaining to do, and one of the tools he used is: The Scriptures. As Jesus walked his disciples through the Scriptures [while on the road to Emmaus] he proved that God’s plan all along had been for the Messiah to be a humble servant. The disciples had to adjust their view on how God would redeem the world, but once they did they realized that God’s deliverance in Christ was truly… revelatory. The Crucified Messiah was acquainted with grief and carried our sorrows. There’s no greater love than this. It’s not just that Jesus is the Triumphant Messiah but that He is our generous Messiah who loved us to the uttermost. We follow a King who humbled himself even unto death on a cross; he held nothing back. We serve a God who raised up Christ from the dead and who gives life to us through His Spirit. “Love so amazing, so divine...” That’s why Holy Week is worth celebrating.

Goodness, I can go on about the heart of Holy Week for a long time! The implications are forever, but the ones that compel me these days have to do with how we approach pain. Suffering is hard to come to grips with, and the passion of Jesus which we remember during Holy Week is heart-breaking. But it’s precisely here, in the worst that can happen, that Christ has been and has come through, all for us. He understands; we’re not alone in our pain. In Holy Week we see the extent of God’s love, a love that breaks the power of sin and death. Christ’s death and resurrection have proved that God’s reign is ultimate. God wins and He is Good. That’s why we can live through suffering with hope, and that’s why we have so much to celebrate in the Church Year. OK; I’ll stop now.

Me: Oh wow, there’s so much to stop and meditate on in your answer! That Holy Week shows us who God is, and thus who we are . . . and that God himself understands our suffering from the inside. What a gift!
Your understanding of the season seems so profound to me that I’m afraid my next question might not have a good answer – but I’ll ask it anyway! Did anything surprise you while you were researching Holy Week traditions?

Jennifer: OH my, Yes. There was a TON that was new to me. This book project was the first time I had ever really plunged into the question: Why is it that there are more details about Jesus’ Passion in the Gospels than for any other time period in his life? That’s what Holy Week is all about. What was it about his death-- and therefore his resurrection from death-- that was so significant to his first followers? Because of their understanding of these events, which we follow during Holy Week, such rich celebrations grew in the early church. Our church year begins with the Advent season, but the story of the church year starts with the development of Holy Week and Easter. For example, the traditions of Holy Week as we still practice them today date back at least to the 4th century! We know this because a dear woman named Egeria (she was probably a nun from Spain) kept a diary from her pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 300s. Her travelogue has heart-warming detail about all the services she participated in, at the original locations where Jesus lived. She made me laugh and cry as I read her first-hand account, which is among the earliest sources we have for the history of Christian worship. Her stories are inspiring and really cool.

So cool, in fact, that the first Good Friday service I attended after I discovered Egeria was unlike any I had experienced before. For the first time, I wasn’t just trying to feel somber about the crucifixion: instead I had wide eyes through everything I witnessed. I couldn’t stop thinking: Hey, we’re saying the same prayers Egeria described! Wow, we’re copying what they did in Jerusalem when they honored the wood of Jesus’ cross! So that’s why we do what we do! I had known before that all of our worship traditions mean something, but it makes such a difference to know where it comes from and why it’s all relevant.

Me: Wow! Now I’m looking forward to Holy Week more than ever!  And now, to close, here’s my last question: which part of the chapter was your favorite part to write?

Jennifer: Goodness, what do I say? I loved preparing the music section. I wanted the list of music alone to be worth the purchase price of the book! But I guess my favorite was weaving, all the way throughout, the significance of why Holy Week matters. It’s about the deciding event of history, the turning point of the year, and the crux of our lives. Our book title is a quote from Scripture, but the part that comes before “Therefore let us keep the feast” is: “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us.” That’s Holy Week.

Me: Love it! Thanks so much for being here today, Jenn!

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