Life is Not a Sitcom: Reflections on Holy Week

Why does Holy Week matter?

I’ll tell you why it matters to me: I am a child of the 80’s. And I need Holy Week to help me remember that life is not a sitcom.

21st century parents (like me!) worry a lot about something called “screen time.” We carefully monitor our children’s media intake and feel a not-so-secret shame about the amount of time they might spend with electronic devices when compared to the amount of time they might spend with a book.

20th century parents knew no such shame. As nearly as I can recall, I spent most of the Reagan administration sitting too close to the television. And I was not consuming child-specific programing. (That was relegated to Saturday mornings). I was watching sitcoms: Cheers. The Cosby Show. Family Ties. The Wonder Years. Even more than my fair share of Three’s Company.

So I speak from some experience when I say: The 80’s Sitcom is not a sophisticated medium. (No one will ever mistake Growing Pains for Breaking Bad). The characters are overly-broad; the punchlines tend toward the cheap and predictable. And excessive exposure to 80’s sitcoms can instill a kind of impatience in the viewer.  The genre presents presented life’s problems in perfectly manageable portions. Whether it is Vanessa Huxtable’s decision to sneak off to Baltimore to see her favorite heavy metal band (!) or Alex P. Keaton’s brief (but harrowing!) descent into OTC diet pill abuse, 80’s sitcoms could solve any problem in 22 minutes flat. Parenting issues? Shoplifting? Substance abuse? Problem solved! Roll credits.

I can see now how this may have failed to prepare me for adulthood.

Real life problems seldom seem so simple.  Real problems prove messy: stubborn, sticky, long-term. And they almost never resolve themselves before I run out of popcorn.

But this is why I need Holy Week. In the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, the church recalls the last week of Jesus’ life, a week full of paradox, pain and ambiguity.  Greeted on Monday as a conquering hero, by Friday Jesus will die forsaken and alone.  In the days in-between, he is betrayed, abandoned and abused.  His problems do not yield to quick and simple solutions.  They lead him on a long journey, culminating in the cross.

Thank God.

In a world increasingly impatient with our problems—in a world that has little time and less interest in the pain, ambiguity and mess of life—Holy Week reminds us that Jesus understands.  Jesus knows just how ugly, how painful, how stupid life can sometimes be.  Because he has been there, he can help us in our weakness; he will stick with us in seasons of pain. Jesus is with us for the long haul.

Holy Week reminds us that there are no shortcuts in life.  The path to the empty tomb leads right through the cross. To really celebrate Easter, I need the shadows of Maundy Thursday, the darkness of Good Friday, the silence of Holy Saturday.

I need to make this journey, at least once a year. Thank God, Plymouth Church is here to help.

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