Holy Week message clear: We are more than conquerors

David Van Kley

Last summer, I spent a month on the road, driving out to the west coast to visit family and friends. I often skipped the interstate highways, taking roads less traveled. I crossed over several mountain passes, including the one heading southeast on the Chief Joseph Highway toward Cody, Wyoming. The long, twisting ascent went on for miles. My truck worked hard to make each grade, its automatic transmission shifting constantly. On one side, the road hugged the mountainside; on the other, it fell off dangerously. I did not dare take my eyes off the road for more than a second–driving demanded all my attention. After a dozen or more switchbacks, I climbed a very steep grade and passed through a narrow rock cut. Suddenly, the whole world lay before me–a stunning panorama of trees, grass, and sun, distant peaks, and beyond, the high plains of Wyoming! The view took my breath away. It was all downhill from there!

This week, Christians reflect on the central mystery of our faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus. The events of Jesus’ last week are lovingly commemorated, ascending in emotional intensity: the entry into Jerusalem, the meal with his disciples, the arrest in the garden, desertion and denial, trial, crucifixion, burial in a borrowed tomb. Each moment demands our complete attention. And then: Easter morning arrives! The women find his tomb empty and tell the story to the disciples and to us! Death is swallowed up by life. Because of Easter, all things become possible.

This Holy Week, our daughter in law is expecting to give birth. It has been a challenging pregnancy, as she has dealt with high blood pressure and has been hospitalized at times. My wife and I know what Tina and Nick have not yet experienced–the pain of labor, slow at first, and then increasing in intensity until finally, the struggle ends in unspeakable joy–the miracle of new life.

Three years ago, a dear friend, Rudy Kemppainen, died. Early in Holy Week, he was taken to the hospital. Each day, his health worsened, as family and friends stood by, keeping our vigil of love. Maundy Thursday came, then Good Friday. He drew labored breaths, his body putting up its final, fierce resistance. On Easter, he breathed his last. To us, it was a relief–to him, the ultimate victory. Death was swallowed up by life.

Recently, Pat Mair of Marquette died, joining her husband, David, who also died three years ago. Dave and Pat were strong advocates for peace and justice in our community. Dave wrote his own eulogy–except it wasn’t really a eulogy, but a gracious statement of thanks to all who had contributed to his life and a bold statement of faith and hope. Dave wrote that he had no idea what happens after we die, but believed what St. Paul once wrote: “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

That finally, is the message of Holy Week.

Editor’s note: The Rev. David Van Kley is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.