On Sunday during Communion we sang a familiar worship chorus in which the second verse begins, “Into the river I will wade. There my sins are washed away.” I had always thought of that river as the river of baptism, but it struck me as we sang that the river we wade into is also the river of suffering, and death. It was Palm Sunday, after all, the beginning of Holy Week, and death was on my mind.
While the people around me sang, I tried not to cry. My life is really good right now, as good as it’s ever been, so why I was crying I don’t know. But the ache in my chest was real, an ache of longing and sadness that could only be expressed in tears.
Since I couldn’t sing, I watched the choir. I saw a woman whose beloved dog was killed by a motorist last fall. I saw a man whose wife of two years is extremely ill with cancer. I saw his wife, her hands raised in praise. And I saw a man who was in a near fatal bike crash two years ago, restored to life.
I saw two dozen other people who have heartbreak, sorrow, and difficulty of one stripe or another singing their hosannas to God. And all around me, too, still more broken people were singing, their hands raised, their voices lifted up in praise.
And I wept. I wept for the beauty of it, for the sacrifice of praise on the lips of people whose lives are hard. I wept for the hope they hold on to: that though they wade into that river, Christ has been through it first and goes through it with them; that they experience nothing—nothing—apart from His love and His presence.
Today is Maundy Thursday, the day Jesus waded into the river. And he is there yet, holding us up, helping us through, giving His life for ours.
The lectionary passages for Maundy Thursday:
Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
I Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35