This blog is written for Holy Week, the most meaningful week on the Christian calendar. It is because of what happened this week two thousand years ago, and what occurred the following Sunday, that there is a Christian Faith. Without all this, if Jesus were remembered at all it would merely be as a bright rabbi with a loyal following who helped reinterpret the Law of Moses for people living under Roman occupation. But because of what happened on this Passover Week long ago, and how it all culminated on Easter Sunday, He is remembered as Messiah, and we are part of an ongoing spiritual movement two billion people strong.
What do we see as we re-read the story of the original Holy Week? We see a frequently misinterpreted beginning. We tend to think of Palm Sunday as a day when great crowds turned out to welcome Jesus, spreading palm branches before him much as we would roll out the red carpet for celebrities on Oscar night. Yes, the crowds did gather. Yes, they did offer symbols of welcome. But primarily, they shouted “Hosanna!” (which means, “Save us NOW!”). They greeted Jesus not as an incoming celebrity but rather as an incoming civil servant. He was to them a Person who had the potential to be a military hero reminiscent of King David. So before He even entered the city walls, they were already placing their expectations and demands before him. “Save us now!”
We also see His entry into the Temple and the righteous indignation that stirred within him. “This, my Father house, is a house of prayer,” he proclaimed, “but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” A small handful of religious bureaucrats were guilty of mistreating and manipulating a much larger number of genuinely religious (and vulnerable) people. And, as is usually the case in such matters, it wasn’t about faith. It was instead about money and power. It is important to note that the faithful believers did not turn on Jesus in that moment. But, the politically-motivated leaders did, virtually insuring from that one event that he would be crucified. Even religious institutions often turn against Christ when he confronts us in our greed or self-centeredness.
What do we see when we re-read the story of Holy Week? We see His compassionate deeds for the victimized and the suffering, even as he faced his own death. Till the very end Jesus put the needs of others ahead of his own. We see His friends deny and betray him. We see His very human prayers in the Garden. We see the Roman government (represented by Pilate) condemn Him because Jesus placed loyalty to God over politics. So often we hear people complain that we “shouldn’t bring politics into the church.” Almost always that statement simply means, “Do not force me to hear the teachings of my Faith if they might force me to question my loyalty to a political party.” We see His subjection to humiliation, indescribable brutality, and finally death. We even see His struggles and faith questions in the midst of his suffering. But also in the midst of His suffering we see his compassion in dealing with another sufferer on a cross beside him and in dealing with his mother and his disciple John. According to Atonement Theology, we finally see how much He loved us and how he laid down his life to lift ours up.
All that and more is what Holy Week is about – which is why we can’t skip the raw realities of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to jump all the way to the celebration of Easter Sunday morning. As we recall from a Gordon Lightfoot song: “To wear the Crown of Life, you must wear the crown of thorns.” But that being noted, the critical point of it all is Easter. Only when the women arrived at a tomb and found it empty and an angel said, “He is not here, for he has risen” was the story transformed from momentary to eternal, from tragic to triumphant. Easter is why we remember the rest of it. It is why we recall the pain and suffering, the betrayal and Cross, the angst and death. We recall all that because it was transcended by what came next – by God’s power over it all. And that is our Good News. What God did for Jesus, God promises to do for us. Isn’t that what Christ said? “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all others unto myself.”
Whatever has held you captive (from sin to guilt to loneliness to despondency to self-doubt to grudges to the fear of death itself), God rolls away those stones and liberates you to live... to be lifted above the past... to greet a new future with the promise of new life.
During Holy Week we confess the pain and challenges of our mortal journey. But as those who understand how The Story turned out, we also know that Sunday is coming!