For many committed Christ-followers, the rhythm of the church year highlights various aspects of faith. We have to get ready for things like Holy Week. During Advent, we get ready for the coming Christ child. At Christmas, we think about God-incarnate and how that impacts experiencing God. During Lent, we prepare for Easter. But, before we get to Easter, we have one final array of worship opportunities.
Holy Week traces the end of Jesus’ earthly journey. We borrow different elements from the gospels and put together a picture. It begins with Palm Sunday. Jesus enters Jerusalem. In film adaptations, there are enormous crowds, shouting and cheering. Reality might have looked different. Still, we can imagine the dissonance between the shouts of “Hosanna!” and the cries later in the week of “Crucify him!” Palm Sunday puts us in the celebration and gives us pause to consider how we view Jesus. Is he a superhero? Are we like his first-century followers who wanted a savior to kick out the Romans? Or, are comfortable with a Savior who pushes us from our comfort zones and calls us to leave our nets to follow him?
Things get quiet on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, we train our eyes on a character who is essential to the Jesus story: Judas. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which no one betrays Jesus. Maybe I have trouble because we have only ever known Jesus’ Passion story with Judas’ betrayal. Judas was a trusted follower who decided to nudge Jesus toward fulfilling the calling Judas understood. Judas wanted a superhero Messiah. He wanted someone like the person who entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday. He hoped for a Davidic general who would kick the Romans’ butts. Instead, Jesus was going to be the suffering servant and child of humanity all along. Looking at Judas helps us find our own complicity in pushing God to do our own bidding.
Maundy Thursday is a centerpiece in Holy Week for many Christians. We mention it on the first Sunday of every month because Maundy Thursday began the eucharistic celebration we call the Lord’s Supper. Jesus gathered with his disciples for the Passover celebration. They broke bread together and left an empty seat in case Elijah showed up (as continues to be part of the Seder tradition in Judaism). After the meal, Jesus made some cryptic comments about the bread of life and cup of the new covenant. Only in hindsight did it make sense to the disciples, and from those strange words, we began this tradition of the Lord’s Supper. John’s Jesus also demonstrates the embodiment of service in love when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.
Later that night, Judas plays his part. Roman guards arrest Jesus and Peter cuts off a soldier’s ear. Jesus tells him not to fight and heals the man. In the midst of horror and violence, Jesus demonstrates love, compassion, and healing. His peace confronts violence and wins.
Friday includes a mock trial, the crucifixion, and death. It appears to be the end. Today, we have no trouble conceptualizing the new life looming just ahead at Easter. But, if we climb inside the story, we wait and our moods reflect the darkness of the tomb. Friday is the low point and the high point. Because Jesus died, we can see God’s power over death.
The various pieces of Holy Week create a tapestry for faith to explode on Easter. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. The celebration is bigger when we follow the entire path to get there. Join me as I get ready for the merry fête of Easter. We will pause at each stop along the way to appreciate the way it contributes to making Easter special. Let’s get ready to experience the glory of the Lord.