Holy Week, the last week of Lent, is our annual remembrance of Jesus’ last days. It includes Palm Sunday (celebrating Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem), Maundy Thursday (the Last Supper, and Jesus’ new commandment to love one another), Good Friday (the crucifixion and death of Jesus), and Holy Saturday (a day of quiet when Jesus lay in the tomb). Because these days leading up to Jesus’ death—the most difficult, most scandalous event of his life—were the most difficult days of his life, we believe they deserve extra reflection.
But this can be problematic for some of us: we know the story, recognize all the familiar parts, let our eyes gloss over the words and the words run off our hearts. We aren’t scandalized by the story anymore—and we ought to be shocked by crucifixion. This was one of the cruelest, most unjust things ever done; it was also the moment when God did the most loving thing of all. How do we reconcile those two conflicting views of the crucifixion? The point is not to reduce it to a catchy phrase or an easy formula. The point is to stay there, to let the story wash over you, like a huge wave, knocking you off your feet, rinsing you out, breaking you down, leaving you with nothing but awe and sorrow and gratitude and love.
Lent is about walking through the trials of Jesus: we enter into the wilderness with Jesus for the 40 days of Lent and we enter specifically into the pain of his death during Holy Week. As we enter into the suffering of Christ, we begin to be shaped into the likeness of God; the character of God takes root in us as a community, and the whole world ought to look at us and see what God is like, what God’s kingdom is like. As we live through Palm Sunday, may we recognize and welcome Jesus for the king he is, not the king we want him to be. As we go through the Last Supper, may we better understand what it means to be part of this new covenant and to be a servant like Jesus. As we go through Gethsemane may we learn to watch with Jesus, to stay with him, and to learn from his anguish the lessons of love. As we suffer through the agony of Good Friday, may we better understand how the kingdom of God comes by sacrifice.
The story does indeed lead to the cross, but that is the moment—in a way that still catches us off-guard—in which God’s purposes are fulfilled and his kingdom established. We share the journey of Christ’s sorrow and pain so that we can share the joy of his victory. Lent ends with Easter, our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Sometimes we are too good at being solemn and we forget that we live through these painful days remembering Jesus’ death because we know resurrection day is coming. This is the preparation for the coming party, but we can’t just skip to the end. And the celebration will be so much greater now that we know what it took to get there.
Author: Alicia McClintic