It’s Holy Week. I don’t know what that means to you. Does it conjure memories from childhood of going to church services? I remember a lot of services during holy week as a kid. Some were meaningful, some went over my head or scared me. I also remember being excited for the end of Lent -always looking forward to eating chocolate again or watching TV or something. As a parent I’m looking for things to put in my kids’ Easter baskets and hoping stores aren’t out of our favorite brand of jelly beans.
It’s easy to get caught up in the stuff of this week. The good or bad memories of being in church. The things we gave up. The things we buy. It’s weird though, none of those things really have anything to do with why we celebrate Easter.
Easter is this beautiful celebration of a risen Jesus, but we can’t get there without understanding Holy Week -the events that led to Jesus dying on a cross. When I think of things that have happened in culture during my lifetime, like September 11th or the Challenger explosion, I can recall the fear and confusion I felt. Imagine being in the crowd when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. They couldn’t get enough of him. But then, they turned on a dime and their enthusiasm changed to scorn. I imagine people hearing the news and going, “Wait, that guy who tells us to love one another and healed my neighbor? Why has he been arrested?” It’s surprising.
But Jesus was never surprised. He was coming to the endgame of a plan that was made long before he ever came to earth as a baby. First, he celebrated passover with his disciples knowing that one sitting with him has already sold him out. He used bread and wine to remind them that he will ultimately die and it’s for the forgiveness of sins. He washed the disciples’ feet. Then, he went to the garden to pray and wait to be taken. Judas arrived and gave him a kiss and he was apprehended.
The authorities didn’t want to touch this. They knew they don’t have any reason to punish Jesus, but the crowd was adamant. Pilot wanted to pardon him, but the crowd begged for him to pardon Barabas (an actual criminal) instead and Pilot gave in. Jesus was beaten within an inch of death, forced to carry a cross, nails were driven through his hands and ankles and he hung on the cross until he suffocated -all the while enduring taunting from the soldiers and the crowd.
I have no idea what happened to Jesus’ spirit in the time between his death and his resurrection, but we know that he payed for our sins, so he was definitely tormented.
It’s easy to skip from the Hosanna parade to the empty grave, but that’s not the story. Resurrection can’t happen without death and Jesus chose to die an unimaginable death in my place. If we don’t observe Holy Week, we can miss the significance of what happened between the Sundays.
What do you plan to do this week to remember his great sacrifice? Will you read the story? Talk to someone? Fast or pray? If it doesn’t grieve you a little to think about what Jesus endured, it’s time to do some more research. Don’t go from the parade to the the empty grave.