During Holy Week we are reminded that Jesus’ last days were filled with extremes of praise and slander, hope and abandonment, joy and death. It’s a snapshot of life.
Through most of history the christian tradition has been to shuffle slowly through the final days before Easter, cherishing and reflecting on each. What else can we do with a Monday to Sunday full of curses, betrayals, and heart-rending loneliness?
the most painful week in history began on a monday … naturally
Monday Jesus purified the Temple. He angrily ransacked the systems of greed and power that were suffocating the worship of ordinary people. The leaders who were supposed to be providing access to God were actually clogging it up.
Tuesday the Olivet Discourse began with the disciple’s admiration of the Temple and Jesus’ response that soon it would not even exist. It was part of a warning that there would be trouble, with false teachers, persecution, a falling away, and much pain and loss. It was dovetailed with that puzzling fig tree that Jesus cursed for not bearing fruit along with a prediction that the Kingdom of God would fill the world.
Wednesday didn’t feel that holy. It was the day that Judas inquired with the religious leaders about what they would pay for intelligence on Jesus’ whereabouts. In the meantime Jesus rested, preparing for the exhaustion ahead.
Thursday Jesus hosted the Last Supper where we were given a permanent way of remembering him. The church has made it into a stiff formality administered by clergy. But consider how perfect it was originally: people gathered together to talk and laugh, eat and drink, sing and pray, all the while being thankful for the sacrificial love of God.
Friday the face of hatred was exposed with the trial, torture, death, and burial of the Son of God.
Saturday was markedly quiet. Jesus’ family and disciples were suspended in a haze of fear, confusion, and absence.
Easter Sunday began bright and early when some women¹ discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty, unleashing a series of joyful, entrancing experiences. The believers had to wrestle with something radically counter-intuitive – dead no longer meant dead and eternal life could begin today.
we all have feet
Some christians don’t make time for the heaviness of Holy Week. Evangelicals are the marketers of the christian world so the tendency is to focus on the positive: shouts of ‘Hosanna’, maybe some white bread and grape juice, then wrap it all up with singing and feel-goods on Easter Sunday. (Up From the Grave He Arose is required Easter singing for us, right?)
I find it interesting that, stuck in the dead-middle of Holy Week is Maundy Thursday. It’s an easy day to slide past because we are preoccupied with our last day of work and all the preparations for a long weekend of fun.
As I have already mentioned, this was when Jesus instituted the physical worship of bread and wine, but something else significant happened in the same room. Jesus took off his shirt, grabbed a towel, and washed his disciples’ feet. For Jesus, this was one more way for him to be fully with the people he loved.
The disciples recoiled and argued that it was not appropriate – he was their rabbi, their teacher, their lord. But Jesus insisted that it must be this way among us.²
Have you ever participated in a foot-washing service? Interestingly, it is more of a mainline tradition and most evangelical/fundamentalists don’t include it in the week’s activities. Maybe washing feet is an inconvenience to our methodology.
First, it was Jesus’ example of how we are to be humble. (How many of us, and how many pastors, televangelists, ministry leaders would quietly choose to kneel, unseen, and wash a room full of dirty feet?)
Second, we should be equally willing to receive that same foot-washing. (How many of us would feel too proud or too inadequate to present our feet to another?)
Jesus asks us to serve willingly and to receive gratefully. Think about it, without humility motivated by love, there would be no Easter.
Remember waaaayyy back last Christmas? Remember that Jesus was, ‘Emmanuel, God with us’? God’s desire was to be with people.
And years later, that poor, brown-skinned man, born in a Roman colony, spent his final hours washing the cracked, dusty feet of his friends. On that Thursday evening the Son of God knelt, betraying the old ways of power and ushered in a foolish new way to love.
When Jesus breathed his last breath on the Cross he ended a tour of duty that included every high and low of human experience. Yes, God chose to be born, to live, and even to die like we do. God with us in every way.
here is spring
Spring has already arrived here in the rolling hills of Northumberland County but the temperature is stubbornly hovering at the freezing mark while puffy, jagged snow flakes are falling and whitening the ground. Yet in spite of the cold and snow, April days always speak life: water flows, birds sing, crocuses push above the earth, the sun even finds more time to shine.
And each year The Story falls into this sweet spot between winter’s wasting and spring’s freshening. The Easter season is the appropriate time for Christians to remind the world that God changes death into life.
On that first Easter morning, the third day after Jesus’ entombment, a new body exited from the ground and left our greatest enemy behind. Jesus lived again, and now we get to share that with him too.
Because The Story has always been about God being with us.
~ ~ ~
¹ Subject for a future blog. In the full story of Jesus, it is women who form a permanent backbone for the church. The male disciples are eager to use their swords for Jesus but they cower when bravery requires inner strength. The female disciples financed the ministry of Jesus, witnessed the Crucifixion, risked their lives to return to the tomb, became first witnesses to the Resurrection, form the grassroots of the Church, and evangelize their neighbours.
² John 13:1-17