My faith heritage is located in the Radical Reformation and Reason. Because of that, Holy Week is for people of similar heritage pretty much like any other week of the year. Those who come from mainline traditions may spend more days attending services this week than any other time of year.
Each day has its own liturgy as we recall the last week of Jesus’ life. What begins in triumph ends in disaster — only to be overcome by the greatest victory known to man for those who believe. Resurrection — victory over death — teaching us that there is truly nothing to fear in this world.
That is not to be dismissive of the pain and anxiety that overwhelm us as we live our lives. We still must walk the days between now and the day of resurrection for all believers. They can be frustrating, terrifying, and cause us to doubt and falter from time to time. If the last week of Jesus’ life teaches us anything, it teaches us that life can change rapidly.
The disciples that were travelling and staying with Jesus during this week began by accompanying Jesus into Jerusalem as a king. They retrieved an animal for him to ride on. Based on how they acted as they approached Jericho, attempting to keep a blind man from ‘seeing’ Jesus, they ran interference for him so he could make his way into the Holy City of David.
Imagine the commotion as people shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Branches of trees, palm fronds, laid along his path. Peace and victory! Before the week was over they would betray, deny, and abandon him because of fear and disappointment.
I suspect that some of the very same people who were carried along shouting ‘Hosanna!’ at the beginning of the week would, before it was over, inexplicably be shouting, ‘Crucify him!’ I also believe that some of those same people would have heard the apostle Peter preach a sermon a few weeks later and repent of their behavior.
The religious leaders no doubt watched in anger, horror, and fear as this rebel from Galilee processed onto their turf. The day after his royal reception he made a mess of their religious business when he turned over their tables of commerce at the temple. Before the week was over, they found their courage and used the Roman legal system, which they hated, to their advantage. Nothing like religious leaders using the law to force their agendas and maintain their control.
The Roman authorities were caught in a bind. The province of Judea was an important buffer state, but troublesome. The Romans were nothing if not pragmatic. They did not care that much for the people, they just wanted them to behave. As a result, they were complicit in murdering an innocent man — not that it would bother them that much.
Imagine a government making policy just to placate a noisy crowd. They began the week somewhat in control and ended it by unwittingly unleashing the greatest force for good the world has ever known. Even if it is full of chronically faulty practitioners.
It is entirely possible to pass through Holy Week and go to all the liturgical services or read the events of this week in the gospels and keep a safe distance from the events. We view it through remembrance or with the narrator, but never get dust on our feet, sweat on our face, or tears in our eyes.
We never get angry or worried or try to manipulate the events to our advantage. We might even be so bold as to think we would have been different than all of those who lived through it.
But . . . we were all there. The true believers who were so disappointed that they quit. Those in the crowd who were swayed one way and then another. We are the ones who have a vested interest in keeping ‘church’ the way it is and have no problem using money, position, or whining to get our way.
We are changeable. We get scared. We are not beyond accusing. We are unbelievers who just want people to behave. We are all there. None of us are above being any of those who had a part in the events of that week.
Good thing the story doesn’t end there.