Holy Week: Then and Now

Jesus entered Jerusalem on what Christians call Palm Sunday, and for all time thereafter that last week of his life on earth would be known to his followers across the world as Holy Week.  Today, Christians, once again, celebrate Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week.

It was a difficult week for Jesus.  It began so triumphantly in our text with people spreading their garments on the road to make a royal carpet for his entry.  Other passages in scripture tell us that cut branches were laid out before him.  Our text from Luke records a multitude of his disciples joyfully shouting, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!"  Other scriptures proclaim crowds of people shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!"

But by Thursday of that week, other accounts in the Gospels record that crowds of people had begun to cry out against Jesus.  His loyal followers gathered with him on Thursday evening for his Last Supper with them, and one of those followers would betray him with a kiss so that he might be seized by the authorities and be accused of perverting the nation.  Another of those most loyal followers would later deny even knowing him.   

By Friday of that week, the crowds seem to have completely turned against him.  He heard their bitter shouts of "Crucify, crucify."  And crucify him they did!

Saturday he lay in the grave.  All seemed quiet, ominously quiet.  There are times when only silence seems appropriate.  Stillness and quiet are often powerfully significant times, aren't they? 

Sunday he rose from the dead!  A difficult week had an incredible conclusion!

But it was a difficult week for Jesus.  Before the week that began so gloriously would end even more gloriously, Jesus would have to sweat blood, be forsaken by his followers, stand trial, be ridiculed, and be crucified.

However, it was a magnificent week, too.  God's love for a cruel and sinful world was shown to the fullest.  Truly, it was a Holy Week.  It was holy because Jesus knew that the greatest use of life is to spend it for something divinely noble that will endure forever.  Talk about turning the other cheek, blessing those who persecute you for righteousness sake, being reviled, persecuted, and having all kinds of evil uttered against you falsely the way they persecuted the prophets who had gone before--Jesus understood that reality.  He did not merely preach about it.  He lived it during Holy Week.  He embodied the message he had come to share.  Jesus was the love of God incarnate.  Jesus showed the merciful love of God so clearly during Holy Week.    

Jesus was willing to spend his life for the salvation of the world.  Jesus with arms outstretched on a cross could petition God, the Father, to forgive a foolish world.

Christians are now called to spend our lives proclaiming to the world the salvation that Jesus brought and to live holy lives of mission, ministry, and service in his name.  We are to live into the love, mercy, and grace that Christ, our Lord, brought to us from the forgiving heart of God.

To some of us, Holy Week is confusing.  We wonder what could have possibly happened in that week to cause people to turn against Jesus so rapidly.  Something he did or said must have turned them against him.

Could it be that we can understand at least something about the crowds of that day by looking at the crowds of our day?  Jesus may have been regarded as a potential political hero by some of the people.  They could have wanted him to change their political system or situation.

We know how difficult it is for one to remain a political hero for very long, especially if that person answers questions on the issues of the day!  If a public figure answers one question with an unpopular answer, that person can lose a political campaign as a result of that one unsatisfactory response.  Maybe this is what happened to Jesus.  The first part of the week Jesus ministered, acted, spoke, and answered questions in Jerusalem.  Maybe something he said did him in with the people.

Some have said that Mark 12:13-17 tells us the statement Jesus made that could have turned people against him.  They may have been surprised and disappointed with his answer to a question about taxes.  People were tax conscious in the time of Jesus just as most people are still tax conscious today!

For Americans, it is coincidental that Holy Week often comes as people are preparing annual income tax returns.  If you ask many Americans what is on their minds during the end of March and the first part of April each year, it may not be Palm SundayHoly Week, or even the celebration of Easter.  It may be the April 15th tax return deadline because we are very tax conscious this time of the year!

Have you heard about the fellow who bought a tax payer's watch?  It doesn't actually tell the time.  It just wrings its hands!

Well, Jesus was asked about taxes.  His people were a people who had to pay taxes to an alien government.  It would be natural for them to resent it.  It would be understandable for them to want someone to free them from what they could see as their main problem--Rome, and Rome's rule over them.  Many may have wanted Jesus to be the answer to their political and tax problems.

They may not have been as excited that Jesus came to free them from a much greater problem--sin and sin's rule over them!  They may not have understood or they may not have wanted to understand!

The Pharisees in our Lukean text on that first Palm Sunday didn't understand either.  They asked Jesus to silence those who called him King.  The political implications of that title probably troubled them.  Jesus responded that creation itself cannot be stopped from voicing praise.

The authorities who later asked Jesus about paying taxes may well have expected him to resent Roman taxes like many people did.  They may have thought that if they could get him to say that people should not pay their taxes to Caesar they would have a chargeable offense against him.

But as was often the case, Jesus seems to have surprised them.  He did not seem to focus very much of his attention on taxes.  He did not seem overly concerned about them.  "Pay them," he seemed to say. "They have nothing to do with what we owe God."  The rulers may have been surprised, but they may have been politically satisfied.

However, the people may not have been able to believe their ears!  They may have felt that their potential hero had let them down.  They may have been so caught up with the things of this world that they could not see that Jesus was talking of a higher realm as much more important.  They may have realized that they had misunderstood Jesus and his mission.  He did not seem to be as interested in the politics of the day as he was in the holiness of God's people.

This Holy Week we need to make sure that we understand Jesus Christ and what he can mean to our hurting world.  If we are praising the name of Jesus at the beginning of this week, let us be sure that we are praising him for the right reasons.

Let this Holy Week inspire us to live holy lives in this world, let us pay our taxes, let us seek helpful answers to the difficult issues of our day, and Jesus does have something important to teach us regarding them all.  Following Jesus let us love everyone in the name of Christ even as we love ourselves.  Let us care for those who do not have enough.  Let us reach out to the least, the last, and the lost.  Let us seek peace with justice for all people.  Let us give ourselves to the ministry of reconciliation that God, who reconciled us through Christ, has entrusted to us so that the whole world, forgiven of their trespasses, may be reconciled to God through Christ.   Let us never cease to follow Christ's example by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, welcoming the stranger, visiting the prisoner, and loving our enemies. 

Let us also understand that Jesus Christ calls us to do all of this by living on a higher plane and professing allegiance to a holy realm.  Let us see Jesus as one who advocates responsible earthly citizenship, but who comes in the name of the Lord to call us to an even more noble citizenship and to glorify highest heaven.

The Holy Week Jesus lived long ago teaches us that a holy week is not an easy week, but that a holy week is remarkably blessed by God.  Likewise, holy lives are not easy lives, but Christ-like holy lives are remarkably blessed by God as well.     

It is only when we understand that Christ calls us, first and foremost, to obedience to a loving, forgiving, Almighty God that a week like this can be for us what it was for Jesus, a Holy Week!

May we rejoice that Jesus lived a Holy Week in his day.  May this be a Holy Week for those of us who would be his followers in our day.

Dear God, let it be!

Let us pray.

Most merciful God, thank you for the matchless gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, who came to show us how to live and die in holiness.  We praise your name for Jesus through whom we see your loving nature.  We bow in awe before his majestic life of love trusting that we are the beneficiaries of his passion. Allow us the holy privilege of following him as Savior and Lord, so that our lives may reflect his love in such a way that others may come to know your forgiving grace and that the Prince of Peace may transform this sinful world. As we enter Holy Week this year, empower us through your Holy Spirit to live on the higher plane of your love as citizens of your holy realm. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, we pray.  Amen.