Holy week has arrived. I love Easter and all that is involved in the build up to the tomb. In this short week, Jesus rides a donkey like a king, basking in the adoration of the crowds who shout Hosanna, he feels the brutality of the mob yelling crucify him and finally he celebrates his resurrection from the tomb. This week is simply my favorite holy time in the life of Jesus and how the grace of what he accomplished on the cross has changed my life.
But then Easter… The season of Lent begins 40 days before the cross. Regardless of denomination, Christians gather on Ash Wednesday to be marked by the cross of ashes, as we hear the words, “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you will return.” (Gen. 3:19). IN the following days we contemplate who we are in Christ, we wrestle with our own humanness, and we pray for God’s mercy and forgiveness. By the end of those days of reflection, it is a relief when Palm Sunday finally arrives. We join the crowd shouting hosanna to the King on the donkey. We wave palm branches like confetti in honor of the man called Jesus. It is a day of celebration! However, as the week unfolds, the dread of the next few days creeps slowly but surely into our consciousness - day by day. By Thursday we gather at the table with Jesus and his disciples, watching and waiting. Our feet are washed by the master. Like the disciples, we are confused by the words spoken during the meal; “One of you will deny me” and “This is my body broken for you,” followed by “This is my blood shed for you.” He goes on to say, “One of you will deny me three times before the cock crows” and “Go quickly and do what you must do.” What do these words mean?
We follow Jesus to the garden and try our best to stay awake but cannot. We watch in disbelief as the betrayer kisses our friend before he is led away by the Roman soldiers. The rest of us scatter to avoid the clutches of the mighty reach of Rome. We follow Peter into the courtyard looking for answers to where Jesus was taken. When accused, we, like Peter, deny, deny, deny that we know the man. We hear the cock crow, and we are overcome with guilt and shame that we have denied our friend just as he predicted. The horror is overwhelming. What have we done?
We join the growing crowd, waiting for Jesus to appear. We gasp as he is lead before Pilate, beaten, bruised, bloody and broken. We begin to feel a change in the crowd as they anticipate his judgement. "Jesus," we cry out, "say something! Please Jesus say anything in your own defense!" Instead we hear the chant, “crucify him” building into a frenzied chorus. The man Pilate sits on “the mercy seat” of power, giving no mercy. The verdict is in, the man from Nazareth, is headed for crucifixion. We watch as the judge washes his hands of the blame.
Jesus is led away bearing his own cross. The road to Golgotha is long and difficult. The crowd pushes us along to the Place of the Skull to watch the execution. Again we hear Jesus say confusing words we don’t understand- “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing,”-- “Today you will be with me in paradise,” – ‘Father into your hands I commit my spirit,” – “It is finished.”
We weep, we mourn, we rage in anger, we feel helpless. All hope is gone.
At the break of the third day, we walk beside the women to the tomb to care for his body. But wait… the tomb is empty. Only the robed men in white are there, “Why are we searching for the living among the dead,” they ask? How, can this be? Where is Jesus? Running swiftly to find the disciples, we exclaim that Jesus is missing. Back to the tomb we run alongside the brothers, Peter and John to find the tomb still empty. No Jesus. Could it be real- could his words be true that after three days he would rise?
Once again, I follow one of the woman Mary into the garden near the tomb. We sit together mourning our friend, Jesus, stifling the hope that our friend was alive. Suddenly he is standing near. I hear him call her name, Denise. This word I understand. Yes, indeed he is risen… Hallelujah! The journey to the cross is finished and it is time to rejoice. He is risen indeed!