Holy Week, Unplanned

written by Kat Bair
3 · 25 · 24

If I had to guess, we’ll have a few less readers than usual this week, because all of our friends and coconspirators who are leading churches are pretty busy. Its Holy Week – the week leading up to Easter, and probably the most sacred week of the year in Christian life. 

Most of us know every beat of this week by memory – every evening Maundy Thursday meal, every song played in the tenebrae service, every Easter egg hiding location. We picked out Easter outfits for us and for our children weeks ago. The meal is planned, the baskets are bought. 

It is a beautiful holiday, rich with symbolism, celebrated with pale colors and your nicest clothes, with meals eaten on the finest china. The predictability and order of Holy Week can perhaps mask how unpredictable and chaotic it must have felt at the time. 

We tell the story of Holy Week the way that Christians have for thousands of years: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. But at every beat of that story, it is so clear the disciples had no idea what was going to happen. 

Take a minute and imagine what it must have been like to be in their shoes. 

______

It’s a Sunday, and Jesus has finally arrived at Jerusalem. He’s going to do it, he’s going to overthrow the Romans! He’s going to free Israel from her oppressors, he’s going to usher in a new Kingdom that has no end! People line the streets and cheer, throw down their coats, and wave palm fronds, a sign of Israel, a sign of resistance. It’s happening!

It’s a Thursday, you’ve been in Jerusalem a few days, and caused a lot of stir – flipping tables in the temple, arguing with teachers of the law, and things are getting a little contentious, but not with the Romans, with the Jewish leaders. This feels messy, hard, and more combative than you expected. It’s Passover, so you have dinner together, and Jesus is acting strange. While we all have the unease of the bubbling tension around us, Jesus seems uneasy in a different way. His teaching is heartfelt, but urgent. He washes our feet. What is going on?

It’s late on a Thursday night and Jesus is arrested. We hide out, what’s happening? Rumors swirl, Jesus tortured, Jesus interrogated, what are you doing, Jesus? This isn’t what was supposed to happen, we just got here. Then you hear the news, Jesus will be crucified. This isn’t what was supposed to happen. This can’t be happening. This was supposed to be the part where Jesus finally won, where the Romans were kicked out, and here they were, putting our Jesus to death. 

It’s noon on a Friday, and the unthinkable has happened. Jesus dies. Every step of the way, you thought surely the Jewish leaders would have mercy, surely the Romans wouldn’t follow through on something they knew was wrong. Surely, one of the other disciples, or Jesus’s other friends would come save him. Surely, if nothing else Jesus would perform a miracle and save himself! 

But they didn’t, and we didn’t, and he didn’t. And Jesus dies. Then, for just a moment, the world seems to end. The sky goes dark, the earth quakes, the curtain tears. Surely, this is the end, surely God will never forgive us for this, the death of God’s only son. 

It’s Friday evening. Jesus has been laid in a tomb. The sun had returned just in time to begin to set again. It is time for Sabbath. It feels unreal to follow our routines today, but what else can we do? When everything feels so unpredictable and scary, these rituals give us hope. 

It’s Sunday morning. The Sabbath is over, and our work can continue. But what is our work now? What do we do? Do we just go home? Do we try to keep spreading Jesus’s message, and risk the same fate? And then the rumors begin spreading again; this time, that Jesus lives.

Could it be? It’s been the longest, wildest week of your life. You are exhausted from staying up all night worrying, hiding, talking. You are traumatized from the death of your mentor and friend. You are lost, bewildered, terrified. In the middle of all of that, the resurrection arrives. 

______

Our week is planned. Our week is structured. Our week has been scheduled for months. We know how to squeeze in the services and Easter Egg hunts. We have volunteers assigned to parking lots, and our clothes are back from the dry cleaners. And ritual is good, Jesus’s friends and companions took comfort in rituals the week he died. 

But, if this week, things go a little off the rails, if you show up bewildered and heartbroken, if things don’t go the way they were supposed to, if you are lost, know that resurrection shows up there too. 

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Kat Bair

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