I've never cared much about Holy Week. That feels like something you shouldn't really say, right? But, I don't know, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday- they all just seemed so… liturgical (which, in my brain was synonymous with "boring"). And they're all just leading up to the event we all know is coming, the one where Jesus wins in the end- Easter. So why bother with the rest?
To be perfectly honest, over the last several years attending a church
that recognized and celebrated all of these days was actually something
that I would go as far as to say was mildly irritating to me. But as the years have gone by,
I've gotten used to the eventuality of each of these days every year.
I've gradually adjusted to and even began to appreciate some liturgy. I've
voluntarily attended Ash Wednesday
services two years in a row now. And this year, I was actually
intrigued enough to plan to attend all the services offered during
I sit here now, on a gorgeous afternoon, the sun on my
legs and the wind in my hair, dwelling on one of the most gruesome stories in all of Scripture. And, on this Good Friday, I'm struck by three specific elements of the sometimes all-too-familiar story.
The first was brought to my attention by my minister from stage this
morning. It was one of those little details in scripture that you read
over, barely noticing, in anticipation of the intense drama that you know is coming. It happened shortly after Jesus was arrested.
He was slapped in the face. And there was something about the way my
minister said it, "The God of the universe let us slap him in the face."
The God of the universe.
I know that it goes on to tell us about how he
was also beaten and crucified- acts that are significantly more
aggressive and violent. But there is something just so demeaning, so
undermining, so personally insulting about a slap in the face. Think
about the sting that you feel even with the figurative slap in the face
of a cunningly timed insult. The anger, the feelings of injustice,
the desire for revenge- I know that they each well up in me in turn.
And Jesus stood there, with all the power in the universe behind him,
and let it happen. For some reason, I've never considered the sentence
before. But the more I do, the more it impresses upon me what an act of
love and sacrifice Jesus was prepared to enter into for us.
The second thing that stood out to me, was the shouts from the crowd. As
the "trial" moves forward, again and again, the people, the
religious leaders, and the high priests shout that this man
is not their king! That, though he has committed no crime under Roman
law, his crime against them is unforgivable. They shout that they have
no king but Caesar, they shout that they would like a criminal returned to
them instead of letting Jesus walk free. Finally, they shout the word "crucify". Crucify. They shout and chant for one of the most painful, long, public, and violent acts of execution.
As much as I would like to say I would not have been like that crowd had I been there, I can't help but wonder if I might have been. Might I too have been disappointed, expecting a king to over-throw the government, and receiving a carpenter steeped in love and patience? Might I have thought that I knew better than God what kind of salvation I needed and convinced myself that something better must be coming? How often do I choose not to follow God because his plan doesn't make sense to me right here and now? I saw myself in that crowd today. As much as it pains me to say it, I saw a lot of all of us and was baffled yet again at how a love for that shouting crowd could possibly exist.
The third part isn't new. It's been my favorite part of the Good Friday story from the day that I finally understood what it meant. Last week, I was picking out some verses about Holy Week for a project at work, and, upon coming across this one, I almost cried right there at my desk. It's the verse that means nothing until it means everything. It's the verse where the temple veil was torn. I'll never forget learning about that veil, about how it separated the most holy place- the place where God would dwell, from everyone else. About how a high priest could enter but once a year and, even then, with a rope tied around his waist in case he hadn't cleansed himself and prepared the sacrifices just right- a rope that would pull his dead body back out if he in fact wasn't prepared to enter God's presence that day. The veil that signified just how far from God our sin had actually set us.
I've always wondered just how many times they've had to use that rope. If the answer's out there, I don't know it. But it makes me think about how I can now approach God- how the lines of communication are never closed for me. It makes me think about how scared that priest must have been each time he made preparations to enter God's presence. It makes me think of how confused everyone must have been the day the earth shook and that veil tore down the middle when Jesus breathed his last. How long did it take them to realize that the days of entering with trembling trepidation were over? How hard was it for them to believe that, after all these years, Jesus had made another way. From a verse that meant nothing until it meant everything comes the story of a veil. It's a veil that meant everything until, suddenly, because of what happened on Good Friday, it meant nothing.
And that is the story of my Good Friday this year. Sure, I also ate some pizza and played with some kids and wrote my brother a funny birthday card. But mostly, I think I've finally come around to Holy Week. Because of that, I think that Easter, the event we all know is coming, will have all the more to give as I take time to really appreciate how we got there. Happy Holy Week, y'all.