In my last post, I reflected a little on the Lent season and that my own Christian background did little in terms of practically recognizing what Lent is about, part of which was to prepare ourselves for the week we are now in: Holy Week. The same lack of recognition could be said about this week also, but that is not to say that these events weren’t considered important. What happened on Good Friday, for example, was frequently referred to in the weekly Breaking of Bread and Gospel meetings that I attended.
I thought I would use this opportunity to reflect on Holy week and what it means personally. As is my habit, I decided to do an Internet search on the term Holy week and, unsurprisingly, there were a number of hits. Most, it seemed, focused on what the more liturgical church traditions did during that period, which begins on Palm Sunday (the Sunday just past) and ends on Easter Sunday. One hit: “Holy Week, walk with Jesus through Holy Week”, I found particularly helpful. Something that I will do, which I commend to readers, is to read the later chapters of the four gospels, where the events of Holy week are described in detail, specifically: Matthew chs 21-28, Mark chs 11-16, Luke chs 19-24, John chs 12-20. Many of the key events, along with interpretation, are recalled in the ancient creeds of the Church – the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds.
The marvel for me is that Jesus knew his time was about to be cruelly cut short but rather than not going into Jerusalem in order to to avoid his fate, knowing his enemies would be there in force, to orchestrate his demise, he went because he needed to go. Nominally, it was to celebrate the Passover feast but, as we are about to see, his return had a much greater significance. We remember this day as the one when he was hailed as their king by the common people who among other things waved palm branches before him as he entered the city riding on a donkey, which like so many of the significant events that followed were foretold in scripture. Much of this is to do with the coming of the Messiah, Israel’s deliverer, although much will only be fulfilled at Jesus’ second coming, when he will be revealed in all his glory, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
Not much can be said specifically about these days, yet the four gospels devoted a considerable amount of space to this Holy Week, especially when compared with that devoted to the preceding three years, when Jesus’ ministry took place. We can learn much about what went on in Holy Week, although generally we can’t say for sure on which day when it comes to the early part of the week. During this time he continued to teach, heal, do miracles and dispute with the religious hierarchy. Things that took place included Jesus cursing the fig tree, clearing the temple of money lenders and spending time with his disciples and friends. One event relating to our theme was that of Jesus being anointed with oil by Mary (either the sister of Martha or Magdalene – not sure which), which among other things was significant because it represented what was soon to take place: “it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me”. The wonder is that Jesus just carried on his ministry, the one that had been given to him by his Father, right until the end, fully aware of his imminent fate.
We remember this day as the one when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and in doing so he demonstrated that he, even though he is Lord, had indeed come to serve, and he thus set an example that we, his disciples, needed to follow. Two significant happenings took place on that day. Firstly, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples and when doing so gave the bread and the wine a new significance – the bread represented his body that would be broken for them and the cup (containing the wine) represented his blood that would be shed for them, the significance of which would shortly become all too apparent. Secondly, it was also when Jesus prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, in particular asking his Father if it were possible “let this cup pass from me” but, as we know, it was not possible, for Jesus knew what he had to do. Just after this, he was arrested, having been betrayed by his disciple, Judas Iscariot.While the disciples urged Jesus to resist, Jesus did not do so, knowing the cup could not pass from him because of the sacrifice he alone could make, even though, in an instant, he could have called ten thousand angels to immediately come to his assistance.
This was when the mock trials, various beatings and humiliations took place, culminating in Jesus being taken to be crucified along with two robbers. One salutary event was when Pontius Pilate had a get out opportunity to release an innocent man (Jesus), the crowd, stirred up by the religious authorities, asked that Barabbas, a murderer, be released instead. On this day Jesus was also alone, his disciples having earlier abandoned him. He hung in agony, on the cross, for three hours, along with two thieves and promised Paradise to the one that was penitent. What took place was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, even down to fine details, such as described in Isaiah 53, all of which Jesus knew. Much could be said of what happened in that time, in particular reflecting on the seven sayings he made while on the cross. One in particular: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” is poignant because it shows how a holy God had indeed turned his back on His beloved Son, as he bore the sins of of us all. Another important saying was when Jesus cried “It is finished”, just before he died, signifying that his work had been completed. One event just shortly following his death was that the “veil of the temple was rent in twain”, signifying that we can now enter into God’s holy presence by virtue of Jesus sacrifice.
This was a time of darkness and foreboding for Jesus followers. His dead body had been taken down from the cross, embalmed and laid in a donated tomb. We can speculate what might have happened during that period, but strange things did occur, such as dead people being seen alive, although we know his followers were sorrowful and fearful. We read “he descended into Hades and preached to the dead spirits there”. And there his body lay until …
Jesus rose from the dead and revealed himself to his disciples as the all-conquering Saviour, Lord and King. “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes” as one hymn writer put it. He had triumphed over the devil, death and his enemies. By rising from the dead, he demonstrated that he was indeed who he claimed to be and gave hope and new life to those who followed him then and thereafter down the ages until now – the risen Lord. He appeared many times after that to his disciples, who went on to proclaim the gospel throughout the world, as Jesus commanded them. After 40 days, Jesus ascended into heaven to be at the right hand of his Father and thereafter those who follow him await his return, the return of the King in all his glory. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).