Reflection on Holy Week: The Descent into Madness, and the Devastation of Absence

I’m enjoying Holy Week more this year.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it in the past. But I’m understanding it better now, as I grow in my knowledge and my faith. I’ve been able to focus on the progression of the week, the meaning of the days and the season as a whole. I’ve been able to just be present in this week.

Last year, I spent all of Lent and Holy Week terribly conflicted about what it all means.

This turmoil came out of my own personal Christology, for lack of a better term. As someone who views Jesus first and foremost as human, who doesn’t put much stock in miracles and virgin births and physical resurrections, I was rightfully having a hard time deciding just what was so important about Easter. My big epiphany for last year was while having lunch with my pastor at the time, who told me that all Christians believe in the Resurrection of Christ, but we all may have a different idea of just what form that resurrection took.

This year, I feel more at peace about Easter and Holy Week. I’m excited about it, I’m enjoying the many, many church services, and I am spending a lot of time thinking about what it all means without worrying about it. I’ve been focusing on two main themes.

First, the dichotomy of Palm Sunday and Good Friday has really struck me this year. In the span of five short days, the Passover crowds of Jerusalem go from hailing Jesus as a king entering his kingdom, to condemning him to death in the most painful and humiliating way. To think about Jesus on the cross, saying “Forgive them, they know not what they do,” is really powerful to me.

The whole thing just seems to be a big commentary on our own misunderstanding of what he meant, and of how quickly we can turn on something that seems great at first but ultimately disappoints. It’s a striking reflection of our own flightiness and tendency to follow the crowd. We are all complicit in that rapid change. A whirlwind turn of events begins, and we get so wrapped up that the next thing we know, Jesus is on the cross and we are standing there not even realizing just exactly what happened.

Part of my reflection on this theme has been focused on the Cleansing of the Temple. That  really had to be the breaking point for most people. It was such a jarring act, one with such significance and passions surrounding it. That must have been the point when those whispers from the Pharisees began to sink in, and the ball started rolling down hill, and everyone slipped into a blood lust they didn’t wake up from until a week or so later.

Except they probably didn’t wake up from it. They probably just went about their lives, and one day in the future remembered back to that crazy rabbi who threw the moneychangers out of the Temple and caused such an uproar. What ever happened to that guy?

Second, I’ve thought about the devastating absence the disciples must have felt after Jesus’ death. Here is a man they have dedicated their lives to for more than three years. He was wise, caring, loving, a force of character more powerful than anyone they had probably ever met. No doubt he had a mythical presence in their minds, a larger-than-life aspect of their lives as changeless as the seasons. Despite his assurances of his impending death, they clearly didn’t believe him, assuming he would always be there, and leading the way to great and wonderful things.

And then they wake up Saturday morning, and…he’s dead. His dead body seems a lot smaller than proportions it seemed to have taken on in his life. His words and teachings already seems like a distant echo.

And life goes on, and things are the same as before, and no one really seems to care except the  11 of them, the Women, and a few others.

And most of all, their teacher, their leader, their brother, their friend-their good, dear, loving, close friend– is dead. How devastating must that have felt that morning? What did the last three years even mean if here they are, alone?

Again, as someone who doesn’t believe in a bodily resurrection, this is where the questions deepen. Because it’s not just Saturday morning that they wake up in despair. It’s the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and so many more other days that they were supposed to be doing amazing things. Life must have seen empty in the days and weeks after the crucifixion, as these men and women tried to figure out how to go on  and what to do with their lives now.

And so the big question becomes, what does Easter really mean now? If it’s not about Jesus rising bodily from the tomb on that Sunday, what is it all about? That’s what I’ve really been pondering for a couple years now. And this year, I’m starting to get some glimpses of just what it may mean.

When I think about those lost and devastated disciples, I start to understand what Easter means. Because they didn’t give up, go into hiding, or return to their old lives. They built something new. They took up the mantle Jesus relinquished in his death, and began the process of changing people’s lives and spreading the message they had internalized.

That’s what Easter is about: the inability of death and darkness to prevail, even in the most depressing of times and situations. It’s a reminder to us to keep pushing forward, that Jesus’ life mattered for something and so does ours, and we have responsibility to engage in something greater than ourselves. That’s Easter. That’s Holy Week.

The questions keep coming, the pondering doesn’t end, but the meaning is there.

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