The Mirror of Holy Week

When the crowds gathered on the very first Palm Sunday, waving palms or branches, and laying down still more branches or cloaks (the details differ among the Gospel accounts), it’s likely that at least some of those who were part of that crowd were hoping to set their eyes upon a certain kind of figure. They wanted tough talk and decisiveness. They wanted someone who could show power and strength, someone who could lead them to glory. Time to get rid of those Romans, those wretched overlords who trampled on their freedom. They may even have been expecting someone akin to a first century version of a certain former President of the United States.

Instead, what they witnessed on that first Palm Sunday, in that little parade into Jerusalem, was a calm, serene man who appeared to set his gaze on each and every one, with a blend of love and challenge. And, riding on a decidedly lowly, unimpressive beast. He might as well have been riding a toy pony. Where were the weapons? Where was the army? Where was the righteous anger, the fist pumping, the set of determination? Where was the call for triumph and greatness, the return to glory days, which of course were not really so glorious for everyone, but never mind about that.

No wonder it didn’t take long for that segment of the crowd to turn on him and start shouting for crucifixion only a few days later.

Jesus continued, though, throughout that week that we now observe as Holy Week, demonstrating through the actions of his own life, the way of love and compassion, the way of a more steadfast strength.

Eventually, some people got it— especially those women who gathered close by as the nails were cruelly driven into his flesh. And still more as the Good News of Easter became real, first in small whispers. And, a community gathered, a community of people who became know for their distinctive way of caring for each other and for others as well as their strange attentiveness to those on the margins of society, just as Jesus had shown himself.

Holy Week is a sort of mirror. It feels like a time when Jesus pulls up a big mirror and tries to get us to see the problems that develop when we decide to follow our own way and our own rules, to love only some people and not other people, when we lust for a very earthly form of triumph and glory, when we decide to love God only so much as we perceive that God agrees with us. In the midst of the difficult story of Holy Week, Jesus raises a mirror and beckons us to take a good look. Look at how your ways work. Not very well, if we are able to be even just a little bit honest with ourselves.

Jesus demonstrated, throughout his earthly ministry, the way of God’s intentions for humanity. For those who wish to live purposeful, meaningful lives, here is the way to do it. Follow me, Jesus says. Follow my example. And, don’t be afraid when what I’m asking you to do feels odd and strange. Follow me. This is how Jesus taught and lived. Despite what we may see as the way forward, the life and ministry of Jesus demonstrated what the Golden Rule looks like in real life: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Really and seriously. There’s nothing in there about the smiting enemies or the extra-holiness of white people or the sacred qualities of one specific country or political party.

Nearing the end of this Holy Week, amid the ongoing witness of chaos and violence, Jesus still holds up that mirror, beckoning us to take a good, honest look, to perceive our own waywardness. In love and hope, he holds up the mirror, holding it up for me as well as those who believe that children are in more danger in the company of drag queens than tormented people with easy access to AR-15s or that women are significant only insofar as what their wombs can produce.

If only we could, this would be a good time to take an honest look in the mirror of Holy Week, the mirror through which Jesus tries to get us to understand more fully and completely that our ways are not usually God’s ways. It is through such an approach that we may truly experience the wondrous new life of Easter.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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