In one of his sermons, the Rev. Richard J. Fairchild says that “When you look at the events from Palm Sunday to Good Friday it’s almost like one of those “Good news and Bad news” jokes.” The good news is that Jesus Christ reached the peak of his popularity this week, riding in triumphal procession into the holy city of Jerusalem.
There was a big parade with lots of commotion, there were large crowds shouting “Hosanna!” The disciples were absolutely impressed, and the Pharisees realized that they had underestimated this simple teacher from Galilee. Riding the wave of public approval Jesus went to the temple, the very center of the Jewish faith, and began to teach and preach. From Sunday to Thursday, there seemed to be nothing the Pharisees or anyone else could do that would interfere with Jesus’ activities.
His enemies tried to trick him with their loaded questions about God’s Law, but their traps never quite worked out. Each time they thought they had Jesus trapped with their words, Jesus taught truth and exposed their treachery.
This is also the week that Jesus gave the new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He celebrated the Passover with his disciples, during which Jesus instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion; the new covenant in his blood for the forgiveness of sin.
So, if all of this is the good news, what’s the bad news?
On Thursday he was betrayed and arrested, and on Friday he was hung on a cross and killed. Today the procession of the palms, tomorrow the pain of the cross; good news / bad news, but there is no joke at all. The grim truth is the same people who shouted “Hosanna” on Sunday, shouted “Crucify him,” just five days later. Jesus entered the city as a hero, a king, but by the end of the week he became a bloody sacrifice, an object of public hatred and scorn.
To those who loved Jesus, all of this was too much to understand. They were devastated, heartbroken and demoralized. Their questions were obvious, “Why Jesus, after all of the good works he had done?” How could a man like Jesus, one who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and preached a message of love and the nearness of God’s kingdom be put to death in such a gruesome manner by the very people he came to save?
That’s a great question; one that bears asking again. It is a great question to ask the crowd that called for Jesus’ death, and a great question for the Pharisees. It’s a great question for all those who caused this to happen. In short, it’s a great question to ask of you, and of me.
Our theme for the Wednesdays in Lent was “Were you there?” Were you there when they crucified Jesus? What we learned as an answer was “Yes, we were there.” Because of sin, our age old rebellion, we were there for every moment. We were there the night he was handed over and when he went on trial. We were there when Herod mocked Jesus and then sent him back to the Roman governor; and we were there when Pilate washed his hands of the entire matter. With each lash of the whip, every step of Jesus’ walk to Golgotha, and every hammer strike of the nails, we were there.
Yet, most importantly, we were there when Jesus said “Father, forgive them.”
With the reading of Christ’s passion we have entered yet another Holy Week. We have come to the time of the year when the lessons of Jesus life, his teaching and miracles, all of which served to point to him as God’s Messiah, reach their fulfillment.
For Jesus, it was a week of extremes. His praises sung on Sunday, his death demanded by Friday. Yet, Christ remained obedient to God, Even unto death. For Jesus’ disciples and close companions the week was an emotional roller coaster. A series of triumphs and tragedies, and a week of experiences that would be etched in their hearts and minds forever.
So what does Holy Week mean for the modern church? Well, to tell the truth, sometimes I wonder. I wonder if the reading of Christ’s passion makes a difference in the way we approach the coming days. I wonder if the prayers we laid at the foot of the cross during Lent are the same prayers we say as we ponder Jesus’ suffering? I wonder if the world will slow down enough to notice the price Christ paid for our salvation. I wonder if Christians will pause to worship our Father in heaven during these holiest of days.
The journey from Palm Sunday to Good Friday is not easy. It certainly wasn’t easy for Jesus, nor was it easy for his disciples and friends. For us, it is a week that requires discipline and determination.
Beginning this evening with our service for healing and forgiveness, I invite you also to this journey; to hear the lessons and sing the hymns of the week we call holy. I invite you to experience the emotional ebb and flow of our worship, and to ponder what it means to be convicted of our sin, yet mercifully forgiven. Come this week to hear and to see; come take part as witness to Christ’s passion. Share this time of prayer and remembrance with your family and your church. Come to the foot of the cross with a repentant heart, and witness again Christ’s victory over sin and grave.