The gospels have an interesting pace to them (particularly Matthew and Luke). If we were to imagine these gospels as a movie, we could envision most of Jesus’ life depicted through a video montage, a series of jump cuts, quick snippets that reflect who Jesus was and what Jesus did. They do not tell the full story of Jesus’ life in much detail, but rather focus on those stories that encapsulate his mission and his heart. Through these stories we learn that Jesus is God’s son, that he came to heal and to teach the Kingdom of God. We learn that he cared for those who were overlooked by society, that he touched lepers, ate with sinners and denounced the self-assuredness of the religious authorities. He came to change things. Then, suddenly, when we get to the final days of Jesus’ life, we can imagine that the film moves into slow motion. The gospel writers seem compelled to document the final days of Christ’s life in detail. In these last days, more of what Christ has to say is recorded. During Christ’s final days, we see his movements and actions in greater detail than we’ve seen anywhere else throughout the gospels. Yes, it seems that the gospel writers feel that Christ’s final actions are the most important, that they bear more weight, take up more space in the gospels.
Truly, Christ’s final actions are momentous. They define who we are as Christ’s followers. They tell us about what Christ is willing to do for each of us. They shed light on the darkest corners of our souls. Perhaps this is why the Church commemorates the final days of Christ with Holy Week, an entire week of somber reflection, prayer and special services (this year its dates are April 9-16). During this holiest of weeks, we remember Christ’s final meal with his disciples, where he laid the groundwork for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We remember that he washes his disciples’ feet and commands them to love each other in the same way that he loves them, a call that still defines us as the people of God. We remember that Jesus was beaten and mocked and put on trial for no good reason. We remember that human greed and the political machinations of his day killed him. We remember that his friends left him out of cowardice, and that he died a criminal’s death, utterly alone, crying to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” This is Holy Week. Isn’t it interesting that our Church has named the commemoration of the most unjust death to ever occur as “holy”? Isn’t it odd that all of this ugliness and chaos is what we’re called to think about during the holiest week of the year? I tend to think about church as being something a bit more positive than all that.
But perhaps it is this week of reflection on the ugliness of our human condition, of thinking about all of our fallibilities and flaws that allows us to fully appreciate Easter Sunday. Perhaps when we think about Christ’s death and the condition of our world, we can imagine Jesus living among those who are suffering.
Wherever people’s bodies are being broken by abuse, homelessness or famine, we may envision Christ saying “My body was broken too, and it is for you.” Wherever people’s blood is being shed in the name of political expediency, human trafficking, or corporate profit, we may picture Christ saying, “So too has my blood been shed, and it is for you.” Truly, Holy Week reminds us that this world needs a resurrection. It reminds us that Christ died on behalf of this broken place, in order to make it whole. The death of Christ shows us that Christ walks with us through the darkest valleys, even to the grave. And in all of it we must remember that Holy Week is not without hope because it ends on Easter Sunday. We know our God can conquer the ills of this world. We know our God has promised something better for all of us. We know that new life is coming!