Holy Week and Our Core Values
Each year, the events of Holy Week become increasingly real for me. The irony of the triumphant entrance of Jesus on Palm Sunday into the city that would crucify him. The feeling of angst on Maundy Thursday, reflecting on Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, mixed with feelings of assurance as he bids Judas Iscariot to see to his betrayal quickly.
On Good Friday, the opening verse from “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” is enough to reduce even the most stoic believer to tears:
O sacred head now wounded
With grief and shame weighed down
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns thine only crown
How pale Thou art with anguish
With sore abuse and scorn
How does that visage languish
Which once was bright as morn
On Saturday, the residual feelings of defeat and agony hover over the day, but tinges of anticipation and hope roll in as Sunday morning approaches. Finally, the beauty of the Easter lillies, the vibrant colors of the ties and dresses of our congregation, and the chorus of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” ushers in the victory we celebrate in Christ’s triumphant and eternal victory over death, crushing the head of the serpent that beguiled man in the Garden of Eden.
Celebrating the events of Holy Week is special, perhaps even more so than Christmas. As a kid, Easter didn’t bring the same joy as Christmas did every year–for the obvious reason. The early-morning Easter Egg Hunt was a nice touch, I thought as I stuffed another piece of chocolate in my mouth, but there were no gifts under the tree. As a young man now, each year I laugh more about how ignorant I was of the gift I truly received on Easter morning–the one that was purchased on the cross on Good Friday.
As we talk with children about the great gift we’re given on Easter morning, it would be helpful to put things in a context that our school community can understand. Let’s look at the events of Holy Week and where we can find our Core Values nested in each day.
Humility punctuates the story of Palm Sunday. The Jews had been waiting for their Savior to rescue them from the oppressive Roman rule for centuries. At last, the great rescuer described by the prophet, Isaiah, would unleash his vengeful fury on Israel’s oppressors!
Fortunately for the rest of humanity, things weren’t going to happen the way the Jews had expected. On Palm Sunday, Christ makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on, of all things, a donkey. Plus, it is not even their donkey–it was a donkey on a loan.
We see Curiosity in the ways that the people of Jerusalem greet Jesus in His arrival. Some are curious about the kinds of miracles he’ll perform while in the city. Those laying palm branches joyously serenade the King of kings as he rides through the streets of the city, crying “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9)
Others, like the Pharisees, are angry. They question how a man can call himself God while riding on a rental. Curiosity may not be the right word to describe their emotions and reaction to Christ’s entry to the city, but both audiences represent how we come to wrestle with our faith and belief in the events of Holy Week.
The events of Maundy Thursday show just how important Compassionate Community was, and is, to Jesus, even in His last night before His betrayal. Jesus breaks bread for His disciples saying, “This is my body which is broken for you.” Then He pours out wine and says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” His parting words to His disciples exemplifies the kind of compassion we try to teach students to show to one another:
“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, ‘Whither I go, ye cannot come;’ so now I say to you. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:33-35)
The Humility shown in Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet is obvious, but I think also of the Biblical Integrity He shows at the Mount of Olives. He pleads with His Father for His torture and death to be taken away. Knowing His suffering will bring salvation, Christ prepares for the beginning of His war with Satan:
“…Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” (John 17:1-5)
While His rise from the tomb on Sunday is the ultimate victory, His brutal war with the sin of mankind during His passion and death is indeed Excellent. To close our Good Friday service, our church sings the hymn, “The Son of God Goes Forth to War”. This hymn reminds us that Christ was not a helpless victim of political vengeance. His role as the propitiation for our sins is infinitely more elite than even the most effective fighting force on earth.
Christ was not fighting flesh. He fought against the devil, himself. We’re not told of the war fought in the three days leading up to Jesus’ rise from the grave on Easter morning, but I envision a war of cosmic forces unfathomable to man.
Jesus was the sacrificial lamb, slain for our sins. But, when we read Paul’s letter to the church of Corinth, we realize Jesus was more than a martyr–He was a warrior:
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26)
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, but in another sense, He was riding on a white war horse.
The Son of God goes forth to war,
a kingly crown to gain;
his blood-red banner streams afar:
who follows in his train?
Who best can drink his cup of woe,
triumphant over pain,
who patient bears his cross below,
he follows in his train.
Lastly, we come to the Joy of Easter Sunday.
The victory over death accomplished, Jesus greets Mary outside the tomb. Mary, overcome with euphoric joy, rushes to the disciples to tell them of Christ’s miraculous return from the jaws of death. Later, when our favorite sceptic, Thomas, sees that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead, Jesus gives the rest of us hope that we, too, will be forgiven of our doubts about Christ and His epic victory over death. We’re reminded of the sweet simplicity of the gospel. When we speak of Christ-centeredness, I think of Jesus’ final commission to the disciples on Ascension Day, forty days after His return from the grave.
“Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always. Even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
Biblical Integrity. Curiosity. Christ-centeredness. Compassionate Community. Excellence. Joy. Humility.
The events of Holy Week encapsulate all the things we hope to instill in our students every day. We hope that you and your family are able to fully reflect and appreciate the great gift of our salvation, purchased on the cross by Jesus Christ on Good Friday, and sealed eternally through the rolling back of the sealed tomb on Easter morning.