Putting the Holy Back in Holy Week
Putting the ‘holy’ back in Holy Week. At first glance, there seems to be little holiness in this week. Let’s walk with Jesus. What does it mean to Jesus to be entering Jerusalem, the holy mount of God, the place he has come for at least once a year since his youth, and to know it will be his last time entering its gates? What does it mean to Jesus knowing he is sharing his last meal with his friends? What does it mean to watch one of your friends leave that room, without saying good-bye, only to show up later in that garden where you once talked and laughed, cried and hoped, learned and loved together, but now, with your enemies in tow? What does it mean to go on trial, to be flogged, to be crucified? What does it mean to look into the eyes of your mother one last time? To ask, as you inhale your last breath, “My God, O my God, why have you forsaken me?” Not a lot of holiness here. Deceit, betrayal, dishonesty, fear, even plain outright hate, but little holiness.
In his quintessential Canadian novel Who Has Seen the Wind, W.O. Mitchell introduces us to a little boy growing up in a small town on the Saskatchewan prairie. His world is rich with experience and colour. At one point in the novel, this little boy overhears a curious conversation between the village cobbler and the school principal. The cobbler says, “It’s all inside of me….this shop’s inside of me, this town’s inside of me. Shoes, folks, churches, stores, grain elevators, farms, horses, dogs…all inside of me. All I want to know,” he says, ‘is who the hell is me?” It’s the essential question of our lives. Who are we? When our roles end and our performance is over, our costumes returned to wardrobe, the make-up removed from our faces, the scenery removed, and we stand there on an empty stage, who are we? Christians answer this question with the person of Jesus.
Whenever Jesus encounters someone, he unveils them, unveiling them even to themselves, because Jesus lives his life with different values, sees life in a different way, he is not distracted by the facades of our lives, and looks right past them into our eyes, into our souls. Jesus reveals to us who we are. Because then, and only then can we learn to be real with each other.
Think of his encounter with the Samaritan woman and the woman Jesus searches for because he felt her touch him through the crowd, and the Pharisees posed with stones in their hands ready to strike. Jesus reveals them to themselves. The Samaritan woman stops telling lies. The poor widow is no longer ashamed. The Pharisees drop their stones and walk away. Jesus reveals them to themselves and, in doing so, gives them freedom. He gives them the language of love. He gives them living waters. There is holiness in those moments.
I see holiness in the eternal moments Jesus spends with Pilate. Many see a kangaroo court. I see the dynamic tension between two kings. Pilate was not a nice man. Although he was sent by Rome to be the prefect for peace in Judea, he was anything but. He liked to push people’s buttons and goad them into remembering just who has the power here. For example, to a people who did not believe in worshipping idols, Pilate brought in statues of Caesar and placed them right in their temple. He lined the walls of the city with golden Roman shields in homage to Tiberius. He took money from their temple treasury to pay for new aqueducts into the city. Anyone who complained was simply executed without trial. When the Samaritans headed off to a local mountain to retrieve what they believed to be artifacts which Moses had buried there, he ordered two legions of soldiers to go out and slaughter them all. He was not above mass genocide.
So, tell me, why would a man, who obviously had so little respect for human life, try so hard to get Jesus off the hook? What did he care? Jesus was a Jew and the Jews meant nothing to him. They were a inconvenience on his pursuit of Rome. Yet, time and time again, when Pilate is presented with claims against Jesus, he kept saying, “I find no case against this man.” It was only after he had been pressed by the crowd that Pilate washes his hands of the whole matter and says, “Take him away. Do with him as you want.” Was this a moment of consciousness shown by a man who appeared to have none? Is it possible that when Pilate encountered Jesus, Jesus had revealed Pilate to himself, made him ask, “Who am I?”
What do you do when a mere peasant who stands before you and isn’t afraid of you? A peasant who looks past all the decorations pronouncing your authority is unimpressed with your wealth, is unafraid of your military might and the power you hold to end his life? “You have no power. The only power you hold is the power given to you by God.”
What is that suppose to mean? What do you do with a peasant who doesn’t live by your rules, who doesn’t share your values and believes in the power of another kind of life? You stand there on the empty stage of your life and ask yourself, “What is truth? What is the truth of my life?
When Jesus can reveal to even the cruelest magistrate his own humanity and offer him the slightest touch of freedom, there is holiness. Holy week is punctuated with holy moments, but you have to stay in it to experience it. Too often we want to rush through the pain and suffering of this week and get to the sunshine of Easter. But we can never truly experience resurrection unless we first experience the holiness within death. Because, even when you are sitting at the table for the last time, spending one last night in the garden, going through a trial and even crucifixion, God is there. And when we see what God revealed to us, we experience the holy.
So, take your time this week as you walk through Holy week. Stop along the way. Linger in the darkness and know through all the pain and sadness, there is God helping us to unveil ourselves to one another, stripping away all the superficial things of our lives, all our distractions,and teaching us to love each other, bringing freedom to our souls. There’s holiness in those moments.