Holy Week marks eight days that changed the world. These days have been the topic of millions of publications, countless debates, and thousands of films. They have have inspired the greatest painters, the most skilled architects, and the most gifted musicians. To try and calculate the spiritual and cultural impact of these eight days is utterly impossible.
What happened on those eight days? According to the four canonical Gospels in the New Testament, here is what we know about Passion Week: Jesus’ last week on earth:
- On Palm Sunday, the first of the seven days, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of Hosanna, fulfilling an old prophecy in Zechariah 9:9.
- On Monday he entered the temple in Jerusalem and he overturned tables where money exchange occurred, where Roman drachmas were being exchanged for Jewish shekels. Roman coins were not allowed. The image of Caesar was a violation of the second commandment in Jewish law. But the temple authorities were using the Commandment as means to cheat the people and making the temple a place of profit rather than a place of prayer.
- On Tuesday Jesus went back to the temple steps and taught in parables, warning the people about the Pharisees, and predicting the coming destruction of the temple.
- On Wednesday, the fourth day, we know nothing. The Gospel writers are silent. Perhaps it was a day of rest for him and his weary, worried disciples.
- On Thursday, in an upper room, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. This is what we today call The Last Supper. But he gave it a new meaning. Later that evening in the Garden of Gethsemane he agonized in prayer at what lay ahead for him while his disciples napped nearby.
- On Good Friday, following Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested, imprisoned, deserted, subjected to a trial, condemned, beaten, and sentenced to death on a cross. Jesus would then carry his own cross to Golgotha, “The Place of the Skull,” where he was crucified with two other prisoners.
- On Saturday, Jesus lay dead in a borrowed tomb provided by a man named Joseph of Arimathea.
- On Sunday, his Passion was over, the stone had been rolled away! The Risen Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to eleven of the Apostles gathered in a locked room.
As I said: it is impossible to understand what these days and what Jesus’ sacrifice means for each and every one of us. But if we start at the beginning and look at each piece separately, a picture starts to become clear.
Several years ago, Newsweek magazine carried the story of the memorial service held for Hubert Humphrey, former vice-president of the United States. Hundreds of people came from all over the world to say goodbye to their old friend and colleague. But one person who came was shunned and ignored by virtually everyone there. Nobody would look at him much less speak to him. That person was former president Richard Nixon. Not long before, he had gone through the shame and infamy of Watergate and he was back in Washington for the first time since his resignation from the presidency.
A very special thing happened, perhaps the only thing that could have made a difference and broken the ice. President Jimmy Carter, who was in the White House at that time, came into the room. Before he was seated, he saw Nixon over against the wall, all by himself. He went over to Nixon as though he were greeting a family member, stuck out his hand to the former president, and smiled broadly. To the surprise of everyone there, the two of them embraced each other, and Carter said, “Welcome home, Mr. President! Welcome home!”
Commenting on this, Newsweek magazine asserted, “If there was a turning point in Nixon’s long ordeal in the wilderness, it was that moment and that gesture of love and compassion.”
The turning point for us is Palm Sunday. It is our moment of triumph. It was a triumph because Jesus decided to act on our behalf. No matter what we have done, he comes riding into our world and welcomes us home. We may not deserve to be there but he welcomes us just the same. If there ever was a turning point of our long ordeal in the wilderness. This is it!
I look forward to seeing you this Palm Sunday in worship as we begin our journey into Holy Week together. He did it all for you and for me!
P.S. Here’s a reminder about Asbury’s service schedule next week: on Palm Sunday we worship at our regular times, 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. On Maundy Thursday, you’re invited to a “Come and Go Communion” that begins at 5:00 p.m. and ends at 8:00 p.m. Come anytime you like, commune and pray with us, and go out into the world in silent reflection. On Good Friday, the chancel choir has been preparing special music for our Service of Darkness at 7:00 p.m. where we will strip the chancel of its paraments. The starkness of the empty table reminds us of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. On Sunday morning, we celebrate the glory of Easter with four services: a Sunrise Service at 6:30 a.m. on Prayer Mountain with Pastor Kelsey and the Bridge plus three Traditions services in the sanctuary with me at 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. I hope you will invite and share this information with a friend—it’s all available right here: asburyonline.org/holyweek.