“A tough week.” This is how President Obama described the week of April 14, 2013—a week that saw acts of terrorism in Boston and a tragic fire and explosion in Texas compounding the other challenges with which life is often filled. Boston also experienced the emotional roller-coaster of lockdown, manhunt, shoot-out, and arrest. A tough week indeed.
These words, however, could also be used to describe another week, long ago, that also was filled with emotion, fear, and death. I refer, of course, to the last week of our Lord’s earthly life. It began with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the whole city exploded with joy and celebration, hailing Him as King Messiah, while anticipating the imminent coming of the Kingdom and the overthrow of the Roman occupation force. Our Lord’s adversaries, and the Romans, then went on high alert. Christ entered and took command of the Temple, clearing out the sellers who set up their tables in the only space there reserved for the Gentiles, and who effectively turned the House of God into an oriental bazaar. After this, He endured challenge after challenge, as one group after another confronted Him, some in open hostility and some with feigned admiration, all of them trying to refute and humiliate Him. Tension grew with each confrontation.
The week was filled with danger, since it was well known that Jesus’ foes had recently tried to stone Him, a fate which He narrowly escaped (John 11:8). For this reason, His entry into the city had to be secretly pre-arranged, as did the place in the city where He would eat the Passover meal (Mark 11:1f, 14:12f), for if He left the safety of the public crowds, He risked arrest and execution (Mark 14:1-2). That Passover meal, eaten with the Twelve in secrecy, was marked by fear. He predicted that one of them would betray Him, that He would have to leave them, that they would all deny Him and leave Him alone. As they ate the bread at the beginning of the meal, and as they drank the cup of wine afterward, He declared the bread and wine to be His body and His blood, broken and poured out. They did not know what it all could mean, but they knew talk of death when they heard it.
Then came the catastrophic night of betrayal and arrest, when one of their own inner circle acted as guide to His enemies, and when they all forsook Him and fled. Peter, initially trying to prove himself brave, tagged along later at a distance, only to find himself denying Christ over and over again, as the Lord had predicted. While the disciples scattered and cowered, their Lord was being tried and mocked and beaten by His own people at an illegal all-night trial. When daybreak came, He was handed over the Pilate.
One might have expected the famous Roman justice to win the day. It did not. Pilate found himself out-manoeuvred by the Sanhedrin, forced to choose between condemning an innocent Man and being denounced to Caesar for supporting an insurrection. He took the obvious political choice, and washed his hands. The deal collapsed whereby Jesus might be found guilty and still released as part of the Passover amnesty: the terrorist Barabbas was released instead, and Jesus delivered to be scourged and crucified. By three o’clock in the afternoon it was all over. Jesus hung dead on the cross, beaten, disgraced, abandoned by almost all. His adversaries were triumphant. For them it was the most satisfying Passover in a long time. But not for the disciples of the Lord. For them, it was a tough week.
This review of the first Holy Week can help us through our own tough weeks, for it teaches us that God does not save us from fearful suffering and death, but reveals His salvation in the midst of it. The fear-suffused and dark Passover supper would be later revealed as the eternal and joyful Mystic Supper, as the meal of death became the meal of life. The moment of supreme defeat and disgrace on Golgotha would become the cosmic victory of God, when He worked salvation in the midst of the earth. This shows that all our suffering can be transmuted into joy, if we wait on God. Dark days may tempt us, calling us to despair, to give up on God. Judas gave up: he took a rope and hanged himself. We must not give up. Despair called to Peter too, for after he denied his Lord time and again, he went out and wept bitterly (Mark 14:72). But, in the end, he did not heed the call to despair. Despite his almost unbearable pain, he persevered, and waited and did not give up.
With God it is always worth the wait. Christ came to Peter and restored him, accepting his repentance and calling him to once again take up his apostolic calling and leadership. He came to all the disciples, forgiving them, gathering them, healing their hearts and breathing His Spirit into them. Holy Week may have ended with the Cross on Friday and the Tomb on Saturday. But it gave way to the Resurrection on Sunday, the first day of the week and a sign of the timeless eighth day of eternity. As we go through our lives and endure tough weeks, let us continue to wait on God. When day dawned that first Resurrection morn, all the pain of the past week faded with the passing darkness. So it will prove for us.