And so Holy Week begins. The great unravelling and revelation, the upheaval and the restoration, death and resurrection. Although we know how the story of long ago ends, we enter into the process with trepidation and the hope that we and our broken world too shall be swept up and renewed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
All the great themes of Jesus’ life and ministry are here – slowed down so we can catch some of the meaning of his life for our lives and our time. But the culmination of his life is not success and glory and power but failure, betrayal, abandonment, punishment and death. His resurrection and enthronement in heavenly places is not until all has been stripped bare and harrowed. It is hard enough to watch the re-enactment much less enter into the drama ourselves. And yet enter in we need to, if not now then life will provide another time when the way forward is through the valley of death both symbolic and literal.
For Jesus his last week required both surrender and sacrifice. Through one lens surrender was one of the great themes of Jesus’ life. Incarnation was surrender to the joys and limitations of flesh. To grow in human grace and favour was to surrender his hold on divinity. To enter into his adult ministry was to surrender to the interrogation and proving of the wilderness. To teach, heal and raise the dead was to surrender his anonymity and personal identity and become the great conduit of God’s power and presence where needed. And every step closer to his final journey to Jerusalem was to surrender control over his own destiny and give himself to the interplay of human hopes and fears and the spirit of God’s intention to be known to us even in death and the tomb.
And so too for us. The further on the journey of faith we go the more we get brought to the place where only surrender is the way forward. For many of us we will do anything other than surrender. We will try harder - to be better, to love more - to succeed at life, including faith. But the journey of Lent and Easter teaches us that there is a need to surrender to life and the thousand deaths of disappointment and defeat before resurrection can be experienced. The traditions of the church help us to slow down and live the process so that come Easter morning we are ready to claim resurrection. It is not that we pretend that we are Jesus - he has done what he came to do! We must follow where he has been and claim the great journey through life, death and resurrection so that we become the new creation we are called to be. For our sake and for the sake of our world.
Monday of Holy Week: John 12:1-11 Six days before the Passover Mary knelt at the feet of Jesus and anointed him with nard and tears, tending to him with her hands and hair, surrendering to whatever love most needed, she prepared his body for death before others would acknowledge that this is where they were all destined. And Jesus surrendered to her ministrations and received her love and honoured her. The teacher surrendered to the follower and graciously and gratefully accepted her insight and love. Mary surrendered her dignity and risked doing what love required.
Tuesday of Holy Week: John 12:20-36 Jesus responds to those outside his own faith to explain his approaching death in the universal language of the seed that must die so that life might abound. And in the midst of this beautiful imagery and apparent certainty Jesus surrenders to the fear and dread of what lies ahead and yet even more deeply surrenders to his faith in God’s love and purposes and gives himself to the process that will destroy him before it resurrects him.
Wednesday of Holy Week: John 13:21-32 Gathered with his disciples and friends, eating, teaching, sharing urgent words of love Jesus must surrender to the coming betrayal by Judas and the promises by the other disciples that they will not be able to keep. Jesus surrenders to the great and terrible unravelling of his closest and dearest ones love and support and indeed his spirit must have been sorely troubled. We can only imagine the pain and love, the anguish and tenderness with which Jesus dipped the bread and gave it to Judas giving the one he loved permission to do what Judas felt he must. If Judas had done his worst and come back to Jesus I am convinced that he would have received the same welcome that Peter and all the others were received. If ever we betray or are betrayed let there be such tenderness.
The Three Great Days: Now on the eve of Passover Jesus eats a meal with his disciples, teaching into the night. And when words seemed not enough to teach all that was so urgently necessary he took a towel and knelt at their feet showing them in action how love needs to be expressed in service, in humility, in cleansing, in surrendering to mystery and letting go of control and living in the flow of God’s great love. A love so great that it will carry Jesus through the betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion. A love so humble that he will surrender to cruel words and blows and the suffering of human flesh punished beyond survival and that love will endure beyond the worst and will restore Jesus and us to life beyond measure.
Take heart that our Lord has gone to the depths of all that is wonderful and terrible in the human condition and has gone before us even to the grave that we might know love and life. Amen.
Please feel free to read ahead by searching for what I have previously published about Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day. New blogs will be posted over the week.