by ProfDave, ©2022
(Apr. 15, 2022) — As a toddler, my mother taught me to pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake …” And they wondered why I wouldn’t go to sleep. Fast forward seventy years (2018) to my heart attack and I felt eagerness instead of terror. “Do I get to go home today?” What happened? “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.” In the face of death, I see the doorway of home – and the face of my dear Savior. That’s the nice thing about getting older.
Why was a holy week necessary? Seriously, we have to start with the human condition. We all know that things are not right with this world. We blame it on the other guy. Republicans on Democrats, black on white, Ukrainians on Russians, husbands on wives – the circular game of blame. The truth is, the culprit is us. Solzhenitsyn was right, the line between good and evil does not run between parties, races, nations or genders but through the heart of every human being. We all have a tendency to do the wrong thing. We are selfish and rebellious. We are born that way. Left alone we would destroy ourselves and our world. Christianity has a name for it. This tendency is called “sin.”
Mankind has a flaw, a brokenness, in his nature that, if unchecked will incline them to do the wrong thing instead of functioning as the Creator intended. Our bodies crave what is not healthy, fall into addiction, and die. Our emotions run amuck. Our minds, muddled by disordered brain chemistry, pursue foolishness. Our spirits rise up against our Maker. Basically, we want to be our own gods. There are two kinds of sins: failure and rebellion. We fail to measure up to the right way of doing things – the way our Maker intended. Our arrow misses the target. And sometimes we outright rebel against the Sovereign of the universe – consciously disobeying the known law of God. We shoot at the neighbor’s cat! Sin isn’t safe. We need help. That is why we need Holy Week.
Sunday was “Palm Sunday.” In my church the children ran up the aisles passing out palm fronds to everyone and spontaneously danced about waving them throughout the praise time. We celebrated the coming of the kingdom of Christ, His victory over sin and death – particularly in our own lives. His is an everlasting kingdom of peace and freedom.
Two thousand years ago, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, many Jews thought their problem was the Romans. They looked for an Anointed One (Messiah in Hebrew, Christ in Greek) to liberate them and restore the glory of David’s kingdom. Jesus of Nazareth, having fulfilled so many of the ancient prophecies, fulfilled one more by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and clearing the concessionaires from the temple. The common folk and children like ours welcomed Him with enthusiasm. The religious establishment rejected Him, tried Him (he pleaded guilty to being Christ, the Son of God), and turned Him over to the Romans as “the (purported) king of the Jews.” His kingdom was a lot bigger than Judea, or Rome at its height. “My kingdom is not of this world,” He told the puppet king Herod. He came as king of Truth.
Those who hailed Jesus of Nazareth as the heir of David and the children who danced before Him on that day long ago evaporated or changed their minds a few days later as He staggered out of the city under a cross and a crown of thorns. Yet those who rejected Him on that day rate hardly a footnote in history, while children still dance to celebrate His kingdom all over the world – and men and women of all ages and nations have gone gladly to their deaths certain that He awaited them on the other side.
So what does Holy Week have to do with the human condition? Right and wrong, good and evil live in each one of us and we have an inveterate tendency to do the wrong thing, to rebel against the structure of the universe. With sentience comes the freedom to do wrong and the vulnerability to evil, which in turn limits our freedom and binds us to destructive consequences. Ethical monotheists recognize this as alienation from our Maker. “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). “They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:3). “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans 7:18). We were made to live in concert with a holy God, freely loving and obeying Him who made us to live in this freedom – but that is not our default.
Who can make peace between a right God and a wrong us? Christians believe God took the initiative by entering into time and humanity – “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (II Corinthians 5:17). We believe Jesus was both man and the Son of God – second person of the Trinity. God rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, presenting himself to His people. We rejected the offer of peace and cleansing – the emissary of Heaven. Nothing had [has?] changed since the loss of Eden. That is what Holy Week is all about – well, part of it.
There is a lot more: the mandate of Maundy Thursday, the final sacrifice for our sin on Good Friday and, of course, the victory over the grave on Easter Sunday. We may forget the significance of Thursday, but it has a double meaning. On that Thursday, Jesus and his twelve closest followers met in a borrowed room to celebrate the Seder – Passover. They were all Jews, celebrating the covenant God had made with Israel at the birth of their nation, a covenant of obedience, with the blood of a sacrificial lamb on the doorposts as the symbol of obedience. Jesus built on this foundation a new covenant in His own blood – for all nations. Why the Maundy? Because this new covenant was to be a covenant of love, not just obedience – because we could never obey the law of God perfectly. That would make us self-righteous and judgmental. Instead Christians are to love God with our whole beings and love our neighbors as ourselves. We obey because we love. We are to be distinguished from other religious people by our love for one another and all humanity. That is the mandate of Maundy Thursday.
Today is both Passover and Good Friday. Jesus Christ, both man and God, offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of all who would accept Him. God is love, but He is also just. Every failure, every wickedness must be judged and corrected. As a human being who had never sinned, Jesus could represent humanity. As God-the-Son He could discharge the infinite penalty, so that we could stand before the Judge free and innocent. Meanwhile, Christ treats our failures as a loving mother treats dirty diapers. What we could not do – the rightness that we could not sustain – He does in and through us. He cleans us up and promises to bring us at last to the Father spotless! That is the reconciliation of Good Friday.