Why We Struggle With Holy Week

Text: John 12:20:43

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Every year around the time of Easter, there is an increase of interest in Jesus.  The History Channel and CNN seem to broadcast shows on the life of Jesus with all sorts of so-called experts weighing in.  And in the general public, the Easter Season is the one time out of the year – with the exception of Christmas – that many people go to church.  And with individuals who sit in the pew week after week?  Well, churches that ooze political activism, they seem to lay down their politics to focus on Jesus.  Even the big-box churches in America – you know, the churches that spend the majority of their time preaching self-help principles from the pulpit with bands that play cheesy emotional music – well, they even take a break from their christless sermons and musical entertainment to actually talk about Jesus. 

Indeed, in the busyness of life around the season of Easter, we seem to have a heightened interested in Jesus.  People want to see Jesus this time of year. 

But what do we see when we look at Jesus?  Well, it depends.  You see, today our Gospel reading takes place right after Jesus came into Jerusalem.  After the palm branches, the great welcome and yelling of, “Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” we read that Jesus is interacting with His disciples and a group of Greeks right before His death.  That is to say; today we stand at the edge of Holy Week and next Sunday is Easter.  And since we are right on the edge of Holy Week, two things can happen.  On the one hand, we can journey into Holy Week to hear about Jesus having the Last Supper and then being betrayed, beaten, flogged, spit upon, crucified, and buried.  Or on the other hand, we can skip over Holy Week altogether and go right to Easter Sunday.

I can recall in my days within the Evangelical Church (before my time in the Missouri Synod) that I would participate in Good Friday Ecumenical Services with Baptists, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Revivalists, and so forth.  And what I noticed in these ecumenical services was a typical pattern that the Good Friday was not Good Friday but instead Easter Sunday.  Sure, Jesus and His cross were mentioned at these Good Friday Services, but only for a short time.  And every year, after 2-minutes of talking about the cross, the preacher would end up talking about the empty tomb.  These ecumenical services raised Jesus from the dead on Good Friday – three days too soon.  This happened year after year – after year.  They wanted to see Jesus, but not on a cross.  It was apparent that they were more comfortable seeing Jesus out of the tomb.        

But we Lutherans aren’t much better.  Sure we have Holy Thursday and Good Friday Services that clearly focus on Jesus’ cross.  However, there is a temptation amongst us Lutheran to try and lighten up the seriousness of Holy Thursday and Good Friday.  That is to say; there is a temptation to avoid music that is too dreary during Holy Week.  There is a temptation to try to alleviate the seriousness of Holy Week by wanting to remove some of the more serious aspects of the liturgy.  We say that we are trying to contemporize Holy Week; however, I am quite convinced that this is a cover for the fact that the hammer, nails, blood, and the cross make us just too uncomfortable.      

Tragically, what is going on my friends, is that we want to see Jesus, but we do not want to see Jesus bloodied on a cross.  Every year, we Christians demonstrate our aversion to the bloody cross by wanting to have the Easter Season without the Lent Season and Resurrection Sunday without Good Friday.  It is true that we don’t like the dark valley of the Season of Lent; we don’t like the themes of repentance and sorrow for sin.  We don’t like the sound of the whips, the shame, the blood, the tears, and the agony of Good Friday.  It disturbs our modern sensibilities; it makes our old Adam squirm; it makes us feel different from the rest of the world.  We would rather hear stories of triumph and splendor, not loss and humiliation. And so, we skip over Holy Week and go straight to Easter Sunday, or we try to lighten up Holy Week in the name of relevance. 

To make things worse if we are faithful to travel through Holy Week to Easter Sunday, there are some who will criticize us saying:

“Oh, you Lutherans!  You focus too much on the cross and the death of Jesus and not enough on His resurrection.  If you want to see Jesus, you need to know that the power of the gospel is that Christ ROSE from the dead; it’s our future hope to rise as well!”

So, what shall be our response? 

Is the choice between the cross and the empty tomb? 

Should we loosen up on the cross of Jesus and focus more on the resurrection or other things? 

Of course not. 

The crucifixion of Jesus is the central point of the Bible.  It is the climax of Jesus’ mission and purpose.  At the cross, Jesus said, “Tetelestai – It. Is. Finished.”  At the cross of Calvary death, sin, and the devil were finished. And so, we do not avoid Holy Week and the cross, but at the same time, we do not shrink the entire Christian faith into Good Friday.  Instead, we understand everything in life through the lens of the cross of Jesus.  That is to say; we do not avoid the themes of Creation, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection, and so forth.  Rather, when we speak of these themes, we do so with seeing the cross in the background, and we do so with being anchored in what Jesus did for us at the cross. We cannot understand Easter without Good Friday, just as we cannot know the goodness of grace without first knowing the sadness of our sin. 

So, today we take a bold step into Holy Week to see Jesus.  But what will we see?  Well, we will not see Jesus overcome and destroy the Roman Empire but be destroyed, bloodied, and beaten on a Roman wooden cross.  We won’t see Jesus correcting a crooked justice system, but we will see a Kangaroo court enacting perverted justice upon a truly sinless man.  We won’t see a halo, but a crown of thorns.  We won’t see a radiant Jesus sitting on a golden throne, but rather we will see a suffering servant, spit upon, beaten to mush, and crucified.  We won’t see anything of renown, honor, beauty, respect, delight, splendor, and adoration.  Instead of rising out of the Lent Season to a glittery and flashy glorious Holy Week, it seems that we are going to travel to a place called Golgotha; the place of the Son of God’s death.    

But even after hearing everything that you have heard thus far, you may still say to yourself,

“I still don’t like Holy Week.  I don’t want to plunge deeper and further away from my comfort zone.  I don’t want to go darker into the valley of death to Good Friday.  I don’t want to hear about the cross.  I don’t want to see the crown of thorns.  The whip scares me.  I don’t want to hear the sound of the hammer being driven through flesh.  I don’t want blood spilled upon me.  I can’t bear the sins of the world, let alone my sins.  I don’t want to feel the cold darkness of death.  Where Jesus goes, I cannot go.  I can’t go there!”

Dear friends, I can’t go there either.  Sigh, I cannot go their either.  But Jesus Christ can and does.

Baptized Saints, where Jesus goes we cannot go, so He goes alone.  Abandoned by His disciples and abandoned by that great Palm Sunday crowd, Jesus goes to the cross on His own solidarity. He goes into the darkness of sin and death to be lifted high on a cross. And get this, He did this for you. 

And while upon the cross, the scriptures say that Jesus drew all men to Himself.  Yes, in this anti-glorious place; in this dark, ugly, low place of shame and death, by Himself, Jesus does the most remarkable thing the world has ever known - He pulled the weight of sin from the world unto Himself.   

Do you and I truly hear this? 

Jesus chose the crown of thorns.  He chose the hammer and nails.  He went into the darkness.  He chose the cross.  He drank the cup of wrath, and He pulled the weight of sin - your sin and mine – unto Himself.  And then in one simple word, He said, “Tetelestai; It. Is. Finished.” 

Welcome to Holy Week dear Baptized Saints – the week where Christ accomplished your salvation.      

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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