This is tax day in the U.S., but there is something far more important here than the deadline for sending in our income tax forms. This is the beginning of Holy Week. We again relive the events of our Lord’s last week of His earthly life. This is the week we received deliverance from the bondage to sin, and the breaking of the power death holds over us. This is the week of our redemption. Even as Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt, so we have been freed from our slavery to sin. We relive the supper on Holy Thursday where our Lord instituted the Holy Communion giving us His true body and blood, our food for life. We go with Him to the agony of Gethsemane as He cried out to the Father. We stand at the foot of the cross on Good Friday as he bore the weight of all of our sin making atonement for all mankind. All of this prepared us for the glorious celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday morning. This is the week that gives us the greatest hope for life. When the Jews celebrate their Passover they end with the hope filled shout, “Next year in Jerusalem”. For us it is the hope of the New Jerusalem in the presence of our Living Lord.
Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus had told his disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem , and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life.”(Matthew 20:18-19) That is the journey we will follow this week through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally to the glorious celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. But these are not simply past events that we remember and celebrate like anniversaries and birthdays. These are living truths that give us life today. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”(II C.5:18) Because of this week, by God’s grace, we have been, and are continuing to be, made new each day through faith in Jesus Christ. Remember the past? Yes. But we rejoice in the continuing work of our gracious Lord.
Coming down from the Mount of Olives Jesus had approached the city to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The people wanted a change. They had been under the thumb of Rome for many years. They knew the Scriptures where God had promised a descendant of David to sit on Israel’s throne forever. This Miracle Worker must be the one. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Their acclaim was right, but the end that they sought would not bring them what they truly needed. Only Jesus understood the path He was on. The throne that He must occupy was on a hill called The Skull. His only acclaim the taunts and curses of those looking at His bloodied body. His only scepter a reed that would bring a taste of sour wine to His dying lips. Within days of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem this true King would be dead. But this King knew something that all the others did not. It was only by His atoning death that a change could be wrought in their inner being, and only that change could give them the life they truly sought.
This is the beginning of Holy Week. It is the most sacred time in the Christian calendar. We will read and portray the events of this last week before our Lord’s death on a Roman cross a number of times in a number of ways. We remind ourselves again of all our God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Especially when reading the account of that Friday, the Friday we call Good, one is struck by the length of time Jesus was on the cross. I think sometimes, we gloss over the depth of Jesus’ physical agony. The crosses we see or wear are usually empty, and certainly we know that Jesus is alive. But the depth of His physical suffering, not to mention His spiritual agony in bearing all of our sins, is beyond our comprehension. After being deprived of all rest, beaten incessantly, struggling under the weight of the cross, and being pierced with nails, He hung there for six hours. It is so easy to say, “Jesus died for me.” But to contemplate what He really suffered causes us to stand in absolute awe, and exclaim, “He willing did this for me!”
When a rocket is about to be launched there is a count down, 10…9…8… When there is an exam coming there are just 3…2…1…days left to study. That relentless pursuit time weighs heavily as the day approaches. Such were these days for our Lord. He knew clearly what was ahead. The prophets had foretold the events of this week hundreds of years before, but that was hundreds of years. Now it is down to days and hours until Jesus faces His trial. He still went to the Temple to teach the people. He still healed a few, but the Jewish leaders looked on, like vultures waiting for the kill. All of this rested on Jesus’ mind as He spent these days. He found some comfort with the company of His disciple, but the task that lay ahead weighed on Him every moment. He would be the unblemished Lamb of God who shed His blood for the sins of all mankind. There was no other way. He alone, God in human flesh, the perfect man, would make the atoning sacrifice. Tuesday…Wednesday…Thursday…until the cross.