The processions of the Palm branches have long since ceased. The shouts of Hosanna! have since echoed back as Crucify Him! and have fallen silent once again. Our feet have been washed, the Lord’s Supper was served. Judas betrayed the King and Jesus cried, “Please take this cup of suffering away from me.”[i] The soldiers came. The trial is complete. The rooster crowed and Jesus was beat. Simon carried the cross. Jesus breathed his last. His body was laid to rest, which the grave could not contain. Three days came and passed, and the women approached the grave. “He is not here!”[ii] the angel says. Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?[iii] Jesus is alive. The resurrection is complete. He is risen! And the chorus calls, “He is risen, indeed!”
Today, the morning after the great Easter festival, coming on the heels of the events of Holy Week, we find ourselves in the shadow of the greatest day in history, the event that changed the world.
Yet, Holy Week and Easter tend to push us farther than we often go as we hear and feel the dramatic events unfold. Standing now on this side of the celebration, feeling exhausted and needing a vacation, I pause to reflect on what this Holy Week has meant. You see the story has not changed, but this year it is different.
So, here you will find my reflections from Palm Sunday to Easter, as I look back on the same story, but see it all again different.
Palm Sunday – Why the Coats?
This Palm Sunday I found myself perplexed. Why would people willingly throw their coats on the dirt to be walked upon by a donkey and all the crowds who followed Jesus? I understand the shouting and the cheers. “Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”[iv] But why the coats? Why the sacrifice of personal belonging?
I know that Zechariah prophesied that the Messiah, the coming King, would come riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. But why give up the coats? Wasn’t joining the crowd in cheering Jesus on enough?
But there is more to the coats than a mob mentality. The coats mean so much more to me than the palm branches. You see, during the Feast of the Tabernacle Jews would wave branches in the air in celebration. The waving of branches was an act of celebration, as well as a sign of victory. However, the coats were something different. Why place them on the ground?
The answer lies in who the people were celebrating. The act of putting the branches and coats on the ground was an action people only did to honor a King. The reason why they put their coats on the ground is because that is what you do for a King.
As I reflect back to last week, to the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, I wonder, am I a member of the crowd cheering as Jesus rides by, celebrating with the rest of the crowd? Am I willing to take off my coat, my shelter from the world’s elements, and lay it in the mud, putting my words into action, paying homage to Jesus as my King, and put my money where my mouth is. Today, do I only cheer on Jesus with the crowd, standing by the side of the road. Or, do I lay down my best, and welcome Jesus as King?
Maundy Thursday – I Want More
Maundy Thursday, what a name. This year, this day was the most significant for me. Jesus and his disciples are in the upper room and Jesus takes off his robe and wraps a towel around his waist. Jesus washes the disciples feet. The work of a servant. The dirty work, literately. When he gets to Peter, Peter questions what Jesus is doing. Peter doesn’t want Jesus to do this task for him. When Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”[v], Peter submits, but not really. Instead of letting Jesus wash his feet, he asks for more. Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”[vi]
Resting now on the other side of Easter I think back on this moment, at the humanness in the request. Jesus, on his hands and knees, humbling himself to wash the dirty feet of his disciples. Instead, of being grateful, Peter asks for more. How much more so for me?
When God does a work in my life am I grateful? Or, am I like Peter and ask for more? When God moves in my life, and steps in to see me through, do I say thank you, or there’s one more thing I need you to do? When God acts, is my first response gratitude? Or do I look down at Jesus, like Peter, and respond by saying, “If you’re going to do that, I have a couple other things you can do too.”
Good Friday – By His Wounds
It is always dark, and it always begins with a minor key. The music was beautiful as always, but there was something different this time. The stories were the same: Judas the betrayer, Peter, Simon of Cyrene, the soldiers, Mary, the thieves on the cross, the centurion. Each has a part to play in the story.
As I reflect on the words once more, and visualize the scene, I realize that there is a person missing. There is one person in this uncomfortable story that fails to be fully represented. That person is me.
I wonder, do I have a part of this history, the death of my savior? In a completely new way, I have come to realize that I do. Good Friday is my story too.
I was not there in the courtyard that morning with Peter. Nor did I watch the soldiers mock Jesus. I was not charged to care for Mary, nor was I hung on a cross for my sinful actions beside Christ. But, as I stop and reflect, I did. There are times I have denied my allegiance to Christ for the sake of saving face. I have joined in the laughter while others have mocked people of faith, joining the crowd. Jesus said, “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.[vii] Again, I have failed to care for all the the Mary’s in my life, all of those hurt and broken trapped in the sorrow of life.
I am more like the thief on the cross than I would like to admit. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.[viii] Even though I know the truth, the fact remains. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.[ix] I should be the one to hang on the cross, not him.
As I reflect back to Good Friday, I realize now that I also play the part of the Centurion. As I stand beneath the cross and see my Savior die, I too declare, “This man truly was the Son of God!”[x]
It is clear to me again that all this is true. I have failed. I am not worthy. I deserve to die a sinners death. But, this realization is only part of what Good Friday is about. You see when Christ died on the cross, my failures, my denials, my sins died with him. And all that I was, is no more. By His wounds we are healed and are made right with God.
Holy Saturday – Losing Hope
Jesus has died, and his body rests in the tomb. Why don’t I care about the uncertainty that this brings? It’s because I know that Easter comes next. I know about the resurrection. But the disciples didn’t.
Amidst the planning for Easter and the preparing for family events, I missed the day between, when all hope was lost. The disciples did not know that Jesus was going to be raised from the dead. They did not know about the resurrection as we do. Did Mary weep all day Saturday between Jesus death and the discovery of the empty tomb?
Lost amidst the confusion, I realize that we too often find ourselves stuck between Good Friday and Easter. We know that our sins are washed away. But the trials and tragedies of this life deprive us of hope. We are stuck, waiting for Easter in our lives, for new life. Stuck in the pain, stuck in the sorrow, stuck in the void of hope that consumes us.
As I reflect back on Holy Saturday I realize that new life is just around the corner. Even if we cannot see it right now, God has a plan for new life, for our resurrection. We may not see it today. It is as though we are living between Good Friday and Easter. But on the horizon breaks a new day and something amazing is coming that will change our lives forever.
Easter Morning –We Can All Go Home Now
The celebration is over. The music has all been sung. The lilies have been taken. The new church cloths are in the hamper. There is plastic grass still spread across the floor. The kids have moved on, school is back in. Life is back to normal once again.
Why do we spend so much time preparing for Easter, only to move on with the sunrise of a new day? Thinking back to yesterday, there was so much joy and excitement. Now, in the light of this new day, one day from the resurrection of our Lord, it feels like its back to same old, same old.
But, Easter is meant to be so much more than just a day for music and celebration, for dinners and parties and Easter egg hunts. Easter is the moment that all our lives changed. Because Jesus is risen, we have a future today.
As I sit and reflect on yesterday’s celebration, I think to myself why is it yesterday’s celebration? The promise of Easter, and all that it means, is not something that one day can actually contain. Instead, Easter is meant to be lived out each day, not just on Easter morning, but even today.
The tomb is empty and this changes the world. Every Sunday morning is a celebration of our risen Lord. Easter is not celebrated just one day a year. Every time we gather for worship we celebrate Easter once more.
So today, Monday morning, the day after the Easter feast, I recognize anew that the celebration of Easter is not complete. One fact remains, which cannot be ignored, in six days we will gather again and celebrate together the resurrection of the Lord.
[i] Mark 14:36 NLT
[ii] Matthew 28:6
[iii] Luke 24:5
[iv] Matthew 21:9
[v] John 13:8
[vi] John 13:9
[vii] John 13:34
[viii] Romans 3:23
[ix] 1 Timothy 1:15
[x] Mark 15:39