As Christians look forward to celebrating the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, they also mark his Passion through the observance of Holy Week.
“It’s hard to have an Easter without a Lent and a Holy Week, because otherwise it becomes a secular holiday, which, to me personally, is fearful because it loses any sense of cooperation or work with the Divine,” said Father Mark Kusmirek of Jacksonville’s Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church. “You need to have the whole story.”
It all ties together, agreed Father Rob Godwin of Jacksonville's Trinity Episcopal Church.
“Theologically, it was the death of Christ that paid for the penalty of our sins … the resurrection proved Christ's supremacy over everything, that he was son of God (and) the sting of death was swallowed up by the resurrection,” he said.
To ignore either is to do so our own peril, Father Kusmirek said, “because if we ignore (the Passion), then Easter has little meaning. Then there’s the other side of it, where we could embrace the Passion but lessen the importance of the resurrection. So we need the whole story to lead an authentically Christian life.”
Holy Week kicks off with Palm Sunday, which – according to Scripture – marks Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The Gospel describes the reception Jesus receives as he enters the city: “ … when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.” (John 12:12-13)
However, during the Passover meal he celebrates with his disciples, Jesus announces that he will be betrayed by one of them, setting into motion a series of events ultimately culminates with his death by crucifixion.
Up to this point, “we have a sense of his life and his mission, of his calling as the son of God to serve and to free us from sin,” Father Kusmirek said.
Then, Christ experiences “the human condition of being turned on by those who don’t embrace what he’s saying – Holy Week in particular looks at the acceptance, the exuberance, the almost ticker-tape parade experience of Jesus going into Jerusalem. And then we have the sudden turn of events, where within a few days, the excitement and acclaim turns to a spitefulness,” he said.
“One of the saddest things of all – although the Bible doesn't tell us this – it's probably the same people who cheered him on Palm Sunday (who are the ones) who hollered 'Crucify him' a week later. It's just so sad that one week he's a hero, next week he's a villain,” Father Godwin said.
“But this (demonstrates) the fickleness of human nature.”
Yet even Christ points out that it had to be played out that way, asking the two men he's joined on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? … everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:26, 44)
While it pains Christians to comprehend the depth of Christ's Passion, had God not become incarnate by being born in human form, “it would be merely impossible for us to associate with him,” said David Butler, senior pastor at People's Church in Jacksonville. “But by doing so, it makes (his life and sacrifice) real, and alive, to every believer.”
Jesus “knew what it was like to be ridiculed, mocked and scorned, to actually walk on the human side of life. That’s why when we feel our human pain and suffering and go to Christ, who says ‘I know how you feel, I’ve been there, too … cast all your cares upon me, for I care about you.’ He says, ‘I am a friend that’s … closer than a brother.’ We can not understand this with deity, but it is so easy to comprehend in Christ’s humanity,” he said.
“It is a real conundrum” to consider, Father Godwin added. “Here we have poor old Jesus, who's been whipped, who's been scourged and spat upon, with thorns pushed onto his head – and the final humiliation, spikes driven into his hands and feet – and he says, 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”
The typical human response would be much different, he pointed out. “If I had been in that situation … I would blast them … anybody's reaction (would be similar). But Jesus doesn't call out for relief from the pain and suffering, he doesn't call out 'Help my disciples so that they don't end up here with me.' His actual prayer is for the people who are doing this to him.
“And that is the most wonderful thing we could possibly imagine: The person who is condemned to a terrible, unjust death … (he) says, 'Forgive them.' Oh my word, it's just too wonderful to comprehend, what he's done, because we don't know who he's talking about – is he talking about the soldiers, is he talking about Pilate, the justice system, the witnesses? He forgives all,” Father Godwin said.
The resurrection, Butler added, becomes all the more remarkable in light of this.
“Can you imagine the excitement when you finally understand that everything that he said he was, he really is the son of the living God?” he asked. “The disciples, hiding in fear of being associated with him must have felt in their heart that they betrayed the Christ, and yet they were closely associated with him up to the crucifixion.
“Now all their sorrow has turned to great joy (as they realized) what he has prophesied has become the reality,” Butler said, adding that Christ’s Passion “brings the human side of what (God’s plan for salvation) is all about” and sets apart believers, who understand that they are given the gift of eternal life.
“It’s almost too good to be true – yet it is true. Because he lives now, we can live also,” Butler said. “What a wonderful thought for every believer!”
In looking “at that entire story” in the events of Holy Week, we discover “the real joy, which is at Easter: He is resurrected; he has life again,” Father Kusmirek said.
“It’s not about Cadbury eggs or having fun finding candy, but about a real newness of life, a rebirth.”