“Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”John 12:26
It’s Holy Week. This is my 36th Holy Week in ministry. Of course, 2020 and 2021 have been a little strange with recording services a day or two ahead of the actual holy day and not marking time in a dark, almost silent church. Still, there is a power in Holy Week that I find hard to ignore or take for granted. The story of Jesus’ passion is full of drama as Jesus moves steadily to the cross. There is an inevitability in Holy Week. Even worse, holy week is full of evil, wickedness, poor choices, and the death of an innocent man. Holy week is perhaps the most human week in our church calendar.
I like to read the passion stories, no matter how many times I have read them or heard them read in previous years. They are a reminder of exactly who Jesus is and what Jesus is willing to do for me. They are a reminder of my own human failings as a disciple. They beg me to question what I am willing to do for Jesus.
Peter is absolutely positive that he will never deny Jesus. Then he does. Judas didn’t begin his work with Jesus with a plot to betray him. Yet he does. John and James want to follow dutifully. Their mother wants them to sit on the right hand and left hand of Jesus. Other disciples witness the activity of Holy Week. Jesus washes their feet. Jesus teaches them that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Jesus predicts his death. As far as we know through the gospel accounts, they remain silent.
Whom do you resemble in the picture of Holy Week? Am I the betrayer? Are you the denier? Which of us just sit silently and watch the whole thing transpire? Jesus is willing to go all the way to the cross for us. He is willing to count his equality with God as nothing for our sake. Jesus empties himself – of pride, of desire, of the need to be successful, of the demands of others – Jesus empties himself and goes to the cross. Why? It is an act of love – sacrificial love, unconditional love, love from which we are never separated. This is the gift of Holy Week. In the midst of the evil, the betrayal, the death of an innocent man, there is, first and foremost love – a love so amazing, so divine it demands our soul, our life, and our all (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross).
This year I will walk to the cross with you. I will stand and gaze at this symbol of evil and wickedness. I will wonder at all the tragedy in our world. I will count those dead from a pandemic. I will think of those gunned down in reckless violence in Atlanta, in Boulder, in our streets of Chicago. I will answer the call to follow. By the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I will follow Jesus to the cross and beyond. May it be so for all of us.