On Remembering the Horrors of Holy Week

The celebration of Easter is over, but the events that created Holy Week never cease to confront the human conscience. “Christ died for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous,” writes Peter (1 Peter 3:18).

The cross, some say, was a preposterous event, but Christians know it was for their redemption. It is the core of our eternal rescue. We know that “Christ died for our sins,” and that is worthy of heart-felt meditation the whole year round.

Paul writes of the gospel’s seemingly surreal claim: Christ died according to the Scripture; He was buried; He was raised again the third day according to the Scriptures; He was then seen alive by well over 500 witnesses — including Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Our Lord’s death was real as was his resurrection.

In his book The Cross the late John R. W. Stott reviews the various Christian symbols to show which of them was most focused and compelling for the early Christians. Eventually, he notes, the cross crowded all others out to become the symbol that dominates the preaching of Christ’s sacrificial suffering across the centuries and to this day.

The cross of Christ is often named in Christian hymns, printed on church literature, worn pinned to lapels, stamped on church pews, placed above church entrances and chiseled into gravestones.

The gospels record the various events of Holy Week and in doing so hold before us two fundamental truths: First the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Our sins put Christ on that cross. Second, the immeasurable wonder of God’s love for sinners. The sinless one offered himself as a sacrifice for sin that we might be spared our penalty and set free. This we are called to believe and proclaim.

As we leave the celebration of Holy Week behind I lay out here prompts for occasional recalls in meditation. My outline scans the core of the gospel story and will help us remember what immediately preceded our Lord’s brutal trip to his cross.

Sunday: On this day Jesus entered Jerusalem cheered by crowds with the mistaken notion that he would use his great powers as a Jewish king to drive out the Roman occupation (Matthew 21:1–11; Luke 19:28-44).

Monday: Jesus cursed the fig tree. This has been called an “acted parable” of judgment against the nation that had failed its divine assignment (Matthew 21:18,19).

Tuesday: His return to Bethany and his long discourse on things to come plus the response his followers should be prepared to make (Luke 21: 5-36).

Wednesday: Likely a day of silence; but his enemies were not silent: The ruling Sanhedrin plotted to have Jesus killed by the Romans (Matthew 26:3-5; Luke 22:1-2).

Thursday: Preparations for his observance of the Passover meal and at the same time he is instituting “communion” in connection with the last supper (Matthew 26:20-35; Luke 22:14-30).

(Good) Friday. This is the day of our Lord’s crucifixion. He is betrayed and arrested; He goes before Caiaphas (John 18:19-24) and before the full Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71); before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25). He was on his cross from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (John 19:16-37); then hastily buried (Matthew 26:57-61).

Saturday: The Jewish Sabbath — a day of frightened silence.

Sunday: Jesus’ resurrection appearances (Matthew 28:1-20). The day of astonishment and joy and the rebirth of hope.

To keep faith focused properly on the day of Resurrection, we need to return often in our Bible reading to the special week that led to Christ’s sacrificial ordeal.

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Photo credit: rabiem22 (via flickr.com)

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