Holy Week in an unholy world

Apr 3, 2015 by

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We call it Holy Week. But it was a terrible week.

His trial reeked of injustice. His own disciple sold him out for a few pieces of silver, betrayed him with a kiss . . .  and hung himself.

As he was arrested, one of his closest friends disregarded all his teaching on love — pulled out a knife — and cut a guy’s ear off. Jesus called him out . . . and healed the other guy. A lot of the stuff that happened that first Holy Week was pretty unholy.

Once arrested, he was passed back and forth between politicians and bureaucrats. There was Caiaphas the priest, the Sanhedrin council, Pontius Pilate, the crowd — everyone seemed to want him dead, but no one wanted blood on their hands. Even Pilate washed his clean.

They had all kinds of accusations. Insurrection. Inciting a riot. Conspiracy. Terrorism (plotting to destroy the temple). Blasphemy.

But all he did was love. And heal. And give people hope.

Despite any substantial evidence, witnesses, or signs of any crime committed — he was pronounced guilty and sentenced to die.

As he awaited his fate, he was bullied, interrogated, harassed, tortured, beaten to a pulp. The authorities humiliated him and stripped him naked. They mocked the claims of his divinity — ramming a crown of thorns onto his head and wrapping him in a royal purple robe as they laughed.

And so it went. This man who many believe was the holy one that the prophets spoke of, the long awaited Messiah, God incarnate, love with skin on — was executed, brutally. He died with his body convulsing as his lungs collapsed, with vultures swarming overhead, hoping to clean up after the execution. There is nothing more evil than what happened that “Good” Friday.

Most of his friends deserted him and left him to fend for himself. Some of them were so scared they denied even knowing him. Only the women stayed. The long loneliness was so agonizing, so gut wrenching, he felt like God had bailed on him. Among his last words were these: “My God, My God . . . why have you forsaken me?”

But even though it was a gruesome week — love gets the last word. We call it “Good” Friday because it wasn’t just death that made the news — but resurrection. The empire, the cross, the bloodshed was not the end of the story. On the cross Jesus made a spectacle of evil — he exposed the hatred of which we are capable. And he triumphed over that hatred with love. He died with forgiveness on his lips. Just as he came to set the oppressed free, he also came to set oppressors free.

Holy Week is not just about the resurrection — it is also about the cross. Without Good Friday there is no Easter. But we can’t leave Jesus on the cross. In the end, this is a resurrection story. Holy Week is about a God who suffers with us — bleeds with us, cries with us, hopes with us. As we celebrate Holy Week, let’s connect the passion of Christ with the passion of the streets. As we remember the violence inflicted on Jesus, we remember the crucified peoples of our world, the victims of violence today.

One of the most powerful Good Friday services I’ve ever been part of was a few years ago. We carried the cross into the streets and planted it outside the gun shop in our neighborhood. We had our services there. We read the story of Jesus’ death . . . and heard about the women weeping at the foot of the cross. And then we listened to the women in our neighborhood weep as they shared about losing their kids to gun violence.

Calvary met Kensington.

Afterwards, one woman said to me: “I get it! I get it!” I asked her what she meant. And then she said something more profound than anything I ever learned in seminary: “God understands my pain. God knows how I feel. God watched his Son die too.” Then I realized she was the mother of a 19-year-old who had just been murdered on our block.

God understands our pain. That is good theology for Good Friday. And that kind of theology only happens when we connect the Bible to the world we live in. It happens when worship and activism meet. We don’t have to choose between faith and action. In fact we cannot have one without the other.

Let’s get out of the sanctuaries and into the streets.

I am thrilled to see movements across the country reclaiming Holy Week. Thousands will take part in Holy Week actions that connect the horror and hope of 2,000 years ago with the horror and hope of today — from Ferguson to New York, from Oakland to Auckland. Thousands of people will be declaring an end to hatred, and the triumph of love. Thousands will be bringing attention to the victims of violence, racism and torture today. And hundreds of faith leaders are declaring an end to execution this Easter in the name of the executed and risen Christ. It is a Holy Week. Death does not get the last word.

There is a movement happening — and this movement is about life.

We’ve had enough death. The tomb is empty. Love has triumphed. He is risen! Hallelujah!

Shane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, activist and founding member of the Simple Way. He is one of the compilers of Common Prayer, a resource to unite people in prayer and action. Claiborne is also helping develop a network called Friends Without Borders, which creates opportunities for folks to come together and work together for justice from around the world. This blog post is provided thanks to our partnership with Red Letter Christians


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  • Elaine Fehr

    Here we are on Good Friday, remembering the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amazingly,
    His prophetic death was recorded as far back as Genesis 3:15! Our sovereign God, in His perfect mercy and justice, had already planned a way for us imperfect people to be cleansed from our sin, for which the penalty is death (Romans 6:23). He did this so we, who were separated from Him
    by sin, could be redeemed and reconciled to Himself (Ephesians 1:7). That is why Jesus Christ took on the body of a man and came down from heaven for a short time just over 2000 years ago (John 6:38-40). He knew his mission and purpose was to save sinners and He knew that this could only be accomplished by willingly offering Himself as a perfect sacrificial Lamb. No greater love is there than the love of Jesus Christ who died to pay the penalty for our sins!

    The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is far superior to the sacrificial lambs offered in the OT (Hebrews 10).
    Instead of covering sins for a period of time like the animal sacrifices did in the OT, His blood actually cleanses the stain of sin in everyone who believes (trusts) in Him and what He did by dying on the cross in our place (1 John 1:7-9). There is no other way for us to be cleansed from our sin, than to receive Christ’s forgiveness by grace through faith in Him. We can never obtain that salvation through doing enough good works, because our own “righteousness” is as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6b).

    What a blessed hope we have in Jesus Christ if we believe in what He did for us. We have gone from spiritual darkness to light, death to life! And we can have confidence that if we persevere in faith in Him, that we will live eternally with Him! Today is a good day to examine ourselves. Do we have that confidence in Jesus Christ? If so, praise God! If not, may I suggest reading the book of John? If you believe that gospel as it is written, in repentance, call out to God, admitting your need for a Savior to cleanse you from your sin. Then go on and live your life by faith in Him.