A Thought for Easter
THE RESURRECTION of Jesus from the dead on Easter Sunday confirmed God’s enduring promise to us of our eternal heavenly calling: it was an abiding expression of assurance and hope for all.
But the resurrection was only made possible by the events of Holy Week which were in stark contrast to the glory of Christ’s rising from the dead. Each time we look at a crucifix we are reminded of the physical agony and torment endured by Jesus in his last days on earth: from the Old Testament scriptures it is clear that Jesus, as man,[i] was fully aware of their age-old predictions on what lay ahead for him.[ii] We are less conscious, however, of the parallel mental anguish, loneliness and abandonment which he suffered, as man, particularly when he was most in need of the support of his disciples and followers.
Holy week began with Jesus entering Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. (Psalm 118:26, Matthew 11:3)’. On Monday, he went to the Temple and cleared out the corrupt money changers: ‘My temple will be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves’ (Luke 19:45). The following day, on the Mount of Olives, while in the company of some of his disciples, Jesus truly revealed his dual human/divine nature as he reflected on the price he had to pay for our redemption. His human side prayed ardently to God the Father to ‘take the cup away’, but with absolute obedience to His will, added, ‘not my will but thy will be done. (Luke 22:42)’. Aware that that his disciples would also be sorely tempted by the devil, he urged them to ‘pray that you will not fall into temptation’.
As the Last Supper approached on Holy Thursday, Peter and John were sent ahead to prepare the Upper Room in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. It was during this last supper that Jesus transformed bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ with the instruction ‘do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19)’, thereby establishing the continuous link, or Communion, between him and all believing generations to come through the sacrifice of the mass. Jesus then taught a lesson in humility and Christian virtue when he washed the feet of his disciples before proceeding with them to the Garden of Gethsemane. There, he again prayed, in agony, to the Father:‘His sweat became like drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)’.
Jesus’s need for the prayerful support of his disciples at these, the most agonising times for him, was paramount: but the disciples were found wanting. This was all the more evident when Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, paradoxically with a kiss, and after he was taken to the home of Caiaphas for trial where he was subjected to false accusation, humiliation and condemnation without a voice being raised in his support. He was scourged and led away by the soldiers who spat upon him, indulging in added derision by placing a crown of thorns on his head ‘to cause further pain and mock his claim of authority as King of the Jews’. (Matthew 27-29, John 19:2,5). In another venue, his beloved Peter was to deny him three times.
While carrying his cross to Calvary, he witnessed his mother’s grief and pain, and only on two occasions did he receive help on that last journey; first, from Simon of Cyrene who, albeit unwillingly, helped Jesus carry his cross, and, second, from Veronica who wiped his face: both were strangers. While nailed to the cross, he was flanked by two thieves and, at the foot of the cross, there was John the apostle and a small group of women which included his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. Where were all his other disciples and followers?
Jesus’s last words on the cross included those to his Father, ‘Forgive them for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:24); and, again, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’, that is,‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?’ which, again, revealed the human nature of God the Son, and which fulfilled the Old Testament prophesy in the opening words of Prophet David’s Psalm 22. When he knew that he was close to the end, again to fulfil the Scriptures, he said, ‘I am thirsty’ (John 19:28) but refused the initial, stupefying drink of vinegar, gall and myrrh (Matthew 27:34, Mark 15:23). And, finally, in his last words, those of Psalm 31:5, Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke 23-46)’.
Holy Week embraced all the emotions and drama of our Christian faith. It embodied the core essence of our Christianity in the New Testament while playing out many of the puzzling predictions of the Old Testament. It reaffirmed the dual nature of Jesus as God and man, fulfilling God the Father’s mission for Jesus to secure our redemption, once and for all, through death on the cross. The week also highlighted the human frailties of even the staunchest of followers of Jesus and the compassion of others from whom you would have least expected it.
We can learn four obvious lessons from the events of Holy Week: first, a reminder to those who sometimes lose sight of the sanctity of the Temple of God as a place of prayer and worship; second, the implicit power of communal prayer as sought by Jesus on several occasions; third, the virtue of humility; and, fourth, an appreciation of the mental anguish and despair that accompanies loneliness and isolation at times of critical need. We do not need to look too far to see myriad examples of such need in modern life today.