Holy Week has it all. Intrigue, jealousy, betrayal, people taking sides, violence, torture, a courtroom drama, cheering and jeering crowds, demonstrations and potential riots, legally-sanctioned murder. It has sadness and humor, action and contemplation. It makes us emote, and it makes us think. It reminds us that even though we are 2000-plus years removed from that world, those people, and those realities, we are just like them. We seem always, throughout history, to be the same people, with the same opinions and motivations, the same decisions to make and selves to preserve. And if we don’t see ourselves in this story of this week, then we need to take another look at ourselves. Because we are in it. All of us. I suspect that most of us would have made the same decisions and held the same priorities as the people in the story. Because we do now, in our own time, in our own lives. And Jesus would be just as much of an outlier now as he was then.
So as we go through the week, we see the crowd’s Palm Sunday joy—the hailing of Jesus as the conquering king—descend into the disillusionment of “he’s not going to do it” and public opinion turn pretty much 180 degrees. Some of the same people who saw him as the answer to all of their problems, the lifter of all of their oppression, come to see him as someone they’d be just as glad to see get killed. We see the religious leaders, who find him a bit lax in his observance of the law, get even more threatened when he turns over the tables in the Temple, making him not only lax but threateningly subversive. The Romans, wanting to keep the peace, especially in a week when Jerusalem is swelled in numbers by all of the Jews in town for the Passover, want to do everything to keep things under control. So the two groups most threatened by him conspire to get him out of the way.
They find one of the disciples is willing to cooperate with that. So Judas betrays Jesus for money. Jesus tells the disciples that they will run away and not hang in there with him, and they say that will never happen. Peter is most emphatic about that. And then, when Jesus is arrested, the soldiers tipped off by Judas, they all run away, and Peter denies ever knowing the man he’s just spent pretty much every day three years with—to save his own skin. And after Jesus is crucified, the disciples get back together, frightened for their lives, and devastated that all of their dreams seems totally shot.
From our vantage point, 20 centuries later, we are still fascinated with the motivations that went into all of this drama. And we recognize our own motivations in theirs. Wanting to keep things like we like them. Not wanting our idea of how things are supposed to be challenged. Feeling like we can dismiss others we don’t think live right. Wanting to save our own skin when knowing someone is a threat to our standing in the community. And despairing when the way life seems to be flowing along OK gets totally disrupted. We can see ourselves in so much of this.
And that is why Easter matters so much. Because all of this less than stellar behavior—all of this mixed bag of human emotions and motivations—is nowhere as powerful and decisive as God’s love. All of the “stuff” that we carry with us, for whatever reasons, that weighs us down and keeps us from living freely—and allowing others to live freely—is so insignificant in the face of love that is more powerful than death. The vindication of what Jesus lived and taught comes from death not being the final statement. Love wins.
Love always wins—and we need to claim that victory. We need to let love win in our own lives—and we need to show that love to others in their lives. Perfect love casts out fear. Love is not jealous or boastful; it does not insist on its own way. Knowing that we are loved as we are helps us love others as they are; knowing that we are loved as we are helps us to do that better; it helps others to do that better too.
Easter is the triumph of love. Over life, over death. God grants us that victory—and we are to LIVE that victory of love.
GOSPEL for EASTER SUNDAY John 19:17-30; 20:1-18
17 Carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’ 22 Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’
25 And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27 Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew,*‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.