The Contradictions of Holy Week

Such striking contrasts in the events of Holy Week! A tumultuous entry into the Holy City, with the crowds chanting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9) A midnight arrest and a hasty tribunal behind closed doors, before the hostile leaders of the people. The people’s joy on what we call “Palm Sunday,” with the impromptu “green carpet” laid for him along the route of his procession. The rabid hostility of the people – some of the same people? – only a few days later as they screamed “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Matthew 27:23) What strange things we humans do when we are afraid. How eager we are to blame someone for our fears and insecurity.

The somber resolve of the disciples as they observed Passover in the rented upper room. Peter spoke for them all when he swore that they would stay with him, even unto death (Mark 14:31). The shameful haste with which they scurried into hiding when they saw his awful fate. Would we have been braver? The degrading spectacle of the one who had cast out demons, healed the blind, the lame and the leprous, now impotent before those who stripped him naked, beat him senseless, and nailed him to a wooden scaffold. “And we had hoped that he would be the one to restore Israel” (Luke 24:21), said one of his heartbroken followers after the awful ritual had run its course.

And then, the incredulous visitors to an empty tomb, who encountered a strange being of light there (or was it two beings?) bearing unbelievable news (Matthew 28:2-3, Luke 24:4). They had seen him die. They had buried him. And then – he was there with them, in the locked room where they had been hiding. And he made wonderful promises about the power that they would bear as they bore witness to him and to his reign across the world! (Luke 24:36-49). The powers of a sinful, broken world had done their worst. But they would not have the last word. Those powers still hold a tenuous but undeniable sway over this world, but only until his reign is completed and perfected. (May it be perfected in us!)

How often we want to run quickly from Good Friday to Easter Sunday without stopping to weep for this broken world – for our broken selves – and without taking with full seriousness the very pain of God, as his hatred of sin and his grieving over sinners meet his unquenchable love for us at Calvary’s Cross. There God absorbed the contradiction into himself and covered our guilt and shame.

Today all of these contrasts and contradictions are present in us for yet a little while. We praise the Risen Christ and scorn and defame one another. Among us the glory of Easter worship coexists with the laborious and sometimes awkward business of being the Church. But the Risen Christ is bigger and greater than all of our contradictions.

It’s not easy being Christ followers in a bigger is better, might makes right, winners and losers world. And the dividing line between sinner and saint, worldly and godly, runs right through the middle of each of us. But “God commends his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And Christ in his resurrection is “the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20) and we will one day rise in him. Ultimately, the reality of Easter swallows the contradictions of our experience.

— Dr. David L. Wheeler