Archives: Wednesday in Holy Week

Wednesday: Disregarding Shame

As we continue our journey through Holy Week, our attempt to be faithful to Jesus in his hour of need, we need to ask: what prevents us from following him?

What drives us away from his presence? What keeps us from living up to our aspirations to love God and our neighbor with freedom and joy?

Shame.

Shame shows up all over our texts today, and it turns out that shame is one of the deadliest barriers lying between us and faithfulness to Jesus.

Our Hebrew scripture lesson is the third of the four Servant Songs in Isaiah. Although this text can stand on its own with rich meaning, as Christians, we hear these verses in the voice of Jesus.

It describes the pain and indignity of what he will go through on Good Friday, and his willingness to endure it: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”

Pulling out someone’s beard and spitting on their face are ways of imparting shame to someone. They demean and devalue the victim.

And most of what happens to Jesus on Friday is designed to enforce shame, all the way up to and including his death on the Cross.

Crucifixion is intended not just to kill someone efficiently—that could be done much faster by beheading them, as happened to John the Baptist.

Crucifixion is a slow, painful death in full view of the world, meant to be a spectacle showing everyone that the crucified person is a criminal and the dregs of society.

And the victim is robbed of all dignity or privacy.

As he slowly loses strength, he is reduced to animal pain, losing control over his body and his mind in full public view.

As with all shame processes, it robs the person of his or her identity, crushing him completely until he dies, no longer who he was or wanted to be.

Praise God, we will never have to go through something as terrible as crucifixion, although we must always remember our brothers and sisters around the world of all faiths who are persecuted for their beliefs.

But what the world did to Jesus on the Cross, killing him not just with violence but with shame, the world tries to do to us. Continue reading

Wednesday: For the Sake of the Joy

The remarkable truth about Holy Week that we find so hard to grasp is the fact that everything and everyone is redeemable.

There is no tragedy so great, no action so unjust, no person so evil that he or she cannot be redeemed by the saving work of Jesus Christ.

We say we believe that, but most of the time we are carrying around grudges and shame and wounds that we, in our heart of hearts, don’t think Jesus can heal.

Because why would he want to? Why would he bother with redeeming our sins when he could just sweep in on a white horse and carry us off to heaven?

Well, Jesus doesn’t work that way, and we’re never going to understand his work on the Cross if we don’t understand what redemption is.

Sometimes people think that redemption is erasure of bad things.

It’s just gone, like it never happened.

But that is not redemption.

God is not doing a retroactive censorship of our lives, blacking out the parts that we’d rather not remember.

Redemption is a threefold process. It consists of forgiveness, illumination, and healing.

Erasure, elimination, forgetting and cutting out the deeds of sin and pain does not happen at all in redemption.

They’re still there. But they are fundamentally changed.

Let me explain. Continue reading

Wednesday: The Question We’re Afraid to Ask

One of the most difficult obstacles to experiencing Holy Week fully, to entering into with full emotional integrity and not turning off and tuning out, is the heavy sense of inevitability to it all.

We know that on the other side of these dark days lies the greatest joy in the world, but sticking it out while these terrible things happen, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, day after day of crisis and calamity, is rough.

That is emphasized tonight by the fact that our readings this evening are not actually going to take place until tomorrow. We are reading about Thursday night’s events on Wednesday night.

And we know they’re going to happen. We know there’s no escape.

John often portrays Jesus as impassive, cool and serene and dispensing wisdom from a sage emotional distance.

But here, at the turning point of his life and work on Earth, even John can’t quite believe that Jesus could experience his own betrayal to death with no visible reaction.

“At supper with his friends, Jesus was troubled in spirit,” John says.

Troubled in spirit. Can we speculate on what Jesus might have been feeling at that moment?

Fear, perhaps. He was about to endure an incredible amount of physical pain that would in the end kill him.

I don’t think his human self could anticipate that without fear.

Despair—he only has a few days left and his disciples are still clueless. Will they stubbornly continue to fail to understand what he’s been trying to teach them?

And pain. Jesus hurts to know that Judas, Judas whom he chose, whom he taught, whom he loved, will sell him out to be killed. Continue reading

Wednesday: Answering Judas

This scene in our gospel tonight is so painful I don’t even know where to start with it.

There are so many complex emotions in the room.

Jesus has just finished washing the disciples’ feet, a moment of tenderness and love.

They could sense a finality to this supper they were sharing, but they weren’t sure why, and they started to feel an uneasiness that was uncomfortably close to fear.

Where everything had been so right just a few moments ago, enjoying dinner together as they had so many times before, now there is definitely something wrong.

But what?

And then Jesus says it.

“One of you will betray me.”

Is there anything else worse than betrayal?

The reason it hurts so much is because it has to come from someone you know and love.

A stranger cannot betray you.

Someone who hates you and always has cannot betray you.

Any negative action they take toward you is straightforward and honest malice.

But the definition of betrayal is being sold out and given up to an enemy by a friend, someone you love.

The central experience of betrayal is finding out that the person you love doesn’t love you back the way you thought he did. Continue reading