Lent Week Six - Holy Week
April 10th - 16th
Holy Week Is Personal… And It’s Political
Holy Week has such mixed emotions for most Christians, and it’s place in the life of individuals and communities of faith is central as evidenced by the larger number of worshippers in Palm/Passion Sunday services (onsite and online), the time and attention given to planning and leading such services as Maundy Thursday or Tenebrae Services, Good Friday Services (often done ecumenically or by groups of churches in a district or area), as well as the growing number of Protestant congregations offering some variation on a Easter Vigil service on Holy Saturday. I firmly believe that Holy Week remains central to the spiritual life of the vast majority of Christians, no matter what particular tradition, language, culture, or part of the world in which they live. Its importance can be verified by how many faithfully participate in some form at least one aspect of this sacred span of six days. You reading this devotional illustrates my point!
A large part of this emphasis is due to how most of the faithful relate on a deeply personal level to Jesus’ journey from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with its high emotions of celebration and hopefulness, to the intensely introspective moments of the disciples gathered at a meal with Jesus wondering, “Is it I. Lord?” Our bodies connect with the tangible nature of bread broken and a cup shared, our hearts and emotions are engaged when we recognize ourselves in the Garden of Gethsemane falling asleep at exactly the worst moment, when we easily imagine ourselves denying our friend and sovereign because we fear what danger might come to us, and when we wait anxiously in a darkened room wondering what the future holds in store for us.
I affirm the profoundly personal and deeply individual aspects of Holy Week, because these sacred days move me and enrich my own spirituality. I feel closer to Jesus because of this week, and my faith in God is stronger when I pay attention to how the story of Holy Week moves me emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. The epitome of the personal aspects of this week are found in the hymn, “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley.”
And… and I use that conjunction intentionally… and Holy Week is also communal, a corporate experience, and it has ramifications for how we live in the world, which is to say it is “political.” At its heart, “politics” are all those things that relate to how we work together in our civic and public life, how we human beings relate to one another when it is more than our individual selves or our family or tribe. I become exasperated when the word and concept of the political is used in a pejorative sense in the church, especially because the Bible essentially is a book about how our faith ought to affect how we gather together in community, whether that is in a church or larger community.
Holy Week is as political as it is personal. This was made wonderfully clear to me in the book The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan (Harper Collins, 2007). This book goes day by day in the last week of Jesus’ earthly life and shows that not only were Jesus’ actions and words focused on deepening his followers spiritual lives, they were also meant to change the world, the political world.
I highly commend this book to you! It both deepened my spiritual journey and it made me aware of the broader more world-changing aspects of what happened that fateful week. For example, my understanding of Palm Sunday was completely transformed when I read how Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan uncovered the reality of not one, but two processions happening in the same day. They offer the challenge that the Palm Sunday moment we commemorate with children waving palm branches down the center aisle of church cannot be understood apart from the reality that on the other side of the city of Jerusalem, at the beginning of the very same religious festival, another procession was taking place. The second procession, this one led by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the region, with his imperial cavalry and soldiers, bursting with pomp and circumstance, had a much more ominous intent. The objective of Pilate’s parade was to remind them he was in control, to force the throngs of the devoted faithful to cower, to compel them into behaving or risk the strong retaliation of his mighty forces.
Jesus, by entering humbly on a colt, enjoyed the joyous and appreciative attention of the masses of the people, not their disdain. Jesus saw them as companions on his journey, not enemies to be defeated as did Pilate. In fact, Jesus knew the people because he had walked with them through the pain and heartache of their world, had touched them and healed them, had scoured the back streets and corners of the city to bring hope and dignity to those who were lost, alone, lame, and unloved.
The phrase "the personal is political" arose in the student movement and second-wave feminism from the late 1960s. It underscored the connections between personal experience and larger social and political structures. I would like to make the case that in our faith lives, the personal is also political, and the political is also personal. Holy Week is just one example of how the life, words, and story of Jesus are meant to not only transform us as individual believers, but are meant to transform the world.
Rev. Allen V. Harris
Regional Pastor and President
Holy Week: Reflections
Matthew 21:10-11: “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’”
- What aspects of Holy Week stir your heart and soul most deeply? Are there different aspects that move you this year differently from years in the past?
- Have you ever thought about the larger, societal, consequences of Jesus’ words and actions? When did he get in trouble with religious leaders? When did he confront political leaders? What other biblical characters do these moments remind you of?
- How does your faith inform your behavior in your personal life? In your family life? In how you are a neighbor in your community? In your civic or public life?
- Do you think Jesus intended for his teachings to only affect our personal morals, or do you think he always intended for what he said and did to change the world? How so?