Next week is the Church's holiest week of the year. Our faith rests on what we believe and celebrate during that week.
The very first time I went to church was on an Easter morning. I was eight years old and begged my mom to take me to church. A friend had been taking me to Sunday school with her, but her family didn’t go to church. I was desperate to go because I felt I was missing something really important. So on Easter morning that year, my mom and I got dressed up and went to church. I still remember the awe that overtook me as soon as I walked into the sanctuary that morning, and the exuberance that floated from every corner of the church that day. I didn’t get to go back to church for five more years, but the glow of that morning helped to sustain me until I was old enough to go on my own.
Easter week begins with Palm Sunday, which celebrates Christ riding into Jerusalem in great triumph. On this day, all of those following Christ must have been elated. Kings rode horses into battle but rode donkeys at times of peace. The way the crowd responded to Jesus' entrance that day was the response they would give to royalty. No wonder the Pharisees were nervous and wanted Jesus to rebuke his disciples. And no wonder Jesus said that the stones would cry out if they kept quiet.
The triumphal entry was Jesus' chance to announce himself as king. He gladly accepted this exultation, knowing he deserved it, but also knowing what was coming a few days later. This day teaches us that crowds are fickle and only true disciples keep walking with Christ to the Cross.
Then on Passover, Jesus celebrated what has come to be known as the Last Supper. It was the last meal Jesus would eat before his death on the cross. In an incredible display of love, Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of his friends, giving them an example of the kind of behavior he expected of them. It's also astonishing to think that when Jesus knew what he would suffer in a few short hours, he wanted to comfort and pamper his friends, rather than demand that he be comforted and pampered. Perhaps most amazing is that he washed the feet of the one he knew would betray him.
And, of course, Jesus instituted the amazing practice of Communion, saying the bread was his body given for them, asking them to remember him when they took it. Then taking the cup, he declared it to be the new covenant in his blood, poured out for them.
That night led to Jesus' arrest and his eventual death on the cross. Martin Luther said we all carry the nails that crucified Christ around in our pockets. Until we feel our culpability in Jesus' death, we will not understand the extent of our sin nature or the expanse of Christ's forgiveness. We deserve to be the ones punished for our sins. Instead, the faultless one volunteered to take the punishment in our place.
This is the same person that the apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:9 will cause every knee to bow "in heaven and earth and under the earth." The one who should have been worshiped as king instead died in humility and shame.
Fortunately for us, the story doesn't end there. We are privileged to have firsthand accounts of his resurrection from the dead. Paul tells us that without Christ's resurrection, our faith is useless.This is the best news of all. Death has lost its sting and has been swallowed up in victory. We should bring out the band, dance in the streets, and shout from the rooftops this good news.
As you approach Easter week, ponder the story as if you've never heard it before. Or ponder it as if you've heard it 5,000 times—and it's just beginning to sink in.