Holy Week: the annual rememberance of Jesus’ activities in the week leading up to his resurrection, starting with Palm Sunday and culminating in Good Friday. This is a week that many times we just want to get through because it’s full of pain and loss. We see Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but he doesn’t put down the Romans and restore David’s empire, like his disciples wanted. We see him being anointed by Mary, but we’re told it’s an anointing for burial. We see him dining with his closest disciples and prophesying his betrayal and death. We see him grieving in the garden of Gethsemane as he lays down his desires, and finally as he takes on our sin — becomes sin for us — on the cross.
We look back on these moments knowing the end of the story is resurrection, but it is good and healthy for us to embrace the suffering of Holy Week as well, so that we can fully embrace the joy of resurrection. As 2 Timothy 2:11 says, “If we die with him, we will also live with him,” or 1 Peter 4:13 puts it, “Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.”
Because of Holy Week, we know that our suffering has purpose.
See yourself in the story of Palm Sunday: Jesus entering Jerusalem in triumph and praise, fulfilling prophecies that echo Ezekiel, sparking hope in all his followers. See him as zeal for the Lord’s house leads him to cleanse the temple of greedy false-religion-leaders, yet see how Pontius Pilate enters Jerusalem from the West, bringing Roman occupiers; perhaps this is the great showdown of Messiah and the pagan Romans? But no…Jesus pulls you aside and tells you that he is going to Jerusalem, not to conquer with war and violence, but to willingly give his life to the conquerers. To die. To suffer. What would your response be? Perhaps like Peter, you would say, “No, Lord! Say it isn’t so! Victory is ours! This is the time to win!”
See Lazarus raised from the dead, and wonder as his sister weeps at Jesus’ feet and he declares that she is anointing him — not for rule, not for claiming the throne of David, but for death. For burial. Perhaps you would think, “Why this somber atmosphere? Are we not entering victoriously? Why this sadness and talk of death?”
Do you feel the weight of this? I certainly do. I feel the mood of the room shift as Jesus’ demeanor lowers. As I see grief in his eyes, I musn’t let myself look away. This is Jesus, which means this is the Father. This is Yahweh revealing himself. This is beauty: the timeless self-existent One who’s very nature is to be self-sustaining, the only One that is. Two thousand years ago, He is; two thousand years in the future, He is; existing in one eternal moment. He who holds all things together by His word, that One is suffering, grieving, embracing a week of pain. Holy Spirit, help us understand.
Let’s join the Passover celebration with Messiah and his disciples. We remember that Yahweh delivered us from our slavery in Egypt and brought us to a land of promise. This, our annual feast day that unites us as a people and brings hope, as Jesus tells us that this Passover is different. This meal is becoming something unprecedented and macabre. He’s talking about death again: his death; he’s asking us to see the bread as his own body, broken; to see the wine not as wine of celebration, but as a picture of his blood poured out completely. Do you feel it? Do you feel the darkness come into the room as everyone around the table stops laughing and tries to process what the master is saying? He speaks now of being betrayed by one of us. What is this weight that Jesus is carrying? My appetite is suddenly gone for this feast.
We see our savior in the garden of Gethsemane giving full vent to the pain, the turmoil, the awful weight of what he is living. So intense is the grief that capillaries burst and he sweats blood. Let us pause and allow the Holy Spirit to connect us with the pain of this moment. This is our God, giving up his questions, his desires, his hope of change in exchange for submitting to the will of the Father.
Because of Holy Week, we can see that, just as Jesus’ suffering was leading to resurrection, so may ours. When victory is not happening, when our questions are unanswered, when the pain doesn’t go away and healing doesn’t happen, we see Jesus walking with us through suffering. He has not left us swept away in our pain. He has given us a framework for suffering, if we have eyes to see it.
I am reminded of the creation account in Genesis, when the earth was formless, void, broken and unformed. The Holy Spirit arrives to that place of confusion, and hovers over the face of the waters. In our turmoil, our suffering, our void, our confusion, if we invite the Holy Spirit into the middle of it, our suffering is sanctified. Purpose is introduced into our pain & confusion, and life / resurrection / creation will come from it.
This is the glory of Holy Week: that because Jesus laid everything down and as a result gave birth to a new world, a new way, a new people, so can we, by his indwelt Spirit embrace suffering with the same heart and join in his resurrection, both on the day of his return, and in the here-and-now, as our suffering is reframed into beauty. Holy Spirit, help us to reframe our suffering in light of the presence of Christ with us.
Where, in your own life, are you seeing loss? Where are you experiencing unrelenting pain? Those places where you cry out for God’s Kingdom to come as it is in Heaven, yet you aren’t seeing it? Let’s be honest with ourselves and our God. Yes, we believe that God heals, he delivers, he redeems, that His Kingdom has come, yet there are times where victory doesn’t come, where it even feels like God is leading us into suffering. Here, with Jesus in Gethsemane, we kneel with him to lay down our questions, to surrender our desires, to fall on the sword of love as our will is put to death and we open our hearts to receive whatever the Father has for us.
Surely, brothers and sisters, the cosmos are shaken when we — the bride of Christ — suffer loss & pain, yet turn toward Jesus instead of rejecting him. When we trust in him, even when it seems he led us into the pain. This is a grand cosmic love story which we are writing, as we say through tears, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
So take heart, you who suffer loss. Do not forget that you walk the path with Jesus, which leads through suffering, into a death to self, but will — it always shall — lead you to resurrection. You echo the words of the psalmist, as he says to the Good Shepherd, “even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me.”
Jesus, we choose to embrace this week with You, to let You wash our feet, to see Your grief and not rebuke You for it. We kneel with you in Gethsemane and say ‘Let Your Kingdom come, let Your will be done, on earth, in my pain, in my healing; in my loss, in my gain; in my waiting, in my victory; in the valley and on the mountaintop, let Your will be done.’ Holy Spirit, teach us this week to see our suffering through the lense of Holy Week. Help us to see our pain with new eyes, that with You, suffering always leads to resurrection.
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. 2 Corinthians 1:3–7 (NLT)
PS) If you resonate with this article, I would encourage you to check out another article here on the blog called Greatness From Small Beginnings → It’s an article written by Brian Starley that follows the story of a young man who faced insurmountable obstacles yet was used by God to start a powerful revival. I recommend it as a next step for you on your journey of embracing pain, finding God in it, and coming through the other side in Jesus’ resurrection power.