I read this book during Lent, which was the perfect time to read such a book. And let me just say – WOW! Great book. I highly recommend it.
For our purposes here, I’m going to break down the review of the book in a manner similar to the structure of the book itself, which takes a fresh look at each day of Holy Week. The book provides an introduction and a daily chapter starting with Palm Sunday and journeying through each day of Holy Week, concluding with a combined chapter on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. The book’s Appendix contains discussion questions.
Today, I’m starting with the lens through which Porterfield calls us to see Holy Week. It sets up everything else for the entire week. Porterfield lays the argument out right at the beginning – Christianity has been missing the proper lens of Holy Week for a long time. In our Palm Sunday Lectionary, we leave out the essential passage that would give us a different perspective for seeing the whole of Holy Week and what Jesus was up to. Porterfield argues that the key to understanding Holy Week takes place on Sunday as Jesus enters Jerusalem – The crowds are cheering and waving palm branches, they have an expectation of what the Messiah will do. And they are off. “Amid all the excitement, nobody seemed to notice that one person was not celebrating. He was not rejoicing. He was not smiling. He was not having a good time. In fact, he was crying. The Gospel of Luke tells us that while the crowd is shouting cheers, Jesus shed tears. (Luke 19:41).” (pg. 19)
Jesus laments his entry into Jerusalem because as Luke 19 tells us, “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42). Here we find the interpretive key. The missing lens…is peace. Look at the events of Holy Week through the lens that Jesus was waging peace while everyone else was waging violence, and you’ll see Holy Week in a whole different light. And it raises questions for us – how are we to respond to Jesus and his waging peace in the midst of great violence and death?
Lent is a time of self-examination and this book is an ideal partner to walk with in that examination, opening ourselves to what Jesus is up to in our lives, and how we are transformed so that we can participate in what God is up to, inviting others into God’s work of bringing about the Kingdom of God in our midst.
Once we have this lens, the next question becomes how we define peace. For many reasons expressed in the book, peace = shalom. Shalom goes far beyond what we think of as peace in our secular culture. Shalom is the very essence of the Kingdom of God. “It indicates harmony, health, and wholeness in all aspects of life. Shalom exists when all our relationships are flourishing; our relationship with God, with each other, with creation, and even with ourselves. It is the state in which everything is as it ought to be, as God intended for it to be.” (pg. 24).
And Shalom, that peace, “can never coexist with injustice.” (pg. 24-25).
Holy Saturday is often seen as “nothing much happens on this day.” Except it’s not. Not according to the creeds which tell us that Jesus descends into Hell to end the reign of sin and death. Nothing like defeating a foe on their own turf. There are those who believe that Jesus also goes to Hell in order to free the souls trapped there from the beginning of time.
Porterfield reminds us that “the gospel writers say very little about Saturday of Holy Week. Matthew reports that the chief priests and Pharisees petitioned Pilate to place a guard at Jesus’ tomb (27:62-66). And Luke briefly states that after making preparations on Friday evening for Jesus’ burial, the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee rested on Saturday since it was the Sabbath (23:56). That’s it.” (pg. 167).
So Porterfield proceeds to give us a sense of what the disciples were feeling. Maybe they felt fooled. After all, Jesus wasn’t the first person to claim the title of Messiah. Porterfield gives us a nice list of people who came before Jesus claiming the title – Simon of Perea, Athronges, Judas the son of Hezekiah, and Judas the Galilean. They all had some level of success. And they all ended up dead at the hands of Rome. It was just a matter of how long it took.
Given that, it doesn’t take much imagination to get a sense of what the disciples and Jesus’ followers were feeling.
Which leads to Porterfield’s lesson for Holy Saturday – Christlike peacemakers endure the darkest of days, trusting that God is at work even when God appears absent.
“For you see, when you contend for peace in places where it is painfully absent, most days feel like Holy Saturday: silent, confusing, hopeless.” (pg. 170).
Having worked with those experiencing poverty and homelessness for several years now, I can tell you that it often feels like Holy Saturday. All too often the people we work with and walk alongside feel hopeless – they’ve been struggling for a long time, just to survive. When I ask people to describe what it’s like, they have trouble giving a good description. It’s like a dam breaking just as you reach the shore – it sucks you back in. I’ve described many people’s situation as a black hole – it feels impossible to break free of the gravitational pull of poverty and homelessness. Just as soon as you start getting a way out, something hits you hard and throws you back into the gravitational pull. You get a lead on a place to live, and then your car breaks down. Or you get sick. Or you can’t pay a bill. Or you run out of money. Or there’s an unexpected expense. Or…
These people live in what feels like a permanent Holy Saturday. They don’t know if Easter will come. Or what it will look like. Those experiencing poverty and homelessness know what the disciples and women who followed Jesus were feeling.
This is why Jesus’ words are Good News to the poor. They need Good News. And they are open to hearing it and experiencing it.
Too many Christians take Easter for granted when they should really be spending some time in Holy Saturday. Yay! Resurrection! But do we really grasp it? One of the reasons I love all the services of Holy Week is because they take us into the depths – betrayal, violence, abuse, and death. It’s only in hearing these things that we can truly begin to grasp the joy of resurrection – Jesus overcoming sin and death. Without death, there is no resurrection, or appreciation of it. It’s just another Sunday.
My friends who are experiencing poverty and homelessness know the story of Holy Week, even if they can’t recite a single word of it. They know it because they are living it. They know what the women and disciples were feeling and going through. They have been living in Holy Saturday for a long time.
And they wait for Easter – wait for Jesus to rise. Wait for Jesus to descend to Hell where they are living, and for him to grab them by the arm and pull them out. They know about abuse, betrayal, violence, and death. It’s the normal part of their lives.
But Easter is coming! And it is Good News! Boy, do we need Good News.
Many Christians will breathe a sigh of relief – they made it through Holy Week without dealing with the unpleasantness of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Holy Saturday.
Regardless of your interaction with Holy Week, Easter is here. Here’s a vulnerable confession for a pastor to make. After going through Holy Week, Easter Sunday is a bit of a let-down actually. We start off with Palm Sunday. The passion narrative is long and powerful. It tells the entire story of the week. It’s moving. It’s uncomfortable. It’s tragic. And it exposes the world for what it is.
Then we get to Maundy Thursday. There’s the Last Supper. The term itself is significant – “Last”. That should make us stop and wonder. There’s the foot washing – something so many Christians will avoid at all costs because it is uncomfortable. And there is the betrayal of Judas.
Then comes Good Friday. We are confronted with death. No avoiding it. Even modern funerals try their best to avoid death. Which is humorous actually. We’d rather celebrate someone’s life. Why exactly are we gathered though with a coffin or urn in our midst if not because of death?
Holy Saturday. The day that people think nothing happens. But much is happening. And it is on Holy Saturday that we have the Easter Vigil. Personally, this is my favorite worship service of the year. It has pomp, circumstance, the story of God’s covenantal love with all of creation, remembrance of baptism, movement, and the first declaration of the resurrection. Throw in some baptisms and Confirmations and it’s got the whole sha-bang. Plus it’s the first proclamation of Resurrection – the incredible witness to something earth shattering that still impacts us today. It’s got it all. Which is why Easter Sunday is a bit of let-down for me I think.
Porterfield keeps it simple for us for Easter Sunday. “…the resurrection signified the beginning of the future promised by God. To put it differently, with the raising of Jesus, God’s future had begun to break in to the present world order.” (pg. 173). Now that’s something I can get excited about.
Which leads to Porterfield’s lesson for the day – Christlike peacemakers cultivate the future promised by Jesus.
“When Mattathias lay on his deathbed and instructed his five sons to ‘avenge the wrong done to your people. Pay back the Gentiles in full’ (1 Maccabees 2:67-68), his dying words sparked a violent revolution. Two hundred years later, when Jesus hung on a cross and cried out, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34), his dying words also sparked a revolution, though this revolution would be nonviolent in nature.” (pg 175).
In other words, God’s Kingdom is already unfolding in our midst. And we are invited to participate in it. Easter isn’t about some future mythical time. It’s about now and the future. The future is now. God bridged the gap.
Jesus was closing the cycle of what started for him at the beginning of Holy Week as he entered Jerusalem weeping, lamenting that Jerusalem did not know the things that made for peace. “What if, in speaking these words, Jesus was aching for a future in which people did know the things that make for peace? In other words, what if Jesus was saying, ‘If you only knew the things that make for peace, then the endless cycles of violence that plague this world could finally be broken.’” (pg. 178).
Indeed they would. But I wonder if that scares us too much. I wonder if that’s the reason we dare not try peace and stick with it. Maybe we fear the Kingdom of God. What would we do when there is no one to hate or fear, no one to see as an enemy. What would we invest all our money in, if we no longer needed weapons of war or guns for self-defense. What would we do if we cared for the poor and outcast and welcomed the stranger with real hospitality to the point where there were no more people in need?
“Despite the majority of Christians around them bracing the way of the hammer, Francis of Assisi, Corrie ten Boom, and Bishop Kiril chose the way of the Lamb. They learned from Jesus the things that make for peace. And instead of just sitting on such knowledge, they put it into action.” (pg. 179).
So the question now becomes, what do we do in response?
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