As I was working on various items for Holy Week, I kept thinking about a certain verse. In Matthew 26:40, Jesus comes to the sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane and says, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” In various liturgical traditions, we assign meaning to days during Holy Week: on Maundy Thursday, the Lord Jesus Christ gave the disciples a new commandment to love one another as He has loved us; on Good Friday, we see God’s goodness towards sinful humanity in the sacrifice of His only begotten Son; and Saturday is the Tenebrae where darkness reigns because the Son of God, giver of life, is dead.
Yet, in all of these preparations, we speed towards the Day of Resurrection. Jesus Christ invited his disciples to stay with Him in prayer because His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow. Like Moses in the Old Testament, he needed an Aaron and a Hur to keep his hands lifted up. Out of the eleven disciples (Judas is gone by now), all of them have fallen asleep. Only a while ago, they told Jesus that they would be there to defend him, no matter what happened. Jesus tells them again to watch and pray, so they will not fall into temptation. The spirit may have been willing, but the bodies were weak. Temptation surrounded all of them. The Devil who tempted Jesus in the wilderness left for a season, but now he tempts the disciples to sleep and tempts Jesus to avoid the cross. Later, Peter tried to avoid the cross by running away to Rome. He returned a few days later and was crucified upside down, because he did not feel he was worthy to be crucified in the same way as Christ.
The radio station 99.1 has a prayer time in the evenings. Sometimes, when I travel home from Philadelphia, I listen to the station and I am amazed by the way the person who hosts that hour ministers to so many people. She tarries with the sick, the confused, and those whose problems are so heavy that they must tell them to someone. With wisdom, empathy, mercy, and love, this person prays for each of them.
I have a friend who is an excellent counselor. When I listen to him speak about his work, I admire him even more. He counsels people for 8-10 hours per day. He shares with me the types of problems that people have and I wonder how he can do this work of counseling for so many years. I could not do the job that he does, listening to and helping people who have low self-esteem, who contemplate suicide, who have been in horrible sexual situations, or have lost careers, friends, and family. Dealing with the suffering of people is a hard job. We want to see healing and transformation, but it does not always happen.
The most difficult week that Jesus Christ had on this earth was Holy Week. He was welcomed by the celebrating crowd but met a rejecting city when he entered Jerusalem. The Roman legions were ready to crucify him, the Jewish religious leaders rejected him as the Son of God, and the revolutionaries rejected him because he was not the revolutionary they wanted. The rejection culminates in that cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” After the pain of abandonment, he also had to suffer the physical pain of death. Punishment by crucifixion was so cruel that the Roman government only used it for people they oppressed and never for a Roman citizen.
The sun did not participate in the agony of the Son of God as darkness reigned from noon until 3 p.m. We want to speed past the prayers that produced blood, the breaking of Jesus so that an angel from heaven is sent to strengthen him, the sound of the Roman whip and hammer breaking his flesh, and the strike of the nails holding him to the cross. In one passage of pain, the weeping prophet Jeremiah cries, “Has there ever been such a pain as the daughter of Zion is suffering?” Years after Jeremiah lived, the question is, “Has there ever been a pain such as the Son of God suffered during the Holy Week?” The answer is no, and we want to race through the pain to get to the joy and celebration of Easter. But it is good to tarry for a while at the foot of the cross and see the suffering Jesus who died in our place.