When I was in college I saw a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The musical traces the events of Holy Week and I was struck by the crowd, the chorus of singers that followed Jesus. As they waived palms on one Sunday they shouted his praises and sung and called out to him. But as the week went on, they changed. And by Friday, those same people once shouting their admiration were calling for his death.
It’s always stuck with me. That change in feeling. I think of it every year during Holy Week. Jesus goes from the exalted one to the one who is offered up as a sacrifice by the crowd. There’s something fitting about the fact that in many churches the palms from Palm Sunday are saved until the following Ash Wednesday, when they are then burned and turned into the ashes we wear as a symbol of our humaness and fraility and mistakes. Sometimes we turn from Christ, and we get it wrong.
We don’t like to dwell on that. We don’t like to dwell on the reality that Christ was betrayed, and denied, and abandoned. We like to stick with the Palm Sunday and Easter joy, not the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday pain. And every pastor I know is aware that when we announce the extra services, there is a near-auditory sigh.
But the reality is that it’s the week between the two Sundays that really teaches us who we are, and who we can be. We can be the crowd that shouts loud welcomes on Sunday, but then stays away when times get hard. Or we can be the people who journey with Christ in the hardest times, and who never turn our backs on him. Holy Week is our chance to proclaim with our time who we really are, and it is our chance to get our priorities straight. This is our chance to not just be the crowd, but to stand out from the crowd.
This Holy Week, take the challenge of walking the whole path. Make a complete journey. And you’ll find on Sunday that Easter will be that much more meaningful.