Today is Palm Sunday, and the beginning of Holy Week, the journey of the church towards Easter. Holy Week will take us through betrayal and abandonment and torture and death, the bleakness of numbing grief and then the shattering, incredulous joy of resurrection.
And here’s the thing: it’s pretty easy for it to be hum-drum.
We all know the story, at least those of us who do this every year: Jesus enters Jerusalem, is lauded as a hero and then betrayed into the hands of those who use the power of the day to get rid of this threat to the status quo. He is betrayed, abandoned by his friends, tried and flogged (none of the gospel accounts go into detail about this most barbarous of punishments, designed to humiliate and break a man as well as hurt him) and then executed: tortured to death, over hours. And then the waiting: the grief, the disbelief, the fear, the darkness before – what a surprise! – the story ends with resurrection, and we get to sing an orchestral Mass and then go out to lunch.
Knowing the narrative so well, it’s easy to see it as a clear, cohesive step-by-step: entrance, conflict, development, climax, and then the nice twist at the end, a perfect plot. What I often forget is the chaos in that story: not the clear, focused narrative we’re used to, but events spiralling out of control – the pillars of Jesus’ life crashing down around them all. Was there a point at which it could have been salvaged, a point at which the river rushing an itinerant preacher to a hill just outside the city walls, to torture and death, could have been halted, averted? A point at which the story could have been changed?
This Holy Week I want to remember that: I want to remember that these were real people, not characters in a story I know almost too well. I want to remember that these are real emotions, real fear, real suffering, real blood, real death. Because life is not a neat narrative, and the God who set in motion the songs of the planets dwells too in the chaos and the darkness of life: under the bridge where the homeless sleep, in the riot and the house fire, in the home of the beaten woman and the abused children, in the tents and holding cells of Manus Island. The God who holds the world in love is vulnerable. The God who created the universe suffers and dies.
After Good Friday and Holy Saturday comes Easter Day, and everything’s ok in the end. But I want to live Holy Week this year, and I kind of want to enter it forgetting that I know the end of the story.