We’ve finally come to Holy Week. During these high seasons of the church calendar I deeply miss my Anglican fellowships. The Anglican high church rhythms force you into preparation, drawing your mind and your heart in anticipation throughout Lent. Easter Sunday is the peak of several weeks of celebration. But in nondescript evangelical Protestantism, Palm Sunday catches me by surprise, Holy Week slips by without much reflection, Easter explodes with a momentary flurry, and then we’re back to our normal operations. Can it be meaningful? Yes. But the brevity of it leaves little time for my heart and mind to be caught up in and shaped by the season.
This year I’ve been thinking about another related effect—we don’t spend much time meditating on the humanity of Jesus’ death. We don’t ignore it—and we certainly talk about it frequently in an abstract “Jesus died for my sins” manner. But my experience has been that we give it a nod then jump ahead to the resurrection—because that’s the big celebratory moment.
Do we sorrow with Jesus, for Jesus in the abuse and cruel death he suffered? Do we sorrow with his mother, Mary, as she watched her miraculously-born son be tortured to death? Do we sorrow with Jesus’ disciples, his closest friends, who fled, too terrified to watch? Do we imagine their doubt and sorrow as they sat in the foggy confusion of their friend, their Messiah dead, sealed in his grave?
Are we so focused on what Jesus’ death accomplished for our sins that we lose sight of his actual physical death and suffering? Do we think that dwelling on his bloodied body and anguished cries would serve only to make us feel guilty—or as if we must manufacture guiltiness and sorrow if they don’t arise naturally? Do we think it will be overly gloomy?
Do we consider the humanity of Jesus—his feelings of betrayal, his sense of abandonment, his throbbing, piercing pain? Do we forget that he suffered as a human man—that his divinity and the end results of his suffering did nothing to dull the pain? Do we forget that he bled as we bleed, he struggled for breath as we would, his mind blurred with pain and blood loss as ours would, he felt abandoned by God as we do?
We can’t look past Jesus’ pain in this moment or confine it to a comfortable abstraction. We must find a way to simply sit with the reality of all that he endured and allow ourselves to feel its full force. We must allow ourselves to meditate fully on the real physical sufferings of Jesus. Yes, it’s bloody, it’s messy, it’s in-your-face, it’s uncomfortable, it’s overwhelming—but isn’t that the Gospel? Without looking full in the face at what he endured, we lose sight of what our salvation required of him. Without remembering the seemingly total defeat of the cross, we lose sight of how surprising and inexpressibly powerful the resurrection actually is.
And when we remember fully his pain, his sorrow, his life slipping away moment by moment—and we remember that he eagerly set his face toward the cross, that he willingly endured all of it—we see in crystal clear clarity the depth of his love for us. The end result is not manufactured guilt or a need to beat yourself up about how terrible you are (though there is a time and place for sorrow for and repentance of sin)—the end result is awe, praise, and thanksgiving. Hallelujah, what a Savior!