I used to think the saddest day in the Christian Calendar was Good Friday but these days I’m not so sure. I now think the saddest day of Holy Week is Holy Saturday or maybe that should be Hopeless Saturday. But there is good news…Sunday’s coming!
The first Holy Week over 2000 years ago started with the excitement of Palm Sunday. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey with the crowds wildly cheering his arrival into the Holy City.
I’m not sure what the people thought would happen next. Maybe some thought Jesus would lead them to freedom from their Roman Overlords, maybe others hoped that the rumours that he had fed the poor and healed the sick would result in the end of their health and food problems. What is plain to see is that by Thursday the mood had changed and looking back its not hard to see why.
If you want to change society the accepted wisdom is to build alliances with those who already have a power base and get them onside. Instead of courting the powerful it appears that Jesus did everything he could to call out corruption in those who should have been looking after the people.
On the first Monday of Holy Week the young carpenter from Nazareth went to the Temple. The Temple was especially busy at this time of year because of the Passover Festival. The custom was that people would pay to make sacrifices in the Temple which was run as something of a closed shop.
You couldn’t just bring your own sacrifice, no, the animals that would be sacrificed had to be checked to make sure they were perfect. That meant there was a whole business in producing and checking these animals at inflated prices. You couldn’t just pay these inflated prices with ordinary money. The Temple had its own special ‘currency’ and of course you had to use one of the money changers who would charge a large transaction fee. Those in power would give these plumb jobs to their friends and family. This special ‘Holy’ duty and requirement was used to line the pockets of their mates…and Jesus was angry.
Jesus wasn’t just a little bit angry; he was very angry. Don’t take my word for it, this is how the scene was described in the Bible.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nation]? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.
As he challenged the ‘government’ they knew they were in trouble. The next verse spells it out…
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
On Holy Tuesday the establishment started the fight back. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but even today, when politicians find themselves ‘banged to rights’ they try to change the conversation. It’s like that well-known magician’s trick of misdirection. The most successful magicians make you look in the wrong direction, so you don’t see the trick they are playing on you.
That is what happened 2000 years ago too. Instead of addressing their ‘corruption’ and ‘exploitation’ the leaders went on the attack to deflect from their problems by throwing ‘tricky questions at the carpenter’. What about Roman taxes or divorce? Was Jesus a high tax Messiah what about his lax views on the family? They hoped they could trip him up with a misplaced answer or turn the people against him, but he stood firm and in the end he called them out directly again.
Matthew 23 24-33
“Blind guides!…For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness…Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?”
Holy Wednesday is marked by a woman named Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with a costly oil called Spikenard. Plenty of ammunition for a smear campaign here. What a waste of money, what was he doing mixing and partying with women???
Holy Wednesday is also said to be the day when Judas, one of Jesus’s friends, met with the leaders to betray him for 30 pieces of silver. Why did he do that? Was he disappointed that Jesus wasn’t the leader he wanted him to be? Did he want to force the issue, bring things to a head where Jesus would have to act decisively and be the type of leader Judas wanted him to be?
Maundy Thursday was the day of the Last Supper where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and the night when Jesus was arrested.
‘A week is a long time in politics’
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
By Friday the ‘spin’ and propaganda of the authorities had done the job to discredit Jesus. The people were made to believe the lies even though they had seen the truth with their own eyes. On Palm Sunday they cheered as he entered Jerusalem, on Good Friday they were calling for his crucifixion.
For followers of Jesus, Good Friday must obviously have been a horrendous day, a brutal day of tears and fears for their own safety. But, in some ways the shock and speed of the betrayal and execution of their friend might have been so swift and savage that they wouldn’t have time to process everything.
We have all woken up the day after a personal tragedy, maybe after losing a loved one. For a short waking moment you have forgotten…then you remember and the darkness returns. On Holy Saturday it appeared that all hope for the future had gone.
As many of us find ourselves in our own ‘Holy Saturday’ there is a natural feeling of hopelessness and despair. War in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, leaders who have been accused of lining the pockets of their friends and not sticking to the rules they themselves set. I don’t know how this will change anytime soon but I think that is why the story of Holy Week is still relevant today. In the darkest days we must still hope that a change is possible.
Holy Saturday might well be the saddest day of Holy Week but there is good news. Sunday’s coming!