Greetings to all in the Love of Jesus Christ:
But Peter said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same. – Mark 14:31
I once preached a sermon entitled: “March (to the Cross) Madness.” Now, you might ask: “what do Holy Week and March Madness have in common?” It’s a fair question. It is indeed a curious bit of planning that places the Final Four on the day before Easter, and the men’s national championship on the day after Easter. But to me, the two events are analogous in one major way: emotional whiplash.
In this strange year, you may have noticed that the University of Arizona did not make the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament this year. Neither did Arizona State. But Arizona did have one school in the field of 68: Grand Canyon University (GCU). Perhaps you saw the GCU fan club show up in Indianapolis, waving their purple pom-poms and expecting David to kill Goliath – or in this case, praying for 15th seed GCU to pull off a mighty upset against 2nd seed Iowa. Two hours later, though, the purple pom-poms hang limp, the face-paint is smeared by tears, and the GCU faithful stumble away in silence. Emotional whiplash. And this, I say to myself, is the story of Holy Week.
The disciples entered Jerusalem with such high expectations. They waved their palm branches (shall we call them “palm-palms?”) as Jesus entered the big arena. They expected a miracle. Five days later, the palm branches were trampled, the disciples had scattered, and Jesus was dead. Emotional whiplash. Holy Week is a story of defeat, disillusionment, and despair.
I also note the confidence of the disciples, not unlike the confidence of my Ohio State Buckeyes. I’ve spent much of my life cheering for the Buckeyes, and as they entered the tournament as a 2nd seed, I picked them to win the championship. The Ohio State players were so confident in themselves, they never would have dreamed they’d lose in the first round to lowly Oral Roberts. And I think of Peter: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” The danger of overconfidence, thinking we cannot fail, of thinking we are above reproach, is one of the many lessons of Holy Week.
Holy Week has so very many lessons to share. The Passion Story is incredibly powerful, and I hope you will dive into it this week. I hope you will allow yourself to suffer the emotional whiplash of the disciples, to recognize how easy it is to bail out when the going gets tough, to witness the tragedy of mob violence and state-sanctioned violence. The march to the Cross reveals the madness of humanity. But above all, I hope you will realize the love that Jesus continues to have for everyone – no matter what. No matter how they fail him, no matter what they do to him, Jesus embodies God’s love for everyone. Through the power of the resurrection, Jesus’ love lives on. No matter how we fall short, no matter what we’ve done, Jesus welcomes us with open arms, offering the power of love and transformation to any who would receive it. May God bless you this Holy Week, and forever more.
Dios les bendiga!
Regional Minister and President, Christian Church in Arizona