Three days have passed since Jesus was placed in the grave. It’s Sunday morning. Mary Magdalene and some other women converge on the tomb. As they approach, they discover the giant stone that blocked the entrance, has been dislodged and set aside. Mary, in panic, runs to tell Peter and John: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Saturday must have been a very sad day for those close to Jesus. It was also the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest. Scripture doesn’t mention what Jesus’ followers did on this day, except to mention that the women, who had earlier been busy making preparation for Jesus’ burial, are today taking the traditional Sabbath rest.
Today is traditionally known as Good Friday. It’s the most difficult day of Passion Week. Jesus’ journey turns ugly in these final hours leading to his death. Judas Iscariot, the disciple who has already betrayed Jesus, becomes overcome with guilt early on this day and commits suicide, by hanging himself.
Our journey through Passion Week takes a somber turn on Thursday. From Bethany Jesus sends Peter and John ahead to a special upper room in Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover meal. After sunset, Jesus takes the place of a house servant and washes the feet of his disciples as they prepared to share the Passover meal together. By performing this humble act of service, Jesus demonstrates, by example, what it truly means for us to love one another.
The writers of Scripture are silent on what Jesus did on Wednesday of Passion Week. Many scholars speculate he and his disciples spent this day resting in Bethany in anticipation of Passover. It makes sense they would need a break because the last few days appear to be very busy, and no doubt, exhausting. Also, from what we have seen so far, Jesus and his followers do appear to be staying in Bethany. Bethany was close, only about two miles east of Jerusalem. It’s where Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha lived. These three siblings were very close friends of Jesus. It’s extremely likely they hosted him and his disciples during these final days in Jerusalem.
Tuesday, Jesus and his disciples travel again back to Jerusalem from Bethany, past the fig tree Jesus cursed yesterday. Peter excitedly notices the tree has withered and points this out to Jesus. Maybe Peter thinks Jesus will be surprised. Jesus is not surprised. He, instead, uses this incident as an opportunity to teach his disciples about the power of believing God. Withered fig trees pale in comparison to what God can do through us. Faith in God can toss mountains in the sea!
Just yesterday, Jesus was riding into town on a young donkey colt. Today, we see something entirely different. The Jesus we see today is demanding respect. He is angry and even violent! The Jesus we saw yesterday appears to require very little, just asking for a young donkey to ride on. The Jesus we see today appears to require everything, demanding what he wants and when he wants it.
If we were to imagine Jesus showing up, we might picture ourselves welcoming him with open arms. He approaches us as a humble servant. And so we imagine our hearts would be open to him, that we would warmly embrace him. He moves towards us, as one like us, yet like us in our most stripped-down and vulnerable state.
Throughout most of church history, Christians everywhere have set aside these eight days—Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday—as a time of solemn focus and reflection. And there’s good reason for it. These eight days contain the greatest, most dramatic, wholly transformative events in all of human history. They are the epic climax to what is commonly known as “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”