Have you ever stopped to think of the emotional turmoil that Jesus went through in the week leading up to his death and resurrection? His anguish in Gethsemane gives us a glimpse into the level of emotions that were churning inside him and whilst people often explain this as being about the cross, we need to also realize that there were many things that happened that week that caused the son of God deep pain.
We all know about the fickleness of the crowd who shouted HOSANNA (save us) one day and CRUCIFY HIM a few days later but have you ever considered that both of these shouts were linked to the salvation of the world? Whilst Jesus knew that the cries of crucify were essential to God’s plan, this wouldn’t have made the words less painful as some of the people who he had come to save at such a high cost called for his execution!
At Easter, we often focus on the beginning and end of the events of Holy Week, we know about Palm Sunday and then Maundy Thursday onwards but what about the days in between? The gospel writers record several examples of the Pharisees and the Sadducees asking questions that were designed to trip Jesus up. Can you imagine Jesus’ frustration? That some of the people who he had come to save were behaving like spoilt children who didn’t want to share their toys. They were trying to hold on to their power by discrediting Jesus at the time when the son of God was continuing his incarnational trajectory of making himself vulnerable and completing his mission through sacrifice rather than by power.
As Jesus was responding to these trick questions, he must have been aware of Judas drifting away. Judas who had longed for Jesus to start a revolution to remove the Romans spent those days drifting deeper into despair and disappointment with Jesus to the point where he began his shocking act of betrayal. Jesus had invested so much in him and his other disciples and we can’t imagine the depths of his disappointment that he felt during the betrayal and also during Peter’s denial.
During those days, Jesus tied to offer hope, he spoke of the end of time and of the offer of salvation. He tried to prepare the disciples for his death by sharing bread and wine with them but as he poured out his heart to them at that passover meal, the disciples responded by arguing amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest.
As Jesus prayed in anguish in Gethsemane, in his hour of need, his disciples fell asleep. At the very time that he needed them, Jesus was left feeling abandoned, isolated and alone! As he hung on the cross, this sense of aloneness culminated in his cry of ‘My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?’ If we take scripture seriously we know that nothing can separate us from God’s love and that God will never leave or forsake us. I personally don’t believe that Jesus was separated from God as he died (even though I have heard it preached, it doesn’t fit with my understanding of scripture) and I certainly don’t believe that God had forsaken his son. For me, Jesus’ cry reveals the depths of emotion and pain he felt like he was drowning in as he hung on he cross.
When you think about all of this emotional turmoil, it is astonishing that Jesus still chose the cross! All of these situations that he faced could of dragged him back and diverted him from his sacrifice but instead he went to the cross because of ‘the joy set before him’.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12.1b-3)
The joy of saving humanity helped Jesus to overcome and to see beyond the irritation and pain that people were causing him in those days leading up to his death.
This past year has been full of emotional turmoil for many of us and in the midst this, I hope we have found and will go on finding moments of pause to consider what the joy that is set before us is. What is the hope in our future? How are the sacrifices we are making going to bring hope and help to others?
Jesus chose to die so that we could live forever, he chose to give his life so that enemies of God could become his friends.
In our emotional turmoil and in the difficulties we face, may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.
If you would like to reflect more on the events of Holy week then I would suggest reading through the end of each of the gospels from Palm Sunday onward. You might also find these daily reflections I have written about the events of Holy Week helpful.