We call it Holy Week. But it was a terrible week.
His trial reeked of injustice. His own disciple sold him out for a few pieces of silver, betrayed him with a kiss … and hung himself.
As he was arrested, one of his closest friends disregarded all his teaching on love, pulled out a knife, and cut a guy’s ear off. (Jesus called him out … and healed the other guy). A lot of the stuff that happened that first holy week was pretty unholy.
Once arrested, he was passed back and forth between politicians and bureaucrats. There was Caiaphas the priest, the Sanhedrin council, Pontius Pilate, the crowd — everyone seemed to want him dead, but no one wanted blood on their hands. Even Pilate washed his clean.
They had all kinds of accusations. Insurrection. Inciting a riot. Conspiracy. Terrorism (plotting to destroy the temple). Blasphemy.
But all he did was love. And heal. And give people hope.
Despite any substantial evidence, witnesses, or signs of any crime committed, he was pronounced guilty and sentenced to die.
As he awaited his fate, he was bullied, interrogated, harassed, tortured, beaten to a pulp. The authorities humiliated him and stripped him naked. They mocked the claims of his divinity, ramming a crown of thorns onto his head and wrapping him in a royal purple robe as they laughed.
And so it went. This man who many believe was the holy one that the prophets spoke of, the long-awaited Messiah, God incarnate, love with skin on— was executed, brutally. He died with his body convulsing as his lungs collapsed, with vultures swarming overhead, hoping to clean up after the execution. There is nothing more evil than what happened that “Good” Friday.
Most of his friends deserted him and left him to fend for himself. Some of them were so scared they denied even knowing him. Only the women stayed. The long loneliness was so agonizing, so gut-wrenching, he felt like God had bailed on him. Among his last words were these: “My God, My God … why have you forsaken me?”
But even though it was a gruesome week — love gets the last word. We call it “Good” Friday because it wasn’t just death that made the news, but resurrection. The empire, the cross, the bloodshed was not the end of the story. On the cross Jesus made a spectacle of evil — he exposed the hatred we are capable of. And he triumphed over that hatred with love. He died with forgiveness on his lips. Just as he came to set the oppressed free, he also came to set oppressors free.
Holy Week is not just about the resurrection — it is also about the cross. Without Good Friday there is no Easter. But we can’t leave Jesus on the cross. In the end this is a resurrection story. Holy week is about a God who suffers with us — bleeds with us, cries with us, hopes with us. As we celebrate Holy Week, let’s connect the passion of Christ with the passion of the streets. As we remember the violence inflicted on Jesus, we remember the crucified peoples of our world, the victims of violence today.
One of the most powerful Good Friday services we’ve ever had was a few years ago. We carried the cross into the streets and planted it outside the gun shop in our neighborhood. We had our services there. We read the story of Jesus’s death and heard about the women weeping at the foot of the cross. And then we listened to the women in our neighborhood weep as they shared about losing their kids to gun violence.
Calvary met Kensington.
Afterward, one woman said to me: “I get it! I get it!” I asked her what she meant. And then she said something more profound than anything I ever learned in seminary: “God understands my pain. God knows how I feel. God watched his Son die too.” Then I realized she was the mother of a 19-year-old who had just been murdered on our block.
God understands our pain. That is good theology for Good Friday. And that kind of theology only happens when we connect the Bible to the world we live in. It happens when worship and activism meet. We don’t have to choose between faith and action. In fact we cannot have one without the other.
Let’s get out of the sanctuaries and into the streets.
I am thrilled to see movements across the country reclaiming Holy Week.
Thousands will take part in Holy Week actions that connect the horror and hope of 2,000 years ago with the horror and hope of today — from Ferguson to New York, from Oakland to Auckland. Thousands of people will be declaring an end to hatred, and the triumph of love. Thousands will be bringing attention to the victims of violence, racism, and torture today. And hundreds of faith leaders are declaring an end to execution this Easter in the name of the executed and risen Christ. It is a Holy Week. Death does not get the last word.
There is a movement happening — and this movement is about life.
Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President.