I have interspersed an outline of Holy Week with songs from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Story and music connect me to the Divine. If that’s not how you find yourself during this season, I invite you think about each day and what connects you to the story of the Passion of Jesus.
1. Holy Monday: Turning over tables
On Monday Jesus arrives at the Temple, and in an act of civil disobedience, turned over the tables of the money changers. Luke’s Gospel says that Jesus emphasizes the temple being a house of prayer, not a den of robbers. When I preached on this text one time, I talked about Jesus being “in his feelings” with holy anger. My friend disagreed and called it organized grass roots political action. Since then I have wondered if it can actually be both. Jesus Christ Superstar juxtaposes Jesus’ turning over tables with being surrounded by sick people crowding him, asking for healing. Jesus shouts, “Heal yourselves!” While this is noncanonical, many ministering people can identify with the pushing, the crowding, the demanding from those around us . . . and our desire to escape when it becomes too much.
2. Holy Tuesday: Ambush
The religious and political leaders have had enough of Jesus. Jesus was too much; too much radical love, too much preaching, too much healing, causing too much civil unrest. Since this man claimed to be a messiah, he was disrupting the good thing the government and religious leaders had going for them. “This Jesus Must Die” illustrates this very well. “I see bad things arising, the crowds crown him King, which the Romans would ban/ I see blood and destruction, our elimination because of one man,” sums up the fear had by those in power and the threat Jesus was to the status quo.
3. Maundy Thursday: Arrest and denial
We’re not really sure what happened Wednesday, but Maundy Thursday is a key part of this week. Starting today, a somber turn takes place. In the evening, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet as they prepare for Passover. My Protestant theology is showing by saying Jesus has the disciples eat the symbolism of the bread as his body, and drink his symbolic blood of the cup. Jesus tells the group that one will betray him, only to hear a chorus of “Not I, Lord!” Judas leaves, revealing himself by that act alone. Jesus goes to Gethsemane, and in the musical we’ve been following here, Jesus delivers what might be my favorite musical number of all time, “Gethsemane” or “I only want to say.” This song is meaningful for me as it humanizes Jesus and his internal struggle with what is about to take place. Jesus is arrested and also denied by Peter three times.
4. Good Friday: Crucify Him
On Friday morning, Judas was overcome with guilt and took his own life. Jesus faces ridicule, having false accusations thrown against him and is completely abandoned by those closest to him. He’s sentenced to death on a cross, a very crass and disgraceful way to die. He is made to carry that cross. A crown of thorns is placed on him, women gather and hold vigil by the cross, and Jesus quotes the Psalms (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Jesus also asks for forgiveness for those clueless about what this all means, and commends his spirit into God’s hands. Here you can listen to “Trial Before Pilate.” Pilate is a sympathetic figure here. The crowd pushes him by saying, “We need him crucified/It’s all you have to do.” Warning: It’s painful to listen to, both the content and the intonation.
5. Holy Saturday: We Wait, We Grieve
Guilt is in the air, peoples’ hopes are shattered, and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (it is suggested that both condemned Jesus the previous day) prepare Jesus for burial by anointing him. Other accounts have the two Marys doing this; they wanted Jesus to have a proper burial according to Jewish custom. This is a time of sadness and of hopes being dashed. And this is where we are left, friends, sitting vigil to be overwhelmed with resurrection. But before we jump to the candy, eggs, and bright colors, let’s not forget the reason we’re celebrating. We can’t know light unless we first know darkness. One of the final numbers in Jesus Christ Superstar is called “John Nineteen: Forty One,” which is based on John 19:41, “Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid” (NRSV).