At the Door of Holy Week, 2017
John’s narrative of the Triumphal Entry includes details the other Gospels do not mention. The trigger for these details is a group of Greek proselytes who “wish to see Jesus” (John 12: 20-21). Jesus’ responds dramatically, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” But he continues to describe a hard path to glory: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (vv. 24-25).
These words have shaped countless followers of Jesus on the road of discipleship. They pierce our souls. I have reflected on them, so
ught to apply them, quoted them, and preached them to others. They have been so soul-shaping that I pretty much always reach a full stop at v. 25 in my reflections. After all, how can you absorb the power of that teaching? How can you find the bottom of that well?
But in fact, it’s not all Jesus said. This year, I finally kept reading: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also” (v. 26). Oh my! Here we are at the door to Holy Week. It is the week of the unfathomable. It is world-altering. It is a week of darkness, betrayal, humility, and death. “Jesus, are you serious? If I would serve you, I must follow you into Holy Week? Isn’t that enough to just watch, observe, and be thankful you did it? Must I walk alongside you this week?”
As I reflect ahead on what that might mean, I see Maundy Thursday on the near horizon. Year after year we remember that first Last Supper. We wash each other’s feet to embody the call to love and servanthood. “Okay yes, I know we’re to follow you there: you explicitly tell us that you’ve given us an example to follow. You command us to love each other in a way that mirrors your own humble, menial work. Following you to the feet of my sister, my brother, is an inescapable step in the path of Holy Week.
“But Lord, that’s where I usually step aside from walking on your path. I watch you in Gethsemane. I watch the betrayal and arrest, the power of darkness having its day with you. I watch you before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, marveling at your determination to finish the work. I walk the Via Delarosa, but like the women of Jerusalem, I stay on the sidewalk. I watch you on the Cross, knowing that this is your work alone. You alone are the Redeemer, the only Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I understand there are steps on your path that no other person can walk.”
But there are other steps where the call to walk into Holy Week cannot be easily ignored.
This year, I’ve spent more time on my knees, more time in the classic Lenten disciplines of prayer and penitence. I’ve gotten lost there a few times, particularly stuck on an image that the Lord impressed on me shortly after Ash Wednesday. It’s the image of Gethsemane and Jesus’ impassioned cry, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” We seek to understand, but can we possibly fathom the agony of our Lord’s soul in every phrase? “My Father. If it be possible. Let this cup pass. From me. Nevertheless. Not my will, but. Yours be done.”
Can we truly know what he was going through as he gasped those words? I don’t. As I kneel in my secret place, I imagine Jesus nearby, kneeling and praying what I am called to pray. But I can’t pretend: I am not facing what he was about to face, so how can I possibly mean what he meant by them? In spite of this unknowing, God has invited me to Gethsemane this Lenten season.
But that’s not all. In his grace, the Lord intensified the question for me. Early in Lent, when I first began to hear the call to Gethsemane, the Lord took me to another Garden. There, another Man wrestled with God.
In Eden, the world was perfect, beautiful, and altogether good. There was no cloud of darkness, no brokenness and rebellion burdening our souls. There, a Man faced a decision. That Man said, “Not your will, but mine be done!”
In Gethsemane, darkness, betrayal, and abandonment reigned. Hatred and fear were having their way, and another Man faced a decision. That Man said, “Not my will, but yours be done!”
From that first Garden, death flowed, washing over every molecule of creation with its foul, putrid waters. From that second Garden, death met its own death, and life flowed with its rivers of cleansing water and aromas of a New Creation.
I have been called to consider both Gardens.
As one grows older on the journey, the more obvious temptations of the flesh sometimes lose some of their draw. Our appetite for heaven grows. These are wonderful blessings of the ever-brightening path (Proverbs 4:18). But truth be told, the battle within does not cease: it simply shifts to a different campaign, more raw, more naked. More than the battle of the flesh, it is the battle of the will. It is the battle to simply bow the knee to the Lord. To believe, to submit, to wait, to endure, to continue, to trust, to love, to say, “Not my will but yours be done.” To follow Christ as far as I can into Holy Week.
“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.”