The problem with our observance of Holy Week is that we see it through the lens of Easter. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is risen – we know that good overcame evil and that the story has a “happy ending.”
Is there a way for us to disconnect from that knowledge? To put that sure and certain knowledge away for a few days, and try to live out Holy Week “in the moment” as the followers of Jesus did, with all its joy and horror?
Jesus had told his followers that he would suffer and die, and he would be raised. They didn’t hear him. They didn’t get it. And who can fault them? We probably wouldn’t either. So when they saw him flogged, when they saw him carrying his cross, when they saw him die, it was an ending – a horrific, crushing conclusion – and not a beginning. It was a time of personal loss, gut-wrenching despair, and hopelessness for what could have been.
In his book, The Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill discusses at length the Biblical account of what we sometimes refer to as the sacrifice of Isaac. His analysis is riveting, built around a raw translation of the scripture. In his conclusion he says, “At the outset of this harrowing episode, the narrator, knowing that poor human readers could never bear the suspense, tells us that this will be a ‘test,’ so we know that Yitzhak will not actually be sacrificed, however difficult it is to keep that in mind during the ensuing action. It is a test for us as well. Can we open ourselves to the God who cannot be understood..? … Avraham passes the test. His faith – his belief in God – is stronger than his fear. But he now knows he is dealing with the Unthinkable, beyond all expectation.”
Can we close our minds to Easter for a few hours, even though we know the ending? Even though we know that the sacrifice of Yitzhak was a ‘test,’ Cahill continues, “… the narrator’s skill is great, leaving the reader speechless at the impending horror.” The gospel writers’ skill is no less evocative.