Jesus w/ Palms

Holy Week

Jesus w/ Palms

Palm Sunday commences the week known as “holy week” in the Christian tradition. This is final week of the solemn period of Lent, but it is also as much about the very nature of humans as it is about the story of the death, resurrection and divinity of Jesus. During my lifetime, my devotion to the Catholic faith has gone from strong to passive and back again, but though all those years I’ve always had a strong affinity and curiosity about the extraordinary events of holy week.

During the week of the Passover, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was greeted by cheering crowds who laid down their cloaks and palm branches in front of him to honor his path. By every appearance this seemed to be a triumphant event for this rabbi from the hinterlands of Galilee now entering the very seat of culture, religion, tradition and power for the Jewish people. However, in less than five days, these very same crowds that lauded Jesus on Sunday would demand his crucifixion on Friday. Thus began holy week and the extraordinary story of betrayal, the Last Supper, the passion of the Christ and the miracle of Easter. Uniquely in the modern day, the commemoration of holy week does not fall on a fixed date on the calendar but is instead determined by a lunar and seasonal pattern tied to the traditional Hebrew calendar. This dates back to the earliest Christians who observed of the annual celebration in relation to Passover.

For many years (and as my devotion somewhat waned) this was just another right of Spring, another one of those seasonal holidays that we keep to mark the time of the year. A few decades back I wrote the song “Good Friday”, not in the sacred religious context, but more as allegory for a doomed past relationship. Still, I’ve always enjoyed Easter in spring and would make it an annual tradition to enjoy the music of Jesus Christ Superstar during holy week. This outstanding 1970 rock opera record by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber combines theatrical music with classic rock n’ roll. To me, that album always had interesting (albeit not completely accurate) interpretations of the many stories during holy week including the arrival in Jerusalem, the turning over of the temple, the last supper, the garden of Gethesemene, the denial and, of course, the trial, persecution and crucifixion of Jesus. However, that album always lacked a true ending or satisfying conclusion as it ends with the death rather than the resurrection of Jesus. (Check out my review of Jesus Christ Superstar here.)

Within recent years I have returned much more strongly to my Catholic faith and now have a much greater appreciation for that fantastical, impossible, miraculous event that capped off holy week and just how important that has been for the redemption of all of us humans. It is the conduit between the omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent creator and the mortals He created. It is the one true miracle that offers an open and guiding hand for each and every one of us towards the here after. And, as such, it can display our tragic human tendency to quickly turn away from that which is most true.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, people exclaimed “hosanna” and those very same people later screamed, “crucify him” with equal vigor. What had changed in that short intervening time? Had Jesus publicly done anything or said anything wrong? Of course not. The change was only in the popular will, and the very nature of people to go along with the crowd. We have seen such things in our own time and our own world and recent years, whether it be rioting for certain causes or blindly, obeying draconian orders under the guise of the apparent “public good”. Both the engine of human nature and the divinity of God are the most profound and extreme mysteries to us mortal men and this week holy week is the great confluence of both states.

~ Ric Albano