Protesting Holy Week

Church is the last place Christians should be during Holy Week.

That’s right. On the highest of holy days of the Christian calendar, I don’t think the followers of Jesus should be anywhere near a Holy Week service. Not Maundy Thursday. Not Good Friday. Not any of them.

Of course there are great experiences to be had in the traditional beauty, solemnness and transcendent sacredness of the liturgies of Holy Week services: the washing of the feet, the stripping of the altar, the eager vigils welcoming Easter and finally, the trumpet blasts of Sunday’s resurrection celebration.

But, if we want to follow our Savior through Holy Week, if we want to experience Holy Week in a way that reflects our Savior’s own experiences during that first holy week, then we won’t find ourselves in a pew, in a church, in a service.

We would find ourselves in the streets. In anger. In protest. In search of justice.

Just like Jesus.

So what if this year we re-enacted Holy Week rather than merely remembering it?

What if this year we were to act like Jesus instead of simply worshipping him?

What if this year we renamed Holy Week for what it truly was and should be?

Resistance Week.

Justice Week.

Protest Week.

That is what Holy Week was to Jesus and that is the challenge of this week for comfortable American Christians such as ourselves.

Holy Week, for Jesus, began with a subversive, defiant public protest to Roman imperial power on Palm Sunday. During the Jewish celebration of Passover, there would typically be Roman military parade to remind the sometimes rowdy and rebellious peasants to know their place and the consequences of a zealous revolt. On horseback, through the front gate, the Roman officers or client rulers would ride and march.

During his misnamed “triumphal entry,” Jesus mocks their power, defiantly and humorously riding at the head of his one-man parade on a braying, stubborn ass. It was nonviolent, of course, but it was no mistake a protest and a threat. Any such public mockery of power is threat as it reveals the truth of the matter: that the emperor of this world has no clothes. Jesus’ parade on the donkey — the mocking triumphal entry — reveals the nakedness of the Roman Empire, of all empires, even our own.

Next, Jesus goes to the Temple — the center of religious life, of commerce, of taxation and Roman client oppression — and destroys it all. He overturns the tables, drives out the moneychangers, upsets the most important status quo centers of money, power and religion. He protests the exploitation of Rome carried out by the Temple, enforced by the military. And then he threatens to destroy the whole place — to tear it down all by himself.

And then there is Jesus, homeless and praying in the gardens — the park — at midnight with his friends when the authorities come to arrest him.

Protest. Disruption of a system of oppression. Arrest. Trial.

Execution.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we do anything quite so extreme as our Savior. In fact, I think it would be quite a bad idea to walk into the halls of power and authority, overturn some tables, bust up some computers, assault some moneychangers. And an even worse idea to follow it up with a threat to destroy the whole building and the system it represents.

But, if we are to be in solidarity with our Savior during his last week, we cannot mark Holy Week as his followers without standing — publicly in protest — against oppression, even when and especially when it comes from the hands of our own governments.

So perhaps this year we Christians can inject a little of the original protest, justice and resistance into the safe and sterile week we now celebrate and laughingly call holy. For there is nothing holy about a week spent in church, hiding in the memory of our Savior’s actions instead of following his example.

On Palm Sunday, protest the imperial power of our day that exploits the poor, the earth and our humanity. Protest the imperial power that would strip us of rights, of our dignity, of our voice. Protest it with mockery and reveal its nakedness for all to see. Laugh in the face of those who seriously think they can own humanity’s future.

On Monday of Holy Week, protest corruption and the whoring of democracy to wealth. Make a holy mess of things and show others that the system feeds on the souls of humankind. Live in park if you have to. In a tent. Occupy a space that isn’t intended to be owned: a tree, a blanket of grass, earth.

On Wednesday of Holy Week, cook a meal and share it with the miracle of friends. Do this and remember all that is good in this world of suffering. Do this and remember that this world is still worth the fight. Do this and remember.

On Thursday of Holy Week, wash the feet of the homeless. Stay awake with them, as Jesus asked his friends to stay awake with him. Learn what it is like to sleep out of doors, to sleep in a doorway. Learn what it is like when where you make your bed with a pillow of stone is against the law.

On Friday of Holy Week, visit the captives and prisoners and remember the innocent. Protest the injustice of the prison state in America. Protest the death penalty and the unbroken line of state-sanctioned murder that killed our Savior.

On Saturday of Holy Week, grieve. Because when we see the world as Jesus saw it, when we experience the passion of Holy Week as Jesus did, we will need to grieve at how things have not changed, at how things have remained, at how, if he were to be born today, Jesus would be executed just as swiftly, just as unjustly, with a needle instead of nails.

Then, and only then, can we understand what Easter is really about.

It is not about sin and the saving blood of a sacrificial lamb. It is not about God needing a pure and unblemished offering for all the sins we have committed.

It is God, at long last, standing up in solidarity with the cries and groans of humanity to shout, “No! No more! There will be life, life to be lived eternally!”

On Easter, God said no.

This Holy Week, I pray that we say it too and, as a result, make the week holy again.


About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • Jfoley720

    I love what you are saying here. However, I would say keep Holy Week as the observation of Jesus’ last week, and the rest of the year living it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Thanks for engaging. The problem, sadly, is that we typically don’t spend the rest of the year living it. So why not change our expectations? Holy Week services are popular, so what better time to flip things and to encourage a little creative tension with the hope that it gets people to live it for a bit of the year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1073602639 Mark McKenzie

    Brilliant!!! And yes yes yes!!! I could not agree with you more. And perhaps add only that churches really ought to consider turning their buildings into shelters, where the funds raised to keep the building solvent and the staff salaried would be for more than keeping comfortable Christians entertained on a weekly basis. Personally, I think Jesus calls disciples to an inside-out church, where we all together–as the church–live out the calling to serve in compassion, work for justice and overturn injustices of all sorts, etc, in the world, in the workplace, in our homes and neighborhoods. We need to “OCCUPY” our neighborhoods, get into the streets and meet our neighbors…we can’t help each other if we don’t know what each other needs.

    • Tmoore49024

      I agree!! Just start with your family and neighbors. It’s so sad how many of us may speak to our neighbors but that’s the extent of the relationship. What if you could change their life, thus “saving it”…just by sharing how God saved you!!!!!!

  • Chris Arnold

    An interesting and a challenging article. I feel as though it swings the pendulum too far in the direction of seeing Holy Week, and the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord, primarily in political terms. Following Jesus should indeed encourage us to actually work in and with the world around us, and this should be a side-effect of our own internal transformation, our theosis. And in a culture that has more and more trouble with symbols and symbolism, I need those Holy Week liturgies, so I remember what it is that I’m striving for, both in the world around me and in myself: the death of sin and evil, the rebirth of God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for writing.

    • Russellaubrey

      Yeah, I agree. I think Mr. Henson is passionate, but perhaps taking it a little too far. I say this because John 18:36, 37 is the true core and foundation of our Lord’s message and intent, at this very tense and tragic time. His conversation with Pilate was the time to stress any purely political agenda he had, and he declined, rather only stressing the truth of his message of salvation – that is: those who hear his voice (truth). And, in truth, his goal is to get people saved, not shot on a political battlefield. Again, I understand Mr. Henson’s passionate viewpoint, and my comments are not meant to detract from what comes from his heart.

  • Ldenneno

    Not bad ideas but getting pretty old coming from Liberal quarters. Like, I’ve heard this song before.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Then sing along. :)

  • Kevin Miller

    Fantastic post! This definitely gave me something to think about. I’m going to share it with my kids.

  • http://twitter.com/Rev_Mother Ellen Cooper-Davis

    Yes, yes!!! Instead of paying $10 to see the hunger games, recognize your place in the capitol and push back. Instead worshipping Jesus, FOLLOW Jesus. Into the margins. Into the barrios. Into the “bad neighborhoods.” Into the brothels filled with sex trafficked young women. Amen, brother. Amen.

  • http://www.earthchicknits.wordpress.com/ earthchick

    Why the either/or? Why the bizarre dichotomy between worship and action? That’s not my experience of faith at all. I worship in order to become a more fully-engaged disciple in the world. My actions in the world propel me into fuller worship of God. I can appreciate where you’re coming from, but I’d challenge the flatness of your view of true worship.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      I don’t think here I’m challenging a notion of true worship but encouraging Christians to stand in solidarity with Jesus during Holy Week. I make a point to note the importance of the Holy Week liturgies early in the essay, but then go on to push readers to think about how we might *embody* Holy Week as well.

      I admit it’s a little dialectical how I framed the essay, but the blogosphere is the arena of hyperbole for better or worse. If it’s any consolation, I work at a church and in my previous post do recommend the liturgies. Unfortunately, for a great many Christians, there is no real, intentional connection between worship and action.

      • http://www.earthchicknits.wordpress.com/ earthchick

        Thanks for your response, David. I recognized the hyperbole, but I still resisted the polarization of worship/action. (Maybe the post would’ve struck me differently in the context of your other blog posts – I came here from a link on Facebook and hadn’t read your blog before). I understand what you’re saying about the unfortunate disconnect for many people between worship and action. I see a lot of value in addressing that problem from the worship side of things – I think true worship it itself subversive, an act of protest against the powers and structures that make us feel valuable only inasmuch as we are doing/producing. It’s a radical act in our frenzied society to sit in a church, in silence, in the dark, on Good Friday night, and ponder a death. It’s hard to go out of such an experience unchanged, and I hope that it leads to an embodiment of Holy Week, for myself and for others.

      • davidrhenson

        I see where you are coming from, but I have my reservations about creating categories of “true worship” and the implicit “not true worship.” That distinction is too subjective to hold much meaning for me. Further I’d push back and say that protest *is* worship, that action *is* worship. But I fear now we are spinning toward a (fun and entertaining but fruitless) seminary style debate about the mechanisms of worship.

        I had one response from a reader who suggested something interesting: they are adding the form of protest (signs) to their Palm Sunday procession. That’s a fascinating integration that would certainly enliven the experience.

        My hope and point for the post is to push people to think more creatively about Holy Week and their engagement with it. I think that even if one spends one day of Holy Week re-enacting rather than only remembering it, that experience would shake the experience of the remainder of the week.

        Perhaps you remain unconvinced. Either way thanks for reading and I wish you a blessed and true Holy Week experience.

      • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

        I see where you are coming from, but I have my reservations about creating categories of “true worship” and the implicit “not true worship.” That distinction is too subjective to hold much meaning for me. Further I’d push back and say that protest *is* worship, that action *is* worship. Worship doesn’t have to be only about stepping outside of society but it can also be about stepping into it. But I fear now we are spinning toward a (fun and entertaining but fruitless) seminary style debate about the mechanisms of worship.

        I had one response from a reader who suggested something interesting: they are adding the form of protest (signs) to their Palm Sunday procession. That’s a fascinating integration that would certainly enliven the experience.

        My hope and point for the post is to push people to think more creatively about Holy Week and their engagement with it. I think that even if one spends one day of Holy Week re-enacting rather than only remembering it, that experience would shake the experience of the remainder of the week.

        Perhaps you remain unconvinced. Either way thanks for reading and I wish you a blessed and true Holy Week experience.

      • Negron_y

        So true! For too many christians – God, religion, love thy neighbor, etc. begins and ends at the temple doors. Once they walk out, it’s back to the grind of THEIR OWN lives, until…. the next time they step through their churches doors… Remember R’ Troops : )

  • http://www.earthchicknits.wordpress.com/ earthchick

    (I should note that becoming a more fully-engaged disciple in the world isn’t the only reason I worship. But for me, worship feeds my discipleship and discipleship leads me back into worship).

  • Anonymous

    I hear the church talk a lot about “oppression,” “embodying worship” and challenging Power and Principalities, dialectical whatever and blah, blah blah. Do you have any idea how jingoistic and insular all of this sounds to the secular reader. You have interesting theories and discussions, and God knows they’re better then the santized, treacle called the “gospel” in most conservative churches, but what have any of you done about oppression. Did you go to Zucotti Park? Did you march in the streets? Did you contact your Congress rep and tell them what needed to change? Have you worked to change the power structures? Have your protested the immoral Ryan Budget or the attempt to move resources away from the middle-class and into the hands of fewer and fewer people? Have you boycotted the businesses who support the oppression? What have you done? I’m so tired of hearing Christians talk to each other but I never seem to see you when I’m out here. Where are you?

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      I feel like I’m listening to my fundamentalist friends here. I appreciate you visiting and reading and you are welcome here any time. I’m having a hard time understanding the interrogation from someone with whom it seems I probably agree on most things. Perhaps you don’t see Christians because we’re not out there telling everyone we’re Christians (partly because we’ve often encountered reactions such as yours when we talk about our identities).

      Of course I understand that a post about Holy Week on a blog about Christianity by someone seeking ordination is going to sound insular to someone who does not operate within the same set of assumptions.

      I get that your angry that Christians don’t do anything. I would hope that you can read this essay and find that I am too.

      Also, I think you mean jargon (istic?) not jingoistic. This is actually the opposite of jingoistic.

      • Anonymous

        David,
        First, you’re correct I meant jargonistic rather than jingoistic. Thanks for that correction. Second, you’re wrong about others not appreciating a Christian presence. I’ve never seen anyone who showed up being treated by fellow activists with anything other than appreciation for their solidarity. And if snark is a put off, you will encounter worse than that from the other side. Time for the rhino skin, so you can act and not react.
        Third, if I may suggest a starting point, Christians across the nation should start demanding the media quit giving air/face time to Christianity’s extreme right wing as the voice of the church for all Christians on social issues. Silence is taken as consensus where none exists.
        Finally, if you would truly follow Jesus, as I sense you want to do, then don’t wait onwe sinners to roll the ball. Get out in front, mingle, inspire us and lead us to justice. Right now, the religious right has captured your mojo and the message. They’re angry, organized and financed. They are the face of Christianity, one so despised that many of your own young people are leaving the church because it is at once too insular, too hateful and too ideological. I don’t blame you or expect you to fix it personally, but if you choose to write in this vein, it requires definition of the problem and specific areas focused for remediation. Perhaps you have other goals in mind, but I could not discern them in your article.

        them in your article. Protest? Yes!Protest

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Unless we can shift the fundamental narratives (like the constitutive ones of Holy Week) under which many Christians operate, we can never get them into the streets. This is the exact point of this essay.

    • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

      #occupychicago – because it’s, y’know, local.
      March for immigration rights and against violence and for peace.
      Yes, several times, all the time.
      It’s what I do; it’s my job description as an urban educator, as an employee of city colleges.
      Yes. And again, it’s what I do…
      Yes. And I try, as much as I can on a very limited budget, to buy local and small.

  • Mercyrule

    dumb

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Brevity is the soul of wit.

    • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

      Mercy Rulez!
      Or,
      The rules of mercy?

  • Rdeesjoy

    God isn’t about “standing in solidarity with humanity.” God is about reconciling the world to God’s self. God mourns over humanity’s condition because we do SO oppress and abuse each other and creation. God mourns because we keep missing the mark and missing that miraculous, blessed relationship with God – both individually and corporately. We may revel in God’s unconditional love for “me” and miss that God’s love is unconditional for everyone and that everyone, regardless of who they are or what they have done or what they say, is invited to personal and corporate merciful, grace-filled, empowering relationship with God. Christ wasn’t protesting the Roman occupation in his Palm Sunday ride. He was declaring the Kingdom of God – which puts ALL human-made governments and rulers in their place. Christ’s sacrifice DOES free us from the power of sin. Christ’s sacrifice does defeat the “principalities and powers” – which are spiritual realities which manifest in still-in-bondage human action and organizations. Christ’s sacrifice makes possible our personal reconciliation to our God and the reconciliation of the faithful community to our God.

    • Plavo

      So something changed in heaven on Good Friday?…..no, all potentially changed on earth…..

  • janvanpelt

    My first take is Wow! My second take — as someone who spent more than ten years of my life in 14-hour a day activitism with no worship life at all — is we need both. We need to be standing with the vulnerable and hurting, advocating for justice, and we need to get filled up in worship, spiritual practices. Jesus went off away from the crowds frequently to pray, then poured himself out for others.

  • Susiefolks

    I don’t understand why we need to always throw out the baby with the bath water. We can be at worship everyday during Holy Week and still spend hours a day caring for others, protesting the wrongs in society, and furthering the work of the Christ. These things are not mutually exclusive.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      It’s not so much that I’m throwing the baby out with the bath water (check my previous post on ideas for engaging with Holy Week). What I am doing, in strong, hyperbolic terms, is drawing attention to the disconnect between our churches spoken commitment to justice and activism and the lived commitment. In other words, I am suggesting that, here on Holy Week, it should be most obvious to us that our churches are not about the business of the Reign of God, just the worship of God.

  • Rhadagast_lebrun

    What rubbish, but a wonderful take on the socialized Gospel. Yet that is not the Biblical Gospel…at least not without the law, salvation and redemption. “He protests the exploitation of Rome carried out by the Temple, enforced by the military.” Absolutely not. Jesus wasn’t upset about exploitation but about the defilement of the Temple. And homeless in the Garden? Nice try.

    “Then, and only then, can we understand what Easter is really about.

    It is not about sin and the saving blood of a sacrificial lamb.”

    Ummm, yes it is.

    “It is not about God needing a pure and unblemished offering for all the sins we have committed.”

    Ummm, yes it is. On “Easter” God said, yes. He accepted the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.

    “It is God, at long last, standing up in solidarity with the cries and groans of humanity to shout, “No! No more! There will be life, life to be lived eternally!”

    What Bible are you reading?

    Yes, we need to care for the poor and fight for justice, but your take has nothing to do with what’s actually written or with the Biblical Jesus or Church. You have the right to interpret things the way you want, but there needs to be factual data to support your argument…not wishful thinking for making the world better for everyone.

    And BTW, God, not the State, condoned a life for a life.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Check out The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

      • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

        Why do I doubt Rhadagast will take you up on your offer? LOL

    • Geenybeeny

      “On “Easter” God said, yes. He accepted the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.”

      I’ll never understand why people believe that Jesus had to die so that God would love them.

    • Anonymous

      “What Bible are you reading?”
      For my part, I’m reading the one that asks, “And what, O man, does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to practice mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
      And also,
      “The greatest commandment is this: You shall love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
      If you wonder who is your neighbor, I recommend the parable of the good Samaritan. It lays it out pretty clearly.
      That’s the Bible I’m reading. You?

  • JL Pottenger Jr

    Thanks for this provocative piece. I relish its wordly message, which resonates with me even in the spiritual heart of Holy Week. Your interpretation is particularly powerful for me because it helps to explain, and me to understand, why I have always favored Palm Sunday over Easter. I’ve told myself for years that it’s because Palm Sunday depicts a temporal triumph, of the real world in which we all live and labor. In contrast to Easter’s eternal — but yet also somehow ephemeral, perhaps even an illusion — “victory”. So you have definitely given me some intellectual food, to accompany the spiritual sustenance so generously on offer all Week.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.paulsen1 Patrick Paulsen

    Actually, a pretty good idea. One tiny problem – Jesus never threatened to tear down or otherwise destroy the temple – that’s what His accuser’s (and the Gospel of Thomas) said, when He actually predicted the destruction – big difference. I like where you’re going with this and it certainly warrants a good discussion and consideration! Well done.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Thanks for reading, Patrick.

      My comments about the Temple are based in John 2:19. There Jesus does seem to indicate a destruction of the Temple (which his hearers misinterpret, granted). When he says, “Destroy this Temple and I will rebuild it in three days,” the Greek verb, if memory serves, for destroy is in first person, as in “I destroy/loose/release this Temple” etc. John has everyone misinterpreting his comment about his own body “temple,” not the Temple. But my Greek grammar could be wrong. Either way, standing in the Temple and saying, “Destroy this Temple and I will rebuild it,” in the middle of Passover when riots and insurrection weren’t uncommon is a bit like shouting bomb on an airplane or fire in a movie theater. Incendiary.

      But you are right, in the Synoptics, it’s a charge laid against him and not something he ever actually said.

  • Ankiez

    We should not try to change the original biblical message.
    The main thing is to think what Jesus came for and went through.

    We should go inside of ourselves and find peace and thank God for all His promises because of Jesus!

    I agree with the next comment of earthchick!

  • Ankiez

    We should not try to change the original biblical message.
    The main thing is to think what Jesus came for and went through.

    We should go inside of ourselves and find peace and thank God for all His promises because of Jesus!

    I agree with the next comment of earthchick!

  • DesertAmmaKhan@gmail.com

    Yes!Yes!Yes! RESISTANCE WEEK is totally more appropriate! I love this & it will find it’s way into Betrayal Thursday when we give thanks for our broken hearts, our broken lives.

  • Spmcl

    Interesting concept…will have to think about this…..hummmmm……

  • Randy

    I must say, I love what I believe the purpose of the post is. However, I think “most” of the folks living in the parks are NOT like Jesus or His followers. All the rest. No problem ;-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      That reminds me a bit of how folks talked about Jesus. As in, he certainly couldn’t be the Christ, he’s from Nazareth, or he hangs out with those unsavory prostitutes, drunks and traitors.

  • Mattflannagan

    Actually, if you look at what Jesus did during that week you see he came to Jerusalem to join in a religious festival the passover which he observed as a faithful jew, he did not boycott Passover to protest tiberus. You’ll note he was arrested praying in a garden after having a passover feast he organised

    Moreover, you seem to argue that because Jesus was executed ( by crucifixition) it follows that solidarity with Jesus requires one protest the death penalty on friday. Jesus of course was arrested on Thursday and was also tried, so presumably we should protest the states power to arrest people and work for abolishing trials, obviously the logic here is flawed.

    The claim Jesus would have received lethal injection today in the US is really silly. Unlike ancient roman empire in the US people are not executed unless they murder someone, and even then most murderers are not executed. You might think Jesus would murder people. I don’t.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Or treason. Which is why Jesus was executed.

      That’s really sad that you think that only guilty folks are executed. Jesus trial was essentially a kangaroo court in which he was convicted on trumped up charges. So, yeah, we should protest unfair, corrupt trials too. Absolutely. Good point.

  • Larose510

    This is penetrating and amazing.. thank you for puttin git all into words. We overturned the tables and chairs during our Palm Sunday Passion service and then went to the streets and processed to an Occupy GA.

  • PastorShayna

    Occupy everywhere! Rock on David. And for those of us who spend Holy Week and Easter in church, may we now be mobilized and ready for action!

  • Corlummy

    Er…can we do both? I mean I work with people who are extremely disadvantaged and they want to worship….

  • Junk1304

    I love the hypocrasy of religious groups protesting during holy week


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X