Holy week is about the forgiveness of betrayal.
We don’t need the cross; we do need the betrayal and the response to the betrayal. Few of us face public execution; all of us will be wounded over and over again by the multiple betrayals we all endure.
Remember, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.”
Who has experienced betrayal this year?
Well, Equifax handed over the personal and financial information on over 140,000,000 people to hackers. For years to come, those hackers will sell it to those who will use your information, stored on a system Equifax knew was not safe, to steal your identity, take out credit in your name, and destroy your financial life.
Facebook happily pocketed the profit after selling massive amounts of private information on you and your friends so members of one mega-rich family could use it in any way possible to ensure victory for their preferred candidate.
Elected politicians promised one thing and delivered another; leaders of various entertainment, political, religious and business fields were exposed as sleazy sexual predators; our children became terrified to go to school because they don’t know when the next assault rifle, legal for private citizens ONLY in the USA, would mow them down; banks insisted you buy products you didn’t need and pharmaceutical companies sent prices soaring on essential drugs, costing pennies to manufacture, that manage chronic and debilitating illnesses.
Our friends turned into “frenemies” with their gossip and backstabbing; we fought with our siblings and spouses; our children disappointed us and we disappointed our parents; the weeds just kept coming up. As has the temperature. We betrayed the earth; the earth is betraying us.
Finally, we all betrayed God. From the beginning of recorded history, we’ve shoved a collective fist into the face of God and said, “Thanks but no thanks. I’ll go my own way.”
We’re still doing it. It’s called the human condition. It’s just too hard to love God and love our neighbors in a way that we treat them the way we ourselves want to be treated. More comfortable to live self-centered and pretend we have no responsibility to the rest of the world or even to our true selves. Too bad, God.
Betrayal sits as the centerpiece of the week Christians often call “Holy Week,” the time leading to Easter Sunday.
Jesus, riding in triumphantly on Palm Sunday, ends up disappointing, i.e., betraying, his followers by not immediately claiming the crown as the triumphant King of Israel who will free them from their oppressors. In turn, Jesus gets the kiss of betrayal by one of his intimate friends. The crowds, many of whom may have been healed or fed by his hands, call for his execution by crucifixion.
Nonetheless, the week is not about the cross. There’s nothing special about that particular symbol, other than at that time and at that place, it meant “executed by the powers of the day.”
If this had happened in another time, another place, hangmen would have done the dirty work, or lackeys with dull knives would have drawn and quartered him, or pyromaniacs would have gleefully lit the straw around the stake, or people armed with rifles would have taken aim and fired, or a prison official would have flipped the switch that powered the chair, or a medical technician would have injected fatal drugs that might, or might not, have worked.
It’s not the cross or the blood that dripped or any of the gore surrounding this common method of ridding oneself of one’s perceived enemies that matter.
No: it is about the forgiveness of the betrayal from which such horrors spring.
We don’t need the cross; we do need the betrayal. More, we need the response to the betrayal.
Few of us will face public execution; all of us will be wounded over and over again multiple betrayals.
But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.”
We might read those words like this:
“Holy God, set ‘em free. They are doing the best they can and we both know it.”
“Abba, don’t hold it against them—we both know they are a bundle of ignorant sheep wandering around the wilderness, afraid of their shadows and the unknown. They’re doing the best they can even if it isn’t very good.”
Or even this:
“Yep, they are cruel and ignorant and far worse than animals in their treatment of others. Even so, they are capable of the best, the noblest and most self-sacrificing of acts. Once more, let us set them free from their bondage so they might again get the needed fresh start.”
When we quit focusing on blood and start focusing on the forgiveness of our many betrayals, the joy and light of Easter Sunday permeate our souls. The grave of death and decay could not contain Jesus. It will not contain us when we, too, move to release those who betray us—including ourselves.
No longer is it, “I hope my enemies burn in hell” but it is, “May Your Holy Grace wash over them.”
No longer, “I will NEVER forgive that person and hope the worst for them,” but now, “It’s not my job to take vengeance on anyone; it is my job to offer aid to those who need it, whether I think they deserve goodness or not.”
No longer, “Those nasty idiots. I hate them,” but now, “May I learn to love those who hate me, and turn blessing upon those who revile me.”
The forgiveness of betrayal is what leads to the Resurrection of Easter: it sets us free to live.
Forgiveness to the betrayals of our lives opens the doors to the center of God’s heart, for that is what we find there: forgiveness of our betrayals.
Resentment and bitterness keep us in our graves. There we watch our souls decay under their wretched, unrelenting weight. But when we follow Jesus to that moment of death, when we feel utterly deserted and alone, when we suffer unimaginably, and then when we say, “I forgive,” the massive gravestone rolls away and we walk out, healed and whole, the stench of death gone.
That’s Easter. That’s what Holy Week is about. May our many resurrections follow in the pattern of the Holy Resurrection.
Our chains have fallen off. Let us rise and follow Jesus!