Lenten Choices: Sadness or Joy?

From Palm Sunday’s “Hosanna!” to Good Friday’s “Crucify him!” to Easter Sunday’s “Hallelujah!” this week is filled with powerful emotion. Holy Week takes us from the waving of our palm branches, to the washing of our feet, into the heavy forbearing of the betrayal, denial, arrest, flogging, mockery and crucifixion of Christ, and eventually to the amazement of standing by the open grave in absolute astonishment and wonder. He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

The emotional ups and downs of Holy Week take us from joy to sadness and back to joy once more. The swing of reactions toward all that Jesus is experiencing has us tossed internally from one extreme to the other. What are we to feel when we go from the exuberance of Palm Sunday to the depth of frustration at his beating and crucifixion, all the while knowing “the rest of the story” when he will conquer the grave and rise victoriously back into eternal life?

I find sadness and joy co-residing in my heart on many occasions, but not as poignantly as in Holy Week. The season of Lent prepares us for this eventuality. And yet, year after year, our souls expand and contract with the powerful truths expressed in the final week of earthly life for our Lord Jesus. Like his first disciples, we too are engrossed in the reality of each segment of the journey to the cross, each dramatic moment toward the empty tomb and his post-resurrection appearances.

There are many figures who stand out among the crowd of followers who experience this full range of emotion. Judas: who betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and then ends up hanging himself when it’s too late to return his fatal pocketful of change. Peter: who denies that he would be the one to deny and then denies Jesus three times before the cock crows and who eventually comes to Jesus’ aid with sword in hand. Mary: who is bewildered by the turn of events and follows her son lovingly to the foot of the cross. John: who is the beloved disciple, leaning on the breast of Christ at the Last Supper and who earns the right to care for Jesus’ mother as he dies. The crowd: who usher Jesus into Jerusalem as a celebrity and then kick him out of town to suffer a criminal’s death.

Like those who were there, we too share the same mix of emotions…joy and sadness. Both can co-exist side by side this week. Both are very real. Both are important for us to feel. Both are legitimate emotions for serious Christ followers. Give yourself permission to suffer the anguish of the crucifixion and the delight of the resurrection. To ignore one and ignite the other may in fact steal from your soul the deep work of the Spirit that God Himself invites you to experience fully this week. Let joy and sadness blend together in ways that will deepen your faith and renew your hunger for the Crucified and Resurrected Christ. And, may these emotions help accentuate the power of the Incarnate Word…

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2: 6-11).

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