Professor John Swinton, a former psychiatric nurse-turned practical theologian at Aberdeen University, unpacks some of its key moments and their relevance
Palm Sunday was the time when the people in Jerusalem assumed that Jesus was the Messiah in the way they wanted him to be. So, Palm Sunday is when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and people are throwing palm leaves in a sense of celebration because they thought the Messiah, who would be a conquering king, was about to take over, crush the Romans and set them free from the horrible oppression they were in. So, it was a tremendous time of celebration.
The oddness is that Jesus rides in on a donkey. They were expecting this big conquering king and Jesus takes a humble road, but nobody could see it. But if they had seen it, maybe they would have understood the rest of what happened a bit more fully.
We all talk about this new world that’s going to be emerging from the pandemic. And I think about this in light of Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday everybody was really excited, everybody was really hoping for great things. And then they ended up with this Passion story and then the resurrection. So, the resurrection was completely different from the expectations they had on Palm Sunday.
The resurrection modifies our expectations. So, we may have great expectations for what a good life is, what the post-pandemic life is, but God is full of surprises. And the resurrection is the biggest surprise.
Palm Sunday teaches us to look at the world differently and to look at ourselves and our own exuberance and expectations differently.
Holy Wednesday is always a tricky one. It’s also called Spy Wednesday and it’s a time when Judas betrayed Jesus. It’s that part of the week where there’s betrayal just before there’s horror.
It’s such a complicated thing with Judas, because he did that horrible thing. But then he realised it was a horrible thing. But there was nothing he could do to get back from that, which is one of the tragedies of Judas. There are many tragedies. He didn’t really seem to have taken on board what Jesus said about forgiveness. So, if you did something horrible, you couldn’t get back, but he couldn’t find that memory of Jesus talking about forgiveness.
The first words from the cross were “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing”. And I wonder whether Jesus was talking to Judas. Judas who had, at least at one point, been a close friend, a close brother. It must have broken Jesus’ heart for that to happen. It just fascinates me. Was Jesus speaking to Judas? So, Spy Wednesday is that place of betrayal.
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Maundy was a time when the disciples and Jesus had what’s described as the ‘Last Supper’. They had been together for a long time and knew each other well. They gathered together in the upper room and ate together and broke bread together.
The fascinating thing about that eating and drinking is the way in which it represents the broken body of Jesus to come. And so, even though the disciples never really seemed to work out who Jesus was, Jesus perseveres, even around that table, and there’s all this symbolism they still hadn’t quite worked out.
That supper is obviously profoundly important for Christians, because we celebrate that time and time again, now. And when we do celebrate that, we go back to that upper room and remember both what Jesus did then, but also what he was about to do for all of us. So, the brokenness of the bread shared amongst the disciples is actually one of the sources of remembering our redemption.
This is an adaptation of Ruth Jackson’s Holy Week conversation with Professor John Swinton on Unapologetic. To hear more from John, check out this episode.