The Key to Holy Week
A strange thing happened at the start of Holy Week. No one saw it coming, and ever since, few have noticed it. Yet it holds the key to understanding Jesus’ final days.
At the time, Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem for the start of Passover. As he neared the holy city, a large crowd gathered around him, and when he passed by, they hailed his arrival by singing psalms, chanting “Hosanna!,” and waving palm branches.
That’s when the strange thing happened.
Amid all the excitement, nobody seemed to notice that one person was not celebrating. He was not rejoicing. He was not smiling. He was not having a good time. In fact, he was crying. The gospel of Luke tells us that while the crowd shouted cheers, Jesus shed tears (19:41).
Something important was going on here, for rarely do we find Jesus overwhelmed with such grief. In fact, the Scriptures speak of him weeping only one other time. In that instance, Jesus cried alongside those mourning Lazarus’s death. There wasn’t a dry eye among them. But this time, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, at the start of Holy Week, only Jesus wept. What prompted this strangely dissonant scene? Why was Jesus crying?
Thankfully, we don’t need to speculate about the cause of Jesus’ sorrow. Luke records that as tears streamed down his face, Jesus cried aloud for all to hear, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that make for peace” (19:42, author’s translation).
Like the weeping of a preacher at the pulpit, Jesus’ sobs should have been impossible to ignore. And like a bridegroom’s wailing at the altar, Jesus’ lament should have abruptly ended the party. Neither proved true. For some inexplicable reason, the celebration continued unabated. Somehow, as improbable as it may seem, the crowd failed to notice Jesus’ tears or to consider the reason for his lament.
I fear we have done the same.
Each year, our congregations commemorate the start of Holy Week by reenacting the crowd’s actions. We sing upbeat hymns, shout “Hosanna,” and wave palm branches with gusto. We’ve turned the day into a joyous occasion and filled it with festive traditions. Yet we never pause to reflect solemnly on Jesus’ lament. And not once are we troubled by the fact that our emotions match the crowd’s glee instead of our Savior’s grief. It seems that like the crowd before us, we too have overlooked Jesus’ tears and ignored his lament.
This is a tragedy, for when it comes to understanding the events of Holy Week, Jesus’ lament is of the utmost importance. At the very least, it provides us with two crucial insights. First, because of this lament, we now know what Jesus was thinking about as he entered into his final days. And second, the passion with which this lament was spoken reveals the depth of Jesus’ concern.
Taken together, these two insights teach us that at the start of Holy Week, more than anything else, Jesus longed for his admirers to know how he makes peace. Clearly, this was no trivial matter to Jesus. In fact, if his tear-filled eyes are any indication, making peace was his most fervent desire for the week.
What if Jesus’ lament is more than just an intriguing glimpse into his innermost thoughts and desires? What if it was placed at the start of Holy Week as a marker so that it might guide us down the correct interpretive path? What if Jesus spoke these words on the first day in order to introduce his primary objective for the week?
This book makes a bold claim: Jesus’ lament is the interpretive key to Holy Week. His lament suggests that the events of Holy Week are best understood when viewed through the lens of peacemaking. And it encourages us to see the central struggle of Holy Week as a struggle for peace.
Said another way, with this lament, the great drama of Holy Week began. And upon Jesus’ speaking these words, the week’s events were set in motion. For with this lament, Jesus launched a campaign for peace that would consume his final days. Each day, he would contend for our peace. And each day, he would correct the misguided methods we use to make peace.
THE MISSING PEACE
Admittedly, this is not how most people talk about Holy Week. You won’t hear many sermons that speak of Jesus working for peace during his final days. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a single book on Holy Week that reflects on the significance of Jesus’ lament. Few even mention it.
For years, I did the same. I saw no connection between peacemaking and Holy Week, so I simply glossed over Jesus’ lament. Ironically, I now consider his lament to be of the utmost importance for the very reasons I once ignored it.
I used to brush past Jesus’ lament, in part, because it felt like a random remark. His words about peace seemed to bear no relation to the unfolding events of Holy Week. After all, it was a very violent week. Priests championed death, crowds demanded capital punishment, disciples picked up swords, politicians ordered executions, soldiers delighted in torture, and—most startling of all—even Jesus grabbed a whip. Everyone seemed to thirst for blood.
I realize now, though, that we need Jesus’ lament precisely because the week was so violent. Without it, our understanding of Holy Week is prone to err. Apart from it, the whirlwind of violence can easily turn us around in our thinking, dizzying our senses until we stumble out of Holy Week convinced that God is violent and that the cross somehow satisfied God’s bloodlust.
Praise for Fight Like Jesus
“A friend who lived through the Troubles in Northern Ireland told me that the anger he sees in the American Christian community rivals the animosity that existed in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. Fight Like Jesus is a timely call for peacemaking in a period of escalating violence. In a season of rising homicides, mass shootings, gun violence, vigilante attacks, and deep-seated hatred, we need now, more than ever, this call for Christians to embrace our heritage as forgers of peace in a world of division. Fight Like Jesus will equip us all for the difficult work of peacemaking and reconciliation that lays before us.”
—Scott Bessenecker, national director of global engagement and justice for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
“For those who think ‘peace’ might be mild or meek, flimsy or weak, author Jason Porterfield unpacks Jesus’ embrace of a radical peace. Built on a faithful biblical exposition, this book inspires and equips today’s courageous peacemakers to fight like Jesus. Will you put down your hammer and join him?”
—Margot Starbuck, author of Small Things with Great Love
“From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, what does Holy Week have to do with peacemaking? I’d never thought about that before reading Fight Like Jesus, but now I’m convinced the two are bound together as Jesus wages peace each day and teaches his followers to do the same. Read this book for new insight on Holy Week and on Jesus as peacemaker. Read this book to be inspired and equipped for practical peacemaking today.”
—April Yamasaki, pastor and author of Four Gifts and Sacred Pauses
“In Fight Like Jesus, author Jason Porterfield takes the reader through the final week of Jesus’ life and provides a powerful vision of peacemaking by situating it within his personal call to build a more just world. This relatable calling gives the book deep wisdom and thick theology in a world where many are searching for substantive discipleship. Through practical lessons for the everyday peacemaker, this book is equal parts commentary, guide, and communal resource suitable for congregations and classrooms alike. Fight Like Jesus will refresh one’s understanding of both peacemaking and conventional readings of Holy Week.”
—Rose Lee-Norman, formation pastor at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and adjunct professor of reconciliation studies at Bethel University
“In a world where violence is spiraling out of control, this book is an urgent call to rediscover Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Only as peacemakers can Christians truly be the salt and light that God intended. Dive deep into this compelling story of a week in the life of Christ and you will be changed, for good.”
—Craig Greenfield, founder of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus
“Rather than requiring political manipulation or military conquest, the decisive peace that Jesus waged required self-sacrifice. In Fight Like Jesus, author Jason Porterfield takes us on an undomesticated, and therefore more realistic, journey through Holy Week that equips us to walk the way of the cross in ways that make for peace. I commend this book with hope!”
—Jer Swigart, cofounding director of the Global Immersion Project and coauthor of Mending the Divides
“Written as a compelling narrative of Jesus’ final week of life and ministry, Jason weaves historical context and accessible commentary in building a tangible set of practices for those who want to take peacemaking seriously. Many describe Jesus as a peacemaker, but few do the thoughtful work of unpacking what that meant and how it informs the vocation of the church. This is a great book for any churches who desire to take a deep dive into the implications and invitation of Holy Week as an embodied extension of the peace that Jesus waged 2000 years ago.”
—Jon Huckins, cofounder of the Global Immersion Project and coauthor of Mending the Divides
About the Author
Jason Porterfield has made his home in places abandoned by society, from Canada’s poorest neighborhood to the slums of Indonesia. His passion is to cultivate God’s shalom wherever it is painfully absent and to help churches embrace their peacemaking vocation. In 2007, Jason joined Servants (servantsasia.org), an international network of Christian communities living and ministering among the urban poor. He was a founding member of the Servants team in Vancouver, started a new team in Indonesia, and directed operations in North America through 2015. Jason holds a master in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and now lives in his riskiest location yet: next door to his in-laws.