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Getting the most out of #HolyWeek

the holy hashtags are already starting to trickle onto social media and you can expect a flood when the weekend arrives. How should we think about encountering God in a time when the sacredest days transform into trending topics? - (Image credit:
the holy hashtags are already starting to trickle onto social media and you can expect a flood when the weekend arrives. How should we think about encountering God in a time when the sacredest days transform into trending topics? - (Image credit:

the holy hashtags are already starting to trickle onto social media and you can expect a flood when the weekend arrives. How should we think about encountering God in a time when the sacredest days transform into trending topics? – (Image credit:

Something gets lost when Holy Week becomes #HolyWeek. But you might as well prepare yourself for what’s coming–the holy hashtags are already starting to trickle onto social media and you can expect a flood when the weekend arrives. How should we think about encountering God in a time when the sacredest days transform into trending topics? 

For this, I enlisted A.J. Swoboda, a pastor, professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and author of A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience. Drawing inspiration from what Jesus’ disciples must have experienced during the first Holy Week, he offers reflections on how to hope in times of uncertainty, ambiguity, and doubt. Here we discuss how Holy Week–even in the digital age–can be a time of spiritual renewal.

RNS: In a couple of sentences, how does viewing Christian spirituality through Holy Week change our thinking?

AS: [tweetable]Christians are very selective about the parts of God they are willing to love.[/tweetable] Of course, Holy Week as we’ve come to call it, has three ultimate days—Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday. Each of these days is of great importance for our understanding of the Christian faith. Jesus died a painful death, sat in a tomb for a day, and then resurrected to new life. I’m convinced that most Christians tend to pick and choose the one or two days that they like. But we are invited into the whole weekend—not just our favorite part. The Christ-follower must be open to the pain of faith, the awkwardness and uncertainty of Saturday, and the joyous victory of Sunday. Christianity is not a movement of preference, and experiencing Jesus fully as he is to be demands that we enter all elements of his passion.

Image courtesy of Baker Books

Image courtesy of Baker Books

RNS: You’re book is called A Glorious Dark, and you’re talking here about topics such as awkwardness and doubt. Is your approach to Easter weekend kind of a downer?

AS: Yes, but the gospel’s portrayal of the initial Holy Week was quite downer. One of the disciples, on that first Saturday, went to Pilate to get the body of Jesus. He carried it. Heavy. Hard. Smelly. Odious. And Joseph, they called him, placed the body of Jesus in the dusty earth of a tomb. Now, did Joseph ever think when he joined Jesus’ movement that part of discipleship would have been about carrying the body of his Lord? I don’t think so.

What a downer. But it is appropriately down because Joseph didn’t do so for no reaason. He did it because he had hope—hope in the resurrected Lord. If I’m being a downer, I’m simply trying to capture the original emotions of the disciples; emotions, I’m convinced, we have no permission to ignore as Christians in the 21st century.

RNS: If Christians want to celebrate Good Friday with their friends and/or families in ways other than a church service, what do you recommend?

AS: Regardless of where one celebrates Good Friday (or any part of Holy Week), I think it silly to mourn anyone’s death isolated and all alone. Death should make friends. But for the person who would like to do so outside the context of an actual church service, try going to a memory care facility in your area and spend time with someone who has been forgotten. Spend a moment with someone who has forgotten that they are forgotten. And in doing something like that, you will find the joy of Jesus.

RNS: Good Friday and Easter Sunday sort of steal the show. What is the importance of celebrating Holy Saturday, practically speaking?

AS: Holy Saturday–that awkward day of questions, doubt, and uncertainty–has been photoshopped out of some Christian calendars. But so much of faith is holy uncertainty. My favorite preachers refuse to iron everything out. When given the chance, they leave the wrinkles, a few kinks, a bump here or there in the road so that I would have to iron out, flatten out, and drive over the road of truth myself. The Japanese theologian Koyume once wrote that Americans love the cross so long as it’s conveniently given to us in the size of a lunch-pale and is equipped with an easy-grip handle. I guess I don’t like easy-grip, convenient preaching nor am I inclined toward easy-grip, convenient love toward God. Holy Saturday gives me a context for the difficulty of faith.

RNS: You talk about entering the “awkward silence of Saturday’s silence.” How can Christians participate in this?

AS: In silence, God is often the loudest. While some may well disagree, I’m persistently confronted by a Bible that harps on and on about silence as an integral task for the person seeking God. “Be still and know…” sort of stuff.

A child psychologist who attends the church I pastor told me that the average 14-year-old she works with spends on average five hours in front of a screen—texting, Facebooking, using the internet, gaming. I asked her what she thought of that. Her response, although heartbreaking, made he chuckle nervously: “Job security,” she said. Her point was that children were being set up for a lifelong dependence on psychological work.

Kids were created to get bored. I’m not saying that anyone who is in front of a screen a good deal of their day will need a shrink. But, I am saying that God didn’t create us to always be “connected.” Silence is a gift, not a curse. In silence, we face God. We face ourselves. We face Jesus.

RNS: What’s the most creative Easter celebration you’ve heard of or experienced?

AS: I was told there is a church in Portland that gets together on Sunday morning and begins Easter celebrations by sitting around and telling jokes—knock-knock jokes, bad jokes, rabbi and pastor and priest jokes. Turns out, it is an Eastern Orthodox church in our city and they do this to replicate and remind the congregation of the utter hilarity the first disciples would have felt when they heard about resurrection.

Resurrection is insanely silly, when the rational mind considers it. But it is real. And it should smack us every year as the cornerstone of our faith. Resurrection really, really, really happened. Not in a “in our hearts sort of way.” Resurrection—the kind where rigor mortis actually stopped taking over a body—happened 2,000 years ago. And it will happen again.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • The theology here is pretty basic; one could say, obvious. But it is sound, as are his suggestions about alternative celebrations to the standard church service. Love his affirmative declaration of the “Resurrection…the kind where rigor mortis stopped taking over the body.” Wonderful message.

  • If one could understand the depth of this verse,

    “Be still and know that I am God”

    This is the most powerful verse for all truth seekers.

  • No human being can afford to dismiss the works of Jesus, for over 2000 years now, His life, death and resurrection power is moving the hearts and minds of people.

  • This holy week, Christians are reminded of the power of forgiveness.This 10 year old girl’s testimony is going viral for all the right reasons.
    You can watch ‘Myriams Story and Song’ on youtube.

  • The Resurrection of Jesus is the central focus of Christianity; it placed the eternal stamp on His mortal Life. His Resurrection is what transformed a world 20 centuries ago, and continues to do so today. We should all close our eyes and meditate upon the unbelievable Love God has for each of us: that his Son Jesus, Who is Grace Incarnate, would enter into the world through the womb of a resplendent woman, clothed with the Sun (Rev 12:1-2). This Radiant Light, this Divine Life, would break-in to this world through pains of labor, and would just the same leave this world through pain, suffering, and revilement, being torn to pieces, hung on a cross, and emptied of life. And from the human perspective, the charade was finally brought to its rightful end, it concluded a magic show that went on for far too long. However, this closing of the book, this setting down of the pen, only became a new chapter, welling up, rising up from the ashes, paradoxically this man’s horrific death proclaimed birth to humanity, bringing the soul of man back to life, enabling God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit take up residence in, and animate the human soul with the very life of God, the Grace of Salvation. Where is God, they ask? Just look within says the Christian. This is what we celebrate at Easter; it is only through the Resurrection of Christ that the human soul is lifted up, joined to The Body and filled with His very Life, eternal Life (Romans 6:3-4). “[Y]ou were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.” That is Easter, the Resurrection, that is our Hope.

  • It was important that God resurrect his son, Jesus, from death since the resurrection hope will take place for mankind back to life on earth (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15).

    But Jesus’ central focus on Christianity was the preaching of God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Matthew 4:17), a major theme of the entire Bible (Matthew 24:14).

    Jesus instructed his disciples to memorialize his death at the Lord’s evening meal, not his resurrection. At that time, he mentioned he was making a new covenant with them for a kingdom (Luke 22:28-29). That took place on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., and should be observed every year according to the Jewish calendar, which is April 3, 2015, this year.

    That kingdom will soon put an end to all human governments (Daniel 2:44) and rule with true love, righteousness and justice over man on earth, through Jesus’ millennial rule, its King (Isaiah 11:1-9).

    Not only that, but it will put an end to all sickness, disease, old age and even death on earth (Revelation 21:1-4). What grand blessings mankind can look forward to from such a loving God, as well as his loving son, Jesus, through God’s kingdom, in the near future!

  • You are correct, Fran, that the central focus of our Lord is all of his teachings, summed up in the Gospel. And indeed Nissan 14 was the day celebrated in the Early Church as the Day of the Crucifixion, regardless which day it fell on. Today we call it Good Friday, and is always on a Friday. But in the Early Church, their central proclamation was the Resurrection, because without the Resurrection, there would be no Christianity. But good points.