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Holy Week

It has been many years since I stood in the old city of Jerusalem, but today’s warm spring weather has somehow prompted a flood of memories. Jerusalem is, for the most part, extraordinarily modern. Walking through its streets is not much different than touring an American city. Its nightlife and tourist amenities are first-rate. But when one visits ancient Jerusalem, a small walled-off area of less than a square mile within the larger metropolitan area, one steps back in time.

The city itself dates to 3,000 BC. It was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 but rebuilt in the centuries after that. The current walls, streets, and buildings are truly ancient. When one retraces the steps of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa (the way of suffering), stopping at the various “stations of the Cross,” the crucifixion becomes concrete and real. It can almost be overwhelming as one’s senses kick in and there is this powerful revelation that it happened, and it happened in this place. Making the pilgrimage to the Cross was perhaps the first time for me that Jesus became an utterly real person as opposed to a character in the Bible.

There is a tendency in today’s world to think of Holy Week as the commemoration of some ancient event revealed to us in old sacred texts. Walking the Via Dolorosa reminds us of this: the crucifixion of Jesus is a historical fact, not a matter of faith. One can argue about the resurrection, but almost all scholars, both secular and religious, consider the crucifixion of Jesus somewhere between 30 and 33 AD to be indisputable. Walking where Jesus walked on his last day of earthly life will put a chill down your spine, and it will prompt you to think more seriously about the rest of the story.

This Sunday we will begin the Holy Week journey with the waving of palms and the singing of praises, but the day will usher in our observance of that dark week of long ago. I have come to believe that it is almost impossible to take the resurrection seriously if one does not take the crucifixion seriously. Was there a literal resurrection? I can’t prove that but that there was a literal crucifixion is beyond dispute. And that is where the faith journey begins: at the Cross.

I hope that, wherever you live, you will choose a church to attend this Sunday to give the faith story a fair break. If you take seriously the crucifixion, it just might lead to a renewed conviction about the resurrection.

Rev. Don Underwood