Holy Week Blog

Faith Progression blog

… reading a book called “The Last Week” by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan. It does a great job of showing the real historic events of each day in the last week of Jesus’ life. The most interesting point they make about Palm Sunday is that on that day there were 2 precessions going into Jerusalem. The first procession was the Roman Governor who came into the city with a massive demonstration of force as he marched his forces into the city as he did before every Jewish holiday to keep tabs on the celebration. With the Roman Governor came chariots, soldiers, and weapons in a large show of force to help keep the celebrations in hand. The second procession was a staged political protest lead by Jesus from the opposite side of the city. With him was a group of peasants on a protest against the Roman Empire’s evil domination of Israel. We often loose sight of how Jesus’ very planned and intentional Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem was a protest much like a march during the civil rights movement in the 60’s. In a wonderful statement of sarcasm, Jesus staged his march into the city on a donkey without chariots, armor, or weapons. It is always amazing what you can accomplish with sarcasm. 

What would be the best way to celebrate Palm Sunday? I think it would not be to go to church and celebrate the week of Jesus’ death, but instead we should carry on his protest against injustice. I think the best way to celebrate would be to stage an actual protest. Maybe a protest against an unjust war, or maybe an unfair tax code, or immigration policies, or maybe an exclusive country club holding it’s annual golf tournament? Palm Sunday is not about the beginning of a week of atonement for sins, it is about political protest against the empire. 

God forgive me for my participation in and support of the empire. Jesus forgive me for reducing your message to a system of beliefs instead of a lifestyle of activism. Give me the courage to stand in protest of injustice, violence, exclusiveness and pride. 

Ellen Farmer

Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, [begins] the week during which we hear again the familiar story of Jesus’ passion. Usually when we talk about the passion of Jesus we mean the suffering of Jesus. But what if for today we could suspend that association and consider instead what Jesus was passionate about. 

Jesus looked around at the world of his day and he could not rest with the way things were. He dreamt of a world of justice and peace and mercy in which all people could flourish. He called it the Kingdom of God and to it he committed his heart and mind and soul.

There were two parades in Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday. From the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, led a column of well-groomed horses carrying armored Roman soldiers. It was a procession proclaiming the might of the powers that be, there to ensure the security of the city during festival time of the Jewish Passover.

And from the east, Jesus, riding on a donkey, led a ragtag procession of peasants. According to Jesus scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, these two processions were the embodiment of “the central conflict that led to Jesus’s execution.”* A “counter-procession,” if you will, a political demonstration, an intentional insult to the procession on the other side of the city. Business as usual versus the Kingdom of God: the entire story of God’s longing for the world collapsed into that one moment.

It is unlikely that any of us will ever be nailed to a cross. But every one of us is called to be passionate about something, to care enough to be curious about the possible and discontent with the probable. Jesus lived his passion for an alternative world, and it cost him his very life. Are any of us willing to risk even a little bit of our comfort or security or privilege for the sake of our passion?

“Two processions entered Jerusalem on that day. The same question, the same alternative, faces those who would be faithful to Jesus today. Which procession are we in? Which procession do we want to be in? This is the question of Palm Sunday and of the week that is about to unfold.” (Borg & Crossan, p. 30)

— The Rev. Eyleen Farmer
Copyright ©2006 Calvary Episcopal Church. From a sermon preached on April 9, 2006, The Sunday of The Passion, Palm Sunday


On the second day of holy week Jesus entered the temple to stage another protest. On this day his protest was aimed at the temple. I always misinterpreted this event to mean that Jesus was upset because too much business was being conducted within the temple, but I’ve come to see this protest was aimed at shutting down the temple and symbolically stopping the temple from running it’s day to day business. This was like picketing a business to try and slow down its stream of revenue in order to make a political point. Jesus knew very well that the leaders in the temple were being closely controlled by the Roman Governor and just like the Old Testament prophets Jesus protested the fact that the temple had become an institution of social injustice with their over bearing enforcement of the laws in the same way as the Egyptian Pharaoh and now the Roman Emperor had mistreated his people. He was not upset about the fact that things were being sold in the temple. He was upset that the Jewish leaders had sold out to the empire and were allowing his people to be mistreated. Jesus was familiar with the Old Testament prophets and just as on Sunday when he intentionally chose to ride a donkey to make reference to the OT prophecy, he again references the prophets (this time Jeremiah) when he calls the temple a “den of robbers”. 

Maybe the best way to remember the Monday of Holy Week would be to protest the “temple mentality” that has become commonplace in our modern churches. Have our churches become corrupt partners with the empire focused on following laws or moral codes rather than loving our neighbors? Has Christianity in America sold its soul and lost forever its heart of compassion? Have our churches become institutions of domination, control, and political manipulation? 

I feel that Monday of Holy Week is about protesting the ways that our places of worship have fallen prey to the empire. 

God forgive me for allowing my understanding of Jesus’ message to be controlled by the greed of the empire and the betrayal of the church. Help me to see past their lies and know Christ’s compassion. 


Tuesday of Holy week showed that the attention Jesus sought in his protests on Sunday and Monday seemed to have made a splash. The religious authorities came to question Jesus and it must indicate that his protests have produced a large number of followers. There is too much material on Tuesday to discuss in this one post, but I think the most memorable and most misunderstood dialog is the famous quote “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” I always understood that to be a call for separation of church and state, but I was wrong. That type of incorrect interpretation has been used to justify the holocaust, corrupt political practices, economic injustice, and even the current war with Iraq. This statement by Jesus doesn’t mean that we should be blindly obedient to governments regardless of its character and it doesn’t mean we should limit God’s influence to only personal moral choices. This narrative is marked by attack and counterattack, trap and escape. If we try and make this statement into an eternal truth about how to abstain from politics then we have taken it out of context. 

Using the coin as an object of focus Jesus raises another question about what exactly is Caesar’s and what exactly is God’s. He is asking us to question our own understanding of what we credit to God. If we look at the parable he told earlier on Tuesday about a vineyard, commonly called the parable of the wicked tenants, we can see that Jesus is making another reference to the fact that the temple leaders (and/or the Emperor) have stolen and misused God’s land and God’s people. The central theme to both the parable and the reference to Caesar’s coin is that neither Rome nor the Religious leaders own God’s people. God is the rightful owner of the vineyard and God is the rightful owner of everything. The end result of this narrative is that if we really give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God then we will end up giving God everything and Caesar is left with nothing. Another beautiful use of sarcasm! This is not a license to limit God to only spiritual matters. Instead it is a command to give everything we have and everything we do to God. 

God, forgive me for limiting your influence in my life to personal spiritual matters separate from the rest of my life. Help me to infuse the compassion of Jesus in my character, politics, business, consumption, and relationships. Everything is yours and nothin belongs to the empire. 


On Wednesday a conspiracy was planned. The story of Wednesday has Judas make an arrangement to turn Jesus in. The big question that I have about how this actually happened is, why did there need to be a traitor? Jesus wasn’t exactly hiding. He had been protesting in some very public places. The most likely answer seems to contrast the traditional thought about Jesus’ relationship with the crowds. In the old passion plays and in the recent popular movie that misrepresented Jesus’ passion, the crowd is said to be against Jesus. I think that is wrong. Borg and Crossan answer the need for a traitor and the need for a conspiracy with the idea that the crowds in Jerusalem were in support of Jesus in great numbers and this meant that the authorities couldn’t just take him without starting a riot. The need to avoid a riot was always an underlying tension during a holiday with massive celebrations and crowds. That is after all why the Roman soldiers where there in force to keep things under control. So the authorities needed to find Jesus when he was in a private place away from the crowds.


I think that this difference is important. I was always taught that the “Jewish people” were the ones that crucified Jesus because he was against their religion. This was definitely not the case. Jesus was Jewish and very serious about his faith. The idea of creating another religion that countered the Jewish faith was a “post-Jesus” concept. Jesus didn’t have a beef with his fellow Jews. He was protesting their leader’s collaboration with the Roman Empire and their unjust social and economic practices.


The main point that I take from the story of Wednesday is that the people saw Jesus’ passionate protests and many accepted the challenge but the authorities didn’t accept him and planned his death. I think Jesus knew very well that the authorities wouldn’t get it. After all it was Jesus that said rich people would not understand and they wouldn’t be able to take part in his new kingdom. His goal was to build support for his teachings in the common people that would carry on his ideas. The challenge he puts before them is to follow in protest of the empire even if it means death (and it usually does). Many of them followed him to death over the next couple of centuries.


Jesus, forgive me for overlooking your message and focusing on a system of beliefs. Help me to have the courage to follow you.


The last supper is a highlight of holy week for Christianity. By Thursday, Jesus can sense that the authorities have had about enough of his protests and he feels that this could be his last meal. This narrative has many layers of meaning. Some are probably valid and others are not. Mark, the earliest Gospel, paints the picture different than in John, the last Gospel. It seems the imagery kept growing for those later generations of Christians.. Actually, even as early as the writing of Mark’s Gospel the imagery of what this meal might mean had begun to develop. 

Meals were often an important source of symbolism for Jesus. He had long been making bold statements about social justice and inclusion by sharing meals with all sorts of people. The storytellers of the Gospels use this Passover meal to tie in the death of Jesus to the story of Israel being delivered from Egypt. However, I tend to disagree with some symbolism introduced around Jesus death. I don’t buy into the atonement by substitution theory. The idea that God would demand a death in our place is bizarre and out of character with the image of God that Jesus had spent his life revealing. Forgiveness would not be forgiveness if a payment is made. Also, we don’t die a physical death for our sin or gain our physical life when we get “saved”, so why would a physical death somehow be able to replace our punishment. Another point is that an infinite amount of punishment (eternal damnation) for a finite amount of sin doesn’t seem much like justice even by harsh human standards. It counters Jesus’ teachings that punishment should be within reasonable limits and in proportion to the crime. This is what he meant by “an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth” (an often misunderstood passage). 

Moving beyond my ideas about atonement (I realize that most people reading this won’t agree with me), I do still find tremendous value in the story of the last supper. The most interesting thing I see in this story is the fact that this meal is a time of invitation to be included in what Jesus was doing. He has invited the disciples (and us) to join with him in his protest against the empire and his willingness to die for the ideals of his dream for an inclusive neighborhood (kingdom) of God. When I celebrate this event I do not celebrate Jesus death, but instead I remember his life and make a renewed commitment to join his protest at all cost and to carry on his mission until my death. Maundy Thursday is a day of commitment as Jesus asks us to symbolically take on his life as our own. 

Jesus, accept my commitment to join with you in the protest against empire even if it comes at great cost to me. I pray that your dream of justice, peace, and compassion will continue to become more and more of a reality. 


I’ve already alluded to the fact that I disagree with the common understanding of Jesus’ death as a divine orchestration carried out in order to save the world of sin. This understanding has often lead me close to the point of abandoning my self definition as a Christian. I really thank Marcus Borg for writing several books that gave me a way to still call myself a Christian without accepting much of the institutional church’s artificial doctrines. I also thank him for this latest book “The Last Week” for giving me a new connection to Holy Week. Spending time reading the book and blogging about each day has been a deep spiritual experience for me even though I’ve probably confused or angered a few people on the way. 

I really had a hard time with Mel Gibson’s movie “the passion of Christ”. Not because it was a bad movie, but because it’s title and focus misplaced Jesus’ passion. Jesus’ passion was not his ability to endure a gruesome death. His passion was what he had spent his life speaking about. His passion was his vision about a new order of life filled with transformed people in a community with God, free from oppression by the empire and manipulative religious leaders. When we misplace his passion to be about his death we have missed his point.

Without the idea of substitutionary atonement, what is left as the meaning for Jesus death? Why did Friday happen?

 The empire did what the empire always does. They killed Jesus just like they always kill revolutionaries. The empire killed John, Jesus, Paul, James and many more people. After a failed rebellion in AD 66-70 they wiped out Jerusalem and even destroyed the temple then spent the next 2 centuries feeding Christian rebels to the lions. Even 2000 years later people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed for protesting the political domination systems of their day. This is what oppressive domination systems do best. The fact that Jesus’ death was by crucifixion highlights this point. That type of death was reserved for runaway slaves and rebel insurgents as a very public warning not to subvert the empire. (fyi.. the two “bandits” on the cross next to him are often mistaken for thieves, but the Greek word translated “bandit” is commonly used for guerilla fighters or freedom fighters.) Ordinary criminals were not crucified. The 3 people who were crucified that day were rebels.
Jesus’ death was the ultimate form of practicing what you preach. He taught about resisting evil without violence. He taught about turning the other cheek. Through his death he taught us to give our lives as a sacrifice for the cause of the kingdom of God. He did that by protesting the empire until they killed him. If we limit his passion to his suffering and death then we overlook the passion that brought him to Jerusalem that week. We also risk becoming passive participants in the empire unknowingly helping to preserve unjust systems of oppression.
Jesus’ death was a common occurrence for that time and place. In fact, Jesus was absolutely guilty of the crimes he was accused of committing. He was guilty of being a rebel against the empire even though his brand of rebellion was one of non-violence. Good Friday is the result of the collision between the passion of Jesus and the domination systems of his time. The sinful nature of people (greed of the empire) did kill Jesus. In that sense, Jesus died because of the sins of the world even if he didn’t die in place of our sins.

Jesus, forgive me for missing your point. Help me to make up for lost time by doing all I can to correct the injustices in the world.


The earliest Biblical Gospel, Mark, says nothing about Saturday of Holy Week. There are some other references elsewhere about a mythological type of spiritual journey by Jesus into hell and releasing of the saint’s sprits, but nothing historical is mentioned anywhere. Given that, I think I will celebrate today by spending time thinking about how it must have felt to mourn Jesus’ death. In modern times, we don’t think about his death without also knowing about the resurrection story so we don’t really experience grief for our crucified Lord. We may watch a reenactment of the cross and feel sorrow for his pain, but we don’t really grasp that on Saturday of Holy Week Jesus was dead. There must have been a great deal of initial grief.


The stages of Grief:


Stage 1: Denial – Maybe this didn’t really happen or maybe Jesus will be brought back to life and return to reclaim his kingdom.


Stage 2: Anger – Saturday of Holy Week is a great day to get pissed off at the empire for what they did. How about some ceremonial cursing? (oops…it’s the Sabbath). Maybe since our traditional teaching about Jesus caused us to skip this important step it can explain why we now passively sit back and let the empire continue to flourish.


Stage 3: Bargaining – What if I repent and promise not to sin ever again? Maybe that will bring him back.


Stage 4: Depression – There is no hope because the Empire always seems to win and it feels like we will always be peasants in an unjust society. Maybe the fight for God’s kingdom on earth isn’t worth the cost. Maybe there is no hope for this life and the only hope that is left for us is a chance for justice in a life after death. Maybe we should abandon everything Jesus taught us about this life since we are doomed anyway.


Stage 5: Acceptance – I think that the death of Jesus contains an important lesson for me and has helped to solidify the birth of a whole new way to live in neighborhood with God and others. In a very important way, the death of Jesus was necessary to show us to what great lengths we must go in order to bring about his wonderful vision. Maybe Jesus’ death was really a victory? Some people might say that God intended for him to die all along.


I wonder if the very natural process of grief has impacted the telling of this story and our subsequent theology.


Jesus, forgive me for trivializing the injustice that killed you. Thank you for going to such great lengths to bring about the justice that I now enjoy. Help me to keep opposing the empire and working to extend your vision to more and more people.




Without the stories of Easter Sunday we wouldn’t know about Jesus. If his story had ended with his crucifixion he most likely would have been forgotten, but the stories of his resurrection were a critical factor in keeping his message alive. 

There has been a bunch of debate about if the tomb was really empty on Easter. Some people feel that their faith is meaningless without a literal physical resurrection. Others feel that the stories are only symbolic of the sacrifice and rebirth that Jesus asks us to make in order to bring about God’s kingdom on earth. I tend to think that either answer leads to the same point. The historical accuracy of each of version of the story is irrelevant. The important point of Easter is that even though Jesus was killed on Friday, he is still impacting our lives in a very real way. We can still have a relationship with the person of Jesus today. I think that in the last century both the fundamental literalist and the progressive non-literalist have been too focused on proving their cases about the historical facts and we have let the meaning of Holy Week fall victim to our debates. Would the story of the Good Samaritan be any more or less “true” if it were a historically factual story rather than a parable? I don’t think so. Factual doesn’t always equal truth. I’m fine with leaving the facts alone and concentrating on the truths. 

The import truth of Easter Sunday is that God said “Yes” to Jesus even though on Good Friday the empire said “No”. If nothing else, the survival of the Easter stories is proof that Jesus has continued to become very real to Christians that never met him in the flesh. That is enough for me. I believe that God raised Jesus to something greater after his death. However, I don’t know if that means his body started breathing again or if his body died and his spirit still lives or if only his legend, vision, and compassion continue to live through the bodies of his followers. I just know that I have an unexplainable passion about him. With a world full of things to steal my attention and a lifetime of chasing one hobby after another, I always end up thinking (and now blogging) about his strange subversive view of life even if nobody is listening me. 

In “The Last Week”, Borg and Crossan summarize the book with 2 questions that result from a study of Holy Week. The first question that many have heard and responded to is – Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior? I agree that question is very import for anyone that has started down his path (“way”) to personal liberation, return from exile, and conscious reconnection to God. The virtually identical but seldom asked question is: Do you accept Jesus as your political Lord and Savior? The gospel of Jesus, the good news of Jesus, which is the gospel of the kingdom of God, involves both questions. 

Holy Week started with 2 processions entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. One was an imperial procession symbolizing oppression and domination. The other was the anti-imperial nonviolent procession of Jesus. Holy Week is the annual remembrance of our decision to join Jesus on his journey of transformation and justice. It is also a reminder of the reasons for the journey and the costs of the journey. Easter is the final assurance that we made the right choice because the empire did not win.

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