Holy Week is more than just the busiest week of church life. Holy Week is a pattern for Christian discipleship. The tragic beauty of Holy Week encompasses the span of our human experience, and it validates everything we go through in our earthly lives. Holy Week is a dramatic week, full of prayer, betrayal, suffering, pain, hope, joy, victory. Jesus pioneers the way to heaven through the crucifixion and resurrection, but he also pioneers the proper way to live on earth.
The Sufferings of Jesus
Jesus suffered, for us. Jesus literally took on the pain of the whole world on Good Friday (Isaiah 53:4). Not only did he remove from us the sting of sin and the pain of guilt and shame, the apostles made it clear that Jesus' death also gives value to our own suffering (Acts 5:41; Romans 5:3–5; James 1:3–4). Indeed Jesus himself taught, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). Jesus gives meaning and value to our own human suffering. And it is a universal phenomenon that we all suffer. No one can escape it. Jesus invites us actually to embrace our suffering.
But that is only half of it. You probably know some Christians who fully embrace the idea of "martyr" and every harsh word or criticism they receive becomes their "cross to bear." Suffering can become a flag we wave, kind of a self-justification. We do not need to invite needless suffering into our lives; it will find us easily enough. Losing a job, a relationship coming to an end, the loss of a loved one, being criticized when you stand up for what is right, having people gossip about you or attack your character. In all of this, Holy Week disciples can find value and meaning in the pain and suffering they endure, because they know the end of the story. They know "the first day of the week" is coming.
The Joys of Jesus
We can, and should, embrace the joys of life as followers of Jesus. The joy of Easter is inexpressible. It is the joy of Jesus' mother Mary, who knows the tomb is empty and her son lives again. It is the joy of a child's birth, the first bud of spring, a job well done, the joy of victory. Holy Week discipleship embraces joy. Immense joy, the kind of joy that breaks out in song and cannot contain its smile. The apostle Paul invites us to "Rejoice always" (1 Thessalonians 5:16), because we know that Jesus is alive and reigns supreme over all things. The resurrection is the victory of our Lord—and our subsequent victory in Him—over sin, death, the devil, and every evil thing that has a grip on us.
Again, there are Christians who embrace only the Easter motif. There are Christians who live as though everything is always great, that they are #blessed and nothing in life can drag 'em down. That type of joy is a little overwhelming, and the problem with "feel-good Christianity" is that it doesn't take all of Holy Week, all of our human experience, into account. There are many blessings in believing, many joys when we follow Jesus. Indeed, the tomb is always empty, and we are all susceptible to only sharing the good things (especially with social media), but an honest and authentic look at our lives reveals there are Good Fridays for everyone.
Embracing both Suffering and Joy
Don't wait until next year to live out Holy Week. Start now. Embrace your suffering. Do not only endure the hard things in your life, but welcome them and face them head on—just like Jesus did on the cross. Accompany Him to the garden of Gethsemane; pray "Thy will be done" as you plant your own spring garden. Don't shirk from the pain God is placing in your life.
In the same way, though, embrace your joy. Welcome the good things God is putting in your path. Run back from the Easter tomb with the women, excited and giddy. Laugh wholeheartedly and celebrate the beautiful things in your life with the beautiful people in your life. Do not separate your suffering and your joy; this is Holy Week discipleship. Let others know it is okay to be hurt, and it is okay to be happy. In Christ, "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). His Holy Week path has secured our final destination and set the course for our life. Next year, set your mind to make one more Holy Week service, but remember: with Jesus, every week is a Holy Week.