Holy Week: Is it Jesus’ tragedy or comedy?

By Zach Harris
Posted 4/12/19

This next week is Holy Week in the church year. It’s the week that leads up to Easter. And the church for the past two millennia has celebrated it as almost a real time day-for-day remembrance of …

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Holy Week: Is it Jesus’ tragedy or comedy?

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This next week is Holy Week in the church year. It’s the week that leads up to Easter. And the church for the past two millennia has celebrated it as almost a real time day-for-day remembrance of what Jesus and his disciples went through during his last week on earth.

Now, to say that the story is dramatic is an understatement. Just think about the number of plays and movies that have been made about this time frame. But as I started to reflect on this 2000-year-old story one more time, I kind of had some different thoughts about it that I hadn’t in years past.

For one thing, tomorrow is Palm Sunday. It is a big day in the church year beyond just being the first day of Holy Week. It starts off with a great celebration of the story of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!” and the use of palm branches to celebrate his arrival. It’s a parade, as I like to call it! Later in the service we tell the whole passion account of the how the week goes sideways, but it has occurred to me that the palm part is probably the highlight for the earthly life of Jesus in how we would normally look at things.

His whole ministry lasted less than the time I have spent serving in Wilson, and during that time, there had been folks who had it in for him even in the midst of his miracles, healings and preaching. Certain individuals have shown appreciation. Crowds have listened. But the palms on this particular Sunday are his one unsullied good day! Folks will often make note that both heroes and villains are formed and defined by “one bad day,” but how often is a hero shown to have only one really good day?

But again, perhaps that’s a matter of perspective. Because when you see this drama unfold, categorically most would call the story a tragedy. You know, a dramatic story where the events ironically end with protagonist’s death in the end and a hard lesson learned. But I rather think of Holy Week as a comedy. However, it is only complete when we carry it out to the very next Sunday. Because you see, comedies, no matter what may befall everyone in the middle, always end with a “happily ever after.”

If you’ve ever seen “The Passion of the Christ,” you may be shaking your head in dismay at the thought that Holy Week is a comedy in the works. Certainly no laugh track in the world could save it. After all, I just admitted that it starts with Jesus’s only good day on earth! How could ever such a statement be true? How could even God turn such obvious tragedy to comedy? Well, follow me down another rabbit hole, my friend, and we’ll see. You just may find we don’t even have to be unorthodox to get there!

You see, Palm Sunday is all about “Yay, Jesus!” and the crowds cheer and he gets his ticker tape parade! At our church celebration, we go ahead and start to make a transition for the rest of the week, but originally, Jesus did indeed have a great day! He’s still riding high on Thursday night when he hosts a dinner party for his disciples that reaches a true pinnacle by him telling them all about Love, and then showing it by washing their feet.

All is still good for a moment until the whole mood shifts downward in what appears to be a tragic direction. Jesus is betrayed by one disciple, denied by another and abandoned by the rest while he is arrested tried and found guilty. Cue the Black-Eyed Peas: “Where is the Love?!”

Then we slide somewhere during the night to the next day, called Good Friday, where Jesus is sentenced and the same people who on his best day on earth cried “Hosanna!” now shout “Crucify,” and he dies on the cross!

Now, to be honest, you might see that as tragic. Although one could argue that the final day of this week is called Good Friday. I actually have a sermon called “Satan’s Good Friday Triumph Speech” in which Satan tells everyone exactly why he thinks it’s called “good” and how things are going to be now that God is dead. There is some laughing, but it’s a bit scarier than even the most saccharine sitcom laugh track you can imagine.

So the scoreboard tallies it: Jesus — dead; disciples — scattered as ones who betray, deny or simply abandon, and the only possible one happy about it is Satan. Sounds like a tragedy on all counts! But this week doesn’t end there — no matter how much it seemed like it had on that Friday.

Because a week from Jesus’ best day on earth, he actually had an even better day. It took place on earth, but it was a heavenly good day, because the Kingdom of God was in full force with the powers of death overcome by true resurrection! Jesus looked like his life was one and done, but BOOM — the sequel!

On that day, the tallies looked a little different: Jesus — much more animated than on Friday night; disciples — amazed and almost giddy; even almost all together again; and Satan — well, just like we don’t really know that he was wringing his hands and howling in victory on Friday, we don’t know he was shocked and surprised and brought to the point of almost absolute silence on Sunday — but we might guess!

And when we bump that Holy Week that extra day, is it really that hard to see that what was most certainly a tragedy ending with Satan’s uproarious laughter now is almost funny, at least in that definition of a comedy? For through all the trials and tribulations, our protagonist did not turn out dead, but rather ended up really alive so that not only he but also everyone could live happily ever after.

And the point of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday is so that you can see the setup for the real punchline on Easter. If you don’t understand the first part, the sequel won’t stand as powerful. But there’s more about that for next week. Because the difference between next Friday and Sunday is that comedic question: who’s laughing now?

So look for the sequel next week!

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 27 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.