As we enter Holy Week we are looking at some particularly New Testament stories as we walk through the week with Jesus and reflect on some of the events of these fateful days. But in spite of this the OT readings can help illuminate the narrative, and give greater understanding to those seeking to travel the way of the cross.
Our first passage is from one of Isaiah’s ‘Servant Songs’ which we have encountered before in this series. We’ve discussed just whom the ‘Servant’ is, and said that most likely he represents the Israelite community, not as it actually was in the 6th century, but in an idealised way: this is what Israel would be like if it was perfectly living out its vocation as the nation chosen by God to make him known to all the other nations of the world. So the first thing which strikes us, and we’re going to see this even more clearly before this week is out, is that God’s calling involves suffering. We so often live with the sense that if we were really really in the centre of God’s will life would be great: indeed much of the OT tells us precisely that that’s how it should be. Yet the Servant Songs give the lie to this: to live in obedience to God is to suffer, as so many Christians have found out. Beating, mocking, spitting: these are the daily currency of Christians in many parts of our world, reminding us of the Jesus who said that he had come not to bring peace, but rather the sword, representing conflict. As we journey through Holy Week the conflict becomes steadily more overt, and culminates, of course, on the cross.
Yet like the Servant whose ministry is perfected in him, Jesus faces his calling with determination and confidence. He knows that the Sovereign God helps him, so he grits his teeth and goes onward, knowing that there will be vindication, and that all those who have so violently opposed him will be proved wrong once and for all. ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!’ might be a translation, albeit a bit approximate, of v 8b. And have a go they do, but even death can’t keep him down. The Sovereign Lord has the last word.
I think we sometimes go through Holy Week with the kind of attitude which realises how terrible it all was for Jesus, but thanks God or its lucky stars that he did it instead of us. Isaiah would remind us, perhaps, at the start of the week that this kind of suffering is not exceptional. It is the reality for many Christians, and it ought perhaps to be ours. Certainly we are promised no immunity, and to walk Holy Week with our faces set like flint to obey God come what may might just give a sobering jolt to our British consumerist, comfort-driven faith.
OT Lectionary April 13th Palm Sunday Isaiah 50:4-9a