This is a concise account of the events that unfolded in the last week of the life of Jesus, commonly known as Passion Week. It starts slow and then peaks in its gruesome reactions on Friday and then explodes with the glorious and inevitable outcome on Sunday.
Jesus leaves Bethany hungry and goes into Jerusalem again. On the way, he denounces a barren fig tree for its barrenness. He enters the Jerusalem temple and cleanses it for the second time. He heals the sick in the temple to the ire of Jewish authorities and children cry “Hosanna” to Him.
In the evening he returns to Bethany.
Today is a busy day. Jesus leaves Bethany again and heads to Jerusalem for his last day of public ministry and his last day in the Temple. On the way, the disciples notice that the fig tree had withered.
He says a last series of parables to the Pharisees and the people on the way to Jerusalem.
At the Temple, the authority of Jesus is challenged. The Jewish authorities try to trap Jesus politically and religiously – Jesus appropriately counters them and then proceeds to pronounce woes against them.
The Jews reject their Messiah. John 12:37-50
In the evening, Jesus takes his disciples to the Mount of Olives. They sit on the Mount and face the city of Jerusalem. Jesus warns his disciples of the events of the end times.
It is night already. Jesus takes his disciples to Bethany and leaves Jerusalem one last time.
Today is a quiet day. Jesus stays at Bethany and enjoys an early Sabbatic rest day. But it is the calm before the storm. For, tomorrow will be a different day. Tomorrow the plan that had been brewing in the omniscient mind of God will be unveiled. Tomorrow the dreaded immeasurable agony will begin. Almost as a sign of things to come, Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, meets with the Jewish leaders and agrees to betray His Master, for the paltry sum of 30 denarii, the price of a slave. But today, the Master rests. He will need every last ounce of human energy to get through the week.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem for what will be a long, unending day. He asks his disciples to prepare for the Passover Meal at the home of John Mark’s parents.
He celebrates the 3-part Paschal Meal with the Twelve disciples during which He washes their feet.
Jesus points out Judas as the betrayer, after which Judas promptly leaves to prepare for the betrayal. Jesus warns his disciples that they would desert Him and informs Peter that he would deny Him. They seem appalled at the possibility and are saddened that that could happen.
He institutes the Eucharist.
The time is quickly upon them, so Jesus gives His disciples last-minute encouragement and calls the soon-to-desert-and-deny disciples as “friends”. He promises the Holy Spirit as their constant companion and then proceeds to pray for them. John 14-17.
In the late twilight of that gloomy day, Jesus leaves the city of Jerusalem, crosses the Kidron valley to reach the north side of the Mount of Olives to a hiding place where he often retired – the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, he begs his disciples to pray with Him, but they are sleepy and let Jesus suffer alone.
Finally, the time has come. Judas leads a band of soldiers and identifies Christ with a kiss. He is arrested by His enemies and forsaken by His friends.
He is taken first to the house of the ex-High Priest, Annas, father-in-law to the current High Priest. Then he is taken to the High Priest, Caiaphas, who along with the Sanhedrin condemn Him. It is here that His verbally loyal disciple, Peter, denies Him. Not once, but thrice. Jesus turns and looks at him – a look that drove a spear into his heart, reminding him of the prior caution and at that time the rooster crows.
Thursday did not really end.
The rooster had crowed. It was early morning on Friday. Since a death penalty could not be proclaimed during the night, it had to be ratified again during the day. So on Friday morning, the Sanhedrin meets again and proclaims the death penalty. Ordinarily, the entire Sanhedrin would be present for such an important sentence. But in that hastily-convened session, neither Joseph of Arimathea nor Nicodemus was present. When Judas saw that the sentence was ratified, he, overcome with remorse, hung himself.
Jesus then goes back and forth from the Roman procurator and the Jewish ruler since neither of them has the fortitude to release Him or the conscience to condemn Him. First to Pilate, then to Herod, then back to Pilate. Pilate, contrary to his historical nature and egged on by his wife’s dream, feebly attempts to wash the guilt from his soul. But the Jews force him and eagerly volunteer to carry that guilt. Jesus is mocked, has his beard pulled out and flogged with whips made with bone and metal.
He is forced to carry his cross and walk through the streets of Jerusalem. He leaves the city through the east gate. A Jewish devotee hurrying to the temple at Jerusalem at the same time is forced to carry His cross. The bevy finds its way to the Place of the Skull and Jesus is crucified with two criminals on either side.
The crucifixion takes place around the time the trumpets herald the morning sacrifice in the Temple. After three hours on the cross, there are three hours of darkness from Noon to 3 pm. It is as if the Father could not watch the agony of His Son. But in the midst of that agony, the Saviour invites a repentant criminal into His home.
With the authority of the One who is pre-existent and the Author of life, Christ gives up His life with the triumphant proclamation that His work was finished. The agony of Human life, the torment of human death, and the torture of celestial separation are finally over.
The body of Jesus is taken down and placed in a new tomb, sealed and guarded to prevent anything from happening to the body over the next three days. Little did they know.
Good Friday leads to hopeless Saturday. The Middle Eastern sun had set so quickly on Friday that the motley mourners did not have time to anoint the Body. The burial was hurried in order to keep the Sabbath that started at 6 pm on Friday night. They then spent the Sabbath in preparing the spices and couldn’t wait to come back to the tomb on Sunday morning to complete what they didn’t.
The body of Jesus “lay in the tomb”. The tomb was “secured” that day at the behest of the Jewish authorities with two stones covering it. The ‘great stone’—the Golel—to close the entrance to the tomb and probably leaning against it for support, a smaller stone—the Dopheq. Where one stone lay on the other, the Jewish authorities on the Sabbath, affixed the seal, so that the slightest disturbance might become apparent.
The disciples who fled eventually slowly found their way back to the upper room where they had just shared a meal with Jesus. But that seems like a long long time ago. The news had spread through Peter who stayed for the trial and John who stayed until the very end – yes, their Master was dead.
There were many times in the past when death came close but did not touch Him. But now, John reports, blood and water came out from the side of the dead Christ. Now, huddled together in the Upper Room once more, their thoughts turn to the events of the past day. They had more questions than answers. What of God? Of Christ? Of the words He had spoken, the Deeds He had wrought, the salvation He had come to bring, and the Kingdom of Heaven, which He had promised? Was it all just a dream that came crashing down on a cruel cross?
The future was bleak, their meaning of life, hopeless. Perhaps the worst day in their lives and undoubtedly, in the history of the world. But, completely unbeknownst to them, beyond the realm of the physical, The Sacrifice had been approved and a rumble of immense power was about to burst forth.
A closure was needed. The mourners were not able to adequately anoint the body and appropriately bid farewell. Also, it was a custom for relatives and friends of the deceased to visit the tomb on the third day – when decay was supposed to start setting in – to make sure that its occupant was really dead.
In mourning, it was also thought that the spirit hovered over the body until the third day, when it finally departed. There seems to have been two groups of women who separately went to the tomb, but the first to reach there was Mary Magdalene. On seeing the stone rolled away, and without going inside to check, she reports to Peter and John her suspicion that the body of Jesus was taken away.
The next group of women then come to the tomb wondering how to roll the stone away. On coming, they see the tomb open and empty with the two angels sitting inside. They receive a message for the disciples to hurry north to Galilee and that Jesus would meet them there.
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene goes to Peter and John and reports the news. They run to the tomb and see the linen strips (that wrapped the body) and the napkin (that wrapped the head) neatly folded. It is as if the user was in no particular hurry. John on seeing just the wrapping without its occupant believed. They see neither angels nor Jesus.
Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb and now looks inside and sees the angels. As she explains her suspicions to them, she senses another presence close to her. No, it was not the gardener as she assumed. Her eyes open to see the risen Christ when He spoke her name. She was to inform the other disciples that she saw Him.
The Jewish authorities attempt a frantic cover-up when they discover the missing body.
In the early afternoon of that day, Jesus meets with two other disciples on the way to Emmaus – a town close to Jerusalem. These two disciples return the same evening back to the Upper Room, where the Eleven disciples and others were gathered.
That evening He appears to those in the Upper Room, sans Thomas, and, to prove that he can relate to them, eats a piece of broiled fish. (The following Sunday, as they had gathered again – this time with Thomas, Jesus appears again to give proof to Thomas of the fact of the resurrection. He later appears to them by the Sea of Galilee).
No matter who looks at it, no one in the history of mankind has been able to explain away the Empty Tomb. When the news spread about the resurrection, all the authorities needed to do was to open the tomb and show the rotting corpse of Christ. They couldn’t, for the tomb was vacated. There is no better proof of the greatest event in history than that of the Empty Tomb.
It would have been so much easier if the resurrected Christ then proceeded to appear to Pilate, Herod, the men who whipped him, the men who spat on him, the men who pulled out his beard, the man who pierced him, the men who drove in those nails and all the others. But He didn’t. He left that job to his disciples. He has similarly left his Church the task of revealing Him to the nations.
Video Clip: Most, Garabedian (director), 2003, USA, Eastwind Films