Fight, Flight, Freeze: Holy Week Unraveled
We work so hard to keep Holy Week well-orchestrated: bulletins pristine, lilies in place, songs rehearsed. It’s an important celebration in the life of a church – in the life of The Church; a highlight of the liturgical calendar. We should have our vestments ready, Easter baskets ready, shoes by the door, hearts rightly adorned and aligned. Ham or lamb or lemon something waiting in the refrigerator.
In the space between the eggs and the hunt, something moves, caught by peripheral vision, sensed by hyper-alert ears. It’s probably fine; you’re probably safe; but the nearly-ignored motion is unsettling. Maybe it was the quickly darting shadow of someone off to sell out their friend and meet tragedy. Maybe it was the slow-motion wave of a drawn sword slashing lethally toward the head and neck, managing only to find a subordinate’s ear. Maybe it was the flick of water from dripping fingers washed in refusal of responsibility, dried of moral imperative, patted with averted gaze while a haunted wife’s warning was ignored.
From start to end, Holy Week was a chest-thumping rush and slide and crest of adrenaline. Crazed crowds pressed, desperate for rescue – hosanna, save us, rescue us, get these occupiers out – the welcome parade had the glee of a crowd watching an existential buzzer-beater three-point shot. A patient Christ sat in cold rage braiding a whip before overturning tables, the carpenter splintering any woodwork that supported oppression. Before Pilate reached for a basin, Jesus reached for one; away from noise, people, intrusive eyes, requests – between welcome parade and death march – before the disciples scattered like chaff on the wind, one lost forever – Jesus pulled sweaty, dirty feet near and tenderly cleaned his friends’ calloused heels. Later, Jesus’ distress wrung blood from his forehead while he faced the slicing weight of darkness. Sleepy friends – ashamed to be caught off-guard? – surged with adrenaline again. The sounds of the crowds, the waving palms, the smells of the city, the sounds at the temple, the crack of a whip, the pouring of water, the breaking of bread, the breaking of fellowship, and here is Judas, friend, fellow traveler, not meeting their gaze, not looking them in the eye, not admitting he knew why the money bag always felt light. Everything unraveled.
Fight, flight, freeze – Simon reached for his sword, disciples ran and scattered. Some froze, then followed at a distance.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to go.
It was supposed to be a victory lap, a coronation, a revolution, a vindication, a proof.
Across the street, a bent and broken palm leaf lies dusty and abandoned.
What did Judas just do? Surely not. He was one of us.
What did Simon just do? The flash of the sword, the yell, the splatter of blood-red, the ripped body; the tone of command, the severed ear fused seamlessly in place, vessels re-knit, nerves reconnected over a bloodied neck and shoulder.
The pulse doesn’t lie; words may deny the Christ, sever him from acquaintance, claim not to have cast out demons in his name. But the quickened heartbeat betrays the liar to himself. It does matter; he does know; he is known.
Fight, flight, freeze – adrenaline surged early; nurses donned their gear. Teachers logged on to a box of squares. Chaplains held iPads, screens for goodbye.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to go.
The beeping wouldn’t end, the oxygen alarms kept blaring, the sounds wouldn’t still. Coding, and coding, and coding again. People got testy. Pastors got yelled at. Budgets were torn up and cast aside like yesterday’s palm branch – useless now.
But the pulse doesn’t lie; lying awake, tossing and turning, isolated and cooped up, tired but wired. What started as a wave of energy slumped into a numb blur. Out of nowhere, unneeded adrenaline burrowed up at inconvenient moments, startling at shadows instead of substance, leaving a shepherd shaking through what surely was a heart attack. No; the panic would ebb, drained weakness in its place.
Severed – not just ear from head.
Voices cried out from cities that had street-view peeks of coffee shops, parks, hospitals with patient reviews. Google Translate shifted the familiar but unknown alphabet into familiar characters: the neurosurgeon here was very good, they were helpful, I have recovered well; whether the former patient in eastern Ukraine is still well – who knows? Where concerts had rung out, air raid sirens blared with uncanny dissonance, folding 70 years like accordioned paper, bringing past to present: buildings smashed to rubble, civilians starving. Severed – the illusion of peace; the illusion of fellowship. A pastor on one side of the border pleads for support for refugees; a pastor on the other side denies their nation is responsible.
The explosions wouldn’t end, the alarms kept blaring, the sounds wouldn’t still.
Fight, flight, unraveled –
This isn’t how it’s supposed to –
The numbness creeps, the slump insists: no more. More? Hasn’t it been enough? How can we bear to bear witness?
But the pulse doesn’t lie. The quickened heartbeat betrays the truth. It does matter; we do know; we are known.
Judas was undone; he tried to unravel the web that choked in around him, tried to return the money that burned a hole in his psyche. Face to face with Christ, he had splintered, shattered; later, he spilled out in a field.
(But – he tried though; tried to give the money back, take it all back, rewind, undo the damage. He couldn’t; but he wanted to. Wanting to is not for nothing.) Judas took flight, unspooling along the way like a human banner of confession.
Simon was undone; he did what zealots do, tried to use muscle and steel to defend the Creator of the universe. Maybe he was slow or the servant was fast but Jesus didn’t refasten a head, only an ear. Simon’s adrenaline was quelled by Christ – what? Why? Wasn’t it time to impose the kingdom? It was supposed to be vindication. Simon was undone; enraged by simple questions that poked at his pride. He was like a fish flopping in one of his nets, a fish out of water. He’d waited for bigger things, he’d seen the miracles, he’d collected baskets of leftovers, and now at the point of proving himself, swore at servant girls and denied he’d ever dreamed of being anything other than a fisherman.
Mary was – surely not.
Mary was –
(This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.)
Mary knew fight, she’d fought stigma and rumors and whispers and gossip.
Mary knew flight, she’d gathered him up and with Joseph run to Egypt as refugees escaping a vindictive tyrant.
Mary – did she know freeze? Maybe; she didn’t freeze at the wedding in Cana. If she knew freeze, it wasn’t inability to respond, for her. It was frozenness; being rooted to the spot; rooted, watching her boy die, unable to –
Watching her beloved son, in whom she delighted, suffer because of soldiers who were “just doing their job.”
Mary was undone.
Like mothers before and since, undone. Like survivors who glance instinctively to smile at missing loved ones. Like children who reach for the hand that isn’t there.
And when she ran out of clothing to rend and tear in grief, God took pity and tore the temple curtain clean in half.
The Spirit howled and churned up rock, dimmed the sun, and let Creation scream. In the shockwave, some of the dead were ransomed back, the universe reeling.
Something deep, undone.
There can be loveliness in an elegant Holy Week choreographed for worship, ultimately for celebration.
But there is no shame in a Holy Week smeared in mud, numb, ears ringing, drained, undone.
There is no shame in fight
There is no shame in finding that you are undone.
Something moves in the space between.
Wrap up what has died; buy the spices, pack them up. Cry, or having cried all your tears, wait in the darkness for morning. Don’t obsess over whether you should have fought instead of fled, or frozen instead of fought, or fled instead of freezing.
Like the dry scrape of stone against stone,
like a boulder shifted – and moved –
we are all undone.
One day at a time, one thread at a time, like a bird twisting twigs for a nest perched over a naked tomb,
stitch by stitch.
Featured image courtesy Mel Poole via Unsplash.