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Mid-week of Holy Week. Historically, at least in some traditions, called “Spy Wednesday” to focus on Judas’ turn away from Jesus and towards betrayal (i.e. literally becoming a spy). Judas isn’t who he claims to be, even before he heads off to make his deal with the High Priest. In fact, John 12 makes clear that he has long been helping himself to the money bag.

But here’s the thing–it’s not just Judas. The whole week is full of disappointing people not living up to who they seem to be: Peter, seemingly so solid, a denier. The crowd, so jubilant days before, full of fickle rage. The disciples more generally–never super great–revealed to be even more of a hot mess than usual. It’s that old expression: under pressure, they all seem to become more and more like themselves.

Part of the problem is that people have ideas about Jesus that are at odds with who he really is, too. They see him one way, anticipate one thing, but he upends all expectations. The events of the week, then, expose not only our basic human failings (that Judas and Peter and the disciples and the crowd all exemplify in one way or another) but also the ways in which our own outlooks and desires lead us away from understanding who Jesus actually is and for what he came.

So I thought I’d leave us with a very short poem by the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. It seemed appropriate for this week of looking again at spring landscapes (also often deceptive) and considering the miracle of how inner and outer realities are reconciled through the Resurrection. The hope of Easter is in finding the God who knows us, inside and out, from whom nothing need ever be hid from his redeeming love and gracious welcome.

“Judge not according to the appearance”

Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree,
Within the glowing egg a bird,
Within the shroud a butterfly

Till taught by such, we see
Beyond all creatures Thee,
And hearken for thy tender word,
And hear it, “Fear not: it is I.”

–Christina Rossetti

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? I also now chair the department. And along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids, a city I've come to love. I count myself rich in friends and family. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” I don't have the car anymore, but the sentiment is still true.

6 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Under pressure we all seem to become more and more like ourselves. Thank you for that terse and elegant poem.

  • Fred D Mueller says:

    Thank you for making us focus. “Under pressure,” falsely thinking it is up to us to make Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter meaningful, we fret and stammer. Thank you for the reminder that this week we are in the company “full of disappointing people not living up to who they seem to be.” We might just, by the grace of God, come to “understanding who Jesus actually is and for what he came.”

  • Fred Haan says:

    This poem is beautiful. Putting it together with these thoughts for Holy Week is a wonderful gift. Thank you!

  • John Breuker, Jr. says:

    To paraphrase another poet, Rome’s Vergil: Mirabile lectu! Thank you for this wonderful reminder.

  • Anthony J Diekema says:

    A uniquely tidy and thoughtful capsulization of Holy Week, indeed! Thanks, Jennifer!

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