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Nathaniel’s Plans for Passion Week

“I saw you under the fig tree.”

By Rick Shallenberger

I love how The Chosen shares the story of Nathaniel (Barthalamew in the other Gospel accounts). In the drama series, which uses artistic imagination to add backstories for characters, Nathaniel was portrayed as an architect who dreamed of building beautiful synagogues for God. Due to a construction failure that was not his fault, Nathaniel believed his dream was dead. He sat under a fig tree and cried out to God: “I wanted to build this for you. Do you hear me? Don’t leave me in my grief.”

When Philip brought Nathaniel to Jesus and Jesus said, “I saw you under the fig tree,” Nathaniel responded by saying, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.” (See the story in John 1:45-51).

Here is Nathanael’s story, told with artistic imagination, using his voice set in the historical context of Holy Week.

I’ve never experienced a week filled with so many different emotions than I did the last week we spent with Jesus. I had been following him for more than three years and there was still a hope that he was going to rise up against Rome and usher in a time of peace for us. I’m embarrassed to admit I was the one who said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Fortunately, Jesus just laughed at that with me as we traveled. He told me he knew of my plans to build and that I’d be part of building something much bigger than a synagogue. Admittedly, I didn’t pay attention to his warnings about his death, I thought what we were going to build together was something physical. His final week changed my perspective on everything.

Let me share some of the emotions from that final week, and then I’ll share what I do to remember it all.

Surprise and joy: I was surprised when people laid palm fronds and their outer cloaks on the street for Jesus. Shouts of “Hosanna,” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” were accompanied with “Blessed is the king of Israel.” and I knew in my heart the revolution against Rome was about to begin. (John 12)

Confusion and compassion: Imagine my confusion when Jesus stopped and wept as we left the praise and descended the hill into Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). I was moved by his compassion over all those who were rejecting him.

Embarrassment: I can’t tell you how embarrassed I was when Jesus started washing our feet. This was the role of a servant. Why didn’t I offer to serve others?

Worry and wonder: Jesus started talking about leaving us, which worried me. Then he started talking about the Holy Spirit coming, and I wondered what that meant. He also introduced us to a new commandment, which seemed almost too simple, yet proved to be profound.

Excluded and angry: We all went to Gethsemane with him, but I felt a bit excluded when Jesus only chose Peter, James, and John to join him in prayer. But when the soldiers came, I forgot about being excluded, and I stood up with the rest of the disciples and became angry at what was happening.

Shame and fear: I deserted him. I can’t even begin to describe the shame I felt, accompanied by an uncontrolled fear of being arrested. I wept while hiding from I don’t know what.

Horror and anxiety: When I saw him the next morning, I couldn’t believe what they’d done to him. Seeing him on that cross was just unbearable. Why didn’t he save himself? Was this all for naught? What was going to happen now?

Deep sorrow and depression: I spent Friday night and all of Saturday in denial, depression, and despair. I can’t explain my thoughts because I was in a daze.

Doubt and cautious optimism: Some were saying he was alive; the tomb was empty. Oh, I wanted to believe, but I just couldn’t bring myself to fully accept. I met with the other disciples in a locked room.

Joy, unbridled joy: He is alive. He came to us and told us to not be afraid and to have peace. He defeated death! He laughed with us, cried with us, shared a meal with us. I knew everything would change.

Friends have asked for some ideas to remember passion week. I’ve come up with a few things I’m planning on continuing to do.

  • Sunday before resurrection: I think Palm Sunday would be a good name for the day. I plan to get with fellow believers and talk about what it means that Jesus is the king of Israel. Moreover, I’ll share that he is King of kings, and Lord of lords. It will be a day of celebration, but also a day to remember that he wept over so many still living in darkness. I will encourage all to invite family and friends to this worship event.
  • Passover Night: It no longer needs to be called Passover because Jesus fulfilled the Passover. Instead, I like inviting a small group over to wash each other’s feet (or perform some other act of service that will be meaningful). We will talk about what it means to be a servant/leader. We will share the elements of bread and wine he introduced and talk about the meaning of them. We will talk about the new commandment and how the Holy Spirit helps us keep that commandment by living in us and compelling us with his love to love others just like he did. A good name for his night might be Maundy Thursday because Maundy means mandate, and the new commandment is our mandate.
  • Friday: This may sound a bit odd, but I’d call this day, Good Friday. Not because it was the day he was tortured and killed, but because it is the day he proved his love for us. This is a good day to get with friends and family and talk about what this day means. This is the day he forgave all of us. This is the day we were reconciled to our Father. This is the day all our sins are not only moved as far as the east is from the west, but they are forgotten. This day is good because this is the day death was destroyed as the great penalty and finality. This day depicts his victory over the enemy. These are good things to discuss with those close to you.
  • Saturday: I’ve been a Sabbath keeper my entire life, but Jesus became my sabbath rest. This is a good day to reflect on Jesus’ rest from his sorrows. This is a good day to reflect on my relationship with him, on my appreciation for who he is in me, for what he did for me, for what it means to participate with him. This is holy time, and a good name would be Holy Saturday. I might spend this day alone on an occasional year, but on other years I will get with friends and family and talk about the different things Jesus said while on the cross. Or I might take friends through what some are referring to as stations of the cross.
  • Resurrection Sunday: What can I say? This should be a weekly celebration and a new day of worship. Resurrection Sunday should be the biggest worship celebration of the year. It should be filled with wonder, worship, praise, and joy. It should be a worship event people look forward to for months, prepare for even longer, and one where everyone invites family, friends, neighbors, coworkers. Let’s get everyone to celebrate that He is Risen!

These are just a few ideas that come to mind. I’m sure the other disciples will also have some ideas. Hey, what are you planning? Share it with others and let’s stay focused on Jesus – the center of the center.


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