Holy Week is about discovering what it means to be truly free. It is about letting go of the illusions to which we cling.
Holy Week is bookended by two Marys—Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene—whose stories invite us to discover true freedom. We have to wait until Easter morning to see what Mary Magdalene discovers. So what about Mary of Bethany?
Mary of Bethany is able to accept what the disciples never acknowledge—Jesus is going to die. When she anoints his feet with an ungodly amount of perfume, we are told that she is doing this for his burial (John 12: 1-8). The disciples never get this. They spend all of Jesus’ ministry living in massive denial. Even though he tells them on three different occasions that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed…”(Mark 8:31, 9:31,10:33 and par.), they never accept this. Until the bitter end, they cling to the notion that Jesus will be the kind of Messiah who wins. It is only after Good Friday that they cannot avoid the reality any longer.
For most of us, the significant turning points in our lives have to do with letting go of the anxiety producing illusions to which we cling, and then unexpectedly being surprised by freedom. We had a spotless image of ourselves, which took enormous energy to maintain, until a grand moral failure shattered that illusion. We held on to our illusion that our family was the ideal family until our parents got divorced and a sibling was thrown in jail. We worked hard, lived a good and faithful life, retirement was underway, and then we were diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. At each of these turning points, we can either desperately hold on to our illusions, or embrace the new reality. Holding on to the old leads to deadly anxiety; accepting the new leads to freedom—even as we grieve the loss of what we held so dear.
Mary of Bethany has begun the process of letting go of Jesus. We are not told that she is doing so because she knows Jesus will be raised from the dead. That awareness will have to wait, as it does for all us. When we let go of our illusions, we don’t know what will happen. We simply know that we can’t hold on to the illusion any longer. All we can do now is wait like “watchmen for the morning” (Ps. 130:6).