top of page
  • Reverend James Squire

Freudenfreude and Schadenfreude: Holy Week and Easter

Palm Sunday – “They took branches of palm trees and went forth to meet him and cried, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (John 12:13)

Good Friday - “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who they call the Christ? Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Matthew 27:22) “All that see me laugh me to scorn.” (Psalm 22:7)

Easter – “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” (John 17:13) Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The Lord is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed! (Easter Declaration)

Schadenfreude is a German word that means to derive pleasure from the bad news experienced by another person. Freudenfreude is a German word derived from the word for “joy” which means to find bliss when someone else succeeds.

These are words that describe the events of Holy Week and are applicable to what is going on in the world today. We start Holy Week with the gathered assembly placing palm branches along the way that Jesus is journeying as he is hailed as the Messiah where the peoples’ joy is contagious. This joy is finding bliss in the happiness of others and focuses on Jesus as the people expect him to be their political messiah to save them from the hands of the Roman government.

Later in the week on Good Friday, ironically called good, there is a different form of joy that fills the hearts of the people as they rejoice in the bad news that he proclaims that he is a spiritual messiah that wasn’t the expectation of the people. Failed expectations produce anger in all people. What produces extremes of emotion from Palm Sunday to Good Friday is the that joy in the people on the one hand rejoicing in the perceived success of Jesus possibly overthrowing the Romans with the joy from a juxtaposed perception that he is not what they perceive they want. They are thrilled with his downfall. “Hosanna” is replaced with “Crucify him!” Freudenfreude meets Schadenfreude.

Easter is still to come which embraces and transcends these two aspects of joy, one filled with hope and one filled with anger and fear, into the pure joy of “He is risen.”

There is another message that needs to be heard. It is the reason that we celebrate Holy Week. Holy Week comes to us every week of our lives in a similar way. It is much more than the calendar provides. These two German words to describe the laughter and joy as we await the day of Resurrection are part of our daily lives. Let us remember that the narrative of Holy Week transforms us to meet Easter if we experience it as possible every week of our lives.

When and how does it occur in those days after we hear that story? How does Palm Sunday and Good Friday occur each week? It occurs in the Palm Sunday of our lives when we rejoice in the success or good fortune of others. We see it, live it, and feel it when our children accomplish something that they have worked very hard for in living out their goals and not our goals or expectations. We rejoice when we see a bipartisan bill passed in Congress that fulfills our desires and benefits our nation. We vicariously rejoice when one of our sports teams wins and is on a path to success albeit not palm branches laid across the way. We should spend some time with those victories or successes that pale in comparison to the deep spiritual experience of Holy Week, living from a different deeper spot.

We experience Good Friday when we rejoice in the downfall of someone we envy or dislike. We look for those others “who finally get theirs.” We gossip about someone who “should be brought down a peg or two.” This experience of rejoicing in the pain of others has become our political pastime.

But Easter awaits. It requires patience that some of us aren’t good at practicing. It is about the God made man. Easter hovers over Palm Sunday and Good Friday. But it lands in our day in and day out existence. We are fooled for salvation is not a straight line. It is an all-encompassing spiritual experience of “living from a deeper spot” and is a never-ending circle of experience waiting to be transformed.

There is a book called Flatland written in 1880 and is classic by Edwin A. Abbot, an English clergyman. The visual images that this book provides is a necessary step to envisioning and understanding the idea of higher dimensions that in the words of St. Paul “we now see through a glass darkly but then face to face.” It is the work of a genius, a man a head of his time, but it relates to all of the above. He begins by describing our world as a flatland with figures that can only experience life as a flat line. That is the danger for us if we see holy week as a line, just days in a week. As the narrative proceeds, Abbot depicts life as a square or simple circle. For me that is when we experience the joy of success in others and keep contained or in check the joy when others have a fall from grace or fall on hard times.

But the last dimension that he describes is when the simple line, or square, become a sphere or a cube. It is Easter, made up of the components of everyday life but transformed to see a new dimension witnessed by the women at the tomb and the disciples on the road to Emmaus and waits for us today and every day.

The disciples were transformed by the memory of Jesus, but they were truly changed by the joy they felt about Jesus. We don’t remember thoughts as much as we remember feelings. The disciples were like the sphere living and transforming pure joy about this God made man who allowed them to live from a much deeper spot. That joy celebrated in the joy of others. The people moved from Schadenfreude to Freudenfreude. That is very much needed today. It is a need that should not be relegated to a distant past for…

…we are called every day to be a sphere! That is our vast invisible inheritance embedded in a palm branch, a cross, and an empty tomb. Listen to the song below.

9 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page