Archives: Holy Week

Friday: My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This is the cry of Jesus from the Cross.

He is broken, abandoned, devoid of any and all hope or strength.

He is at the farthest extreme of his ability to withstand suffering, his mind and body tormented almost beyond what he can bear.

And worst of all, he can no longer feel the loving presence of his Father that has sustained him for his thirty-three years on this earth.

But the remarkable thing is that he is not the first person to have spoken these words from the valley of the shadow of death.

Jesus is actually quoting Psalm 22.

The psalmist cried out from his own suffering, uncounted generations before Jesus arrived on earth, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This imbues Jesus’ voice from the Cross with even deeper significance.

These words are the cry of his tradition, the cry of his people, and also the cry of his barren heart.

All to whom he sought to give himself have deserted him, until finally he cannot even feel the Father.

This was no doubt the most wretched and almost involuntary cry of the human side of Jesus, truly feeling like he was alone and God had forsaken him.

But consider what Jesus in his divinity might also have been doing purposefully.

These words are verse 1 of Psalm 22. The Jews gathered around the Cross, Mary, John, and the others, would have known the verses that followed.

In fact, those verses would have leapt immediately to their minds.

And Peter and the others who had run away would no doubt hear the story later, that Jesus said these words from the Cross moments before his death.

What if these words were, along with the truthful convulsion of his spirit in pain, also a message from Jesus to his followers, and thereby to us? Continue reading

Thursday: The Cock Crows

Jesus predicts it in three different ways. It happens three times. And Jesus spends three days in the tomb because of it.

Peter’s denial of Jesus.

It’s a pivotally important moment that sometimes we lose track of in the accelerating cascade of events following the Last Supper that leads to Calvary.

But it contains such spiritual riches for us, even though it forces us to confront our own deepest fears and weaknesses.

Let’s begin by reflecting on Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial. The accounts in Matthew and Mark are almost identical but for one or two words. Here’s how Mark relates it:

“Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.”

John’s account is briefer, albeit with a haunting rhetorical question from Jesus:

“Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”

And then we have Luke, one of the synoptics but oddly the outlier in how he portrays this incident:

“‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’”

They vary in their details, but the painful crux of the matter remains the same: Peter will deny Jesus three times before the cock crows.

Peter cannot fathom it.

Hasn’t he been faithful to Jesus these three long years?

Didn’t he leave his home and family and livelihood for Jesus?

Hasn’t he stuck by Jesus when they were hungry and homeless on the road? When the crowds crushed them and demanded to be healed, fed, taught, long after Jesus and the twelve were completely exhausted?

Hasn’t Peter been faithful even now, when the religious authorities are closing in?

Why would Peter abandon him now—Peter, who was the one to proclaim Jesus the Messiah and was called the Rock of the Church for it? Continue reading

Wednesday: For the Sake of the Joy

The remarkable truth about Holy Week that we find so hard to grasp is the fact that everything and everyone is redeemable.

There is no tragedy so great, no action so unjust, no person so evil that he or she cannot be redeemed by the saving work of Jesus Christ.

We say we believe that, but most of the time we are carrying around grudges and shame and wounds that we, in our heart of hearts, don’t think Jesus can heal.

Because why would he want to? Why would he bother with redeeming our sins when he could just sweep in on a white horse and carry us off to heaven?

Well, Jesus doesn’t work that way, and we’re never going to understand his work on the Cross if we don’t understand what redemption is.

Sometimes people think that redemption is erasure of bad things.

It’s just gone, like it never happened.

But that is not redemption.

God is not doing a retroactive censorship of our lives, blacking out the parts that we’d rather not remember.

Redemption is a threefold process. It consists of forgiveness, illumination, and healing.

Erasure, elimination, forgetting and cutting out the deeds of sin and pain does not happen at all in redemption.

They’re still there. But they are fundamentally changed.

Let me explain. Continue reading

Tuesday: We Need Each Other to Find Jesus

There two groups of people in our readings for today, Jews and Greeks.

The first important thing to realize here is that these words are only superficially referring to ethnic groups.

For both John and Paul, “Jews” and “Greeks” are not people of Jewish heritage or people who were born in Greece.

Jews and Greeks are people of two different spiritual personalities.

Consider our texts about Jews and Greeks for Tuesday in Holy Week. We have a story and a theological description.

The story comes from the Gospel of John: “Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’”

It’s actually an unfinished story. We don’t know if the Greeks actually met Jesus or not.

They probably did, and heard Jesus’ teaching on the grain of wheat falling into the earth. But let’s come back to this in a moment.

Our other description of Jews and Greeks comes from Paul in 1 Corinthians: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Here we have Paul describing these two types of spiritual personalities.

What can we learn from these two passages? Continue reading

Monday: Jesus Gathers Strength

“Continue your loving kindness to those who know you, and your favor to those who are true of heart.”

These are words from our psalm for today, and they are words about you.

“Those who know you,” and “those who are true of heart.” Those are words about anyone who is faithfully reaching out to God, but they are particularly true of anyone who made it to church on Monday of Holy Week.

For some of you, attending church every day of Holy Week may be a long-established practice that is a cornerstone of your faith life.

For others, it may be the first year you’ve tried to do it, and don’t worry, Jesus loves you even if you don’t make it to every service!

But what is common to everyone in this room is that you have set aside this time to say, “What happens this week is important. What Jesus is doing in these days matters to me. And I am willing to be open to the intensity of sharing with him the last week of his life.”

That is a bold spiritual commitment, and I’m so glad we’re making it together.

I’m so glad we’re taking this journey as a community.

Frankly I doubt any of us could make it to Sunday if we tried to do it alone.

These are the days in which the world is changed, and we survive them by living together as a Body, supporting and upholding each other as we struggle to face the reality of what will happen on Friday.

This is what Jesus is facing as well.

He has returned to the little house in Bethany, where he can spend some time with his oldest and dearest friends.

He, too, is gathering strength from his community.

He may not know exactly how quickly his death is approaching, but he can feel the noose beginning to tighten.

Just yesterday the crowds surged around him in adulation, but it was only a cover for the forces of darkness that are gathering around him.

And so he goes to his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Did they know this was goodbye? Continue reading

Palm Sunday: Triumph, Need and Betrayal Laid on the Altar

It all begins today.

Today is the first day of Holy Week, the beginning of our journey in real time with Jesus from the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem all the way to the Cross on Calvary.

How do we get from one to the other?

What happens between now and then for everything to go so terribly wrong?

What happens to us to drive us from hailing him as our matchless king with the crowds on Palm Sunday, to crying “Crucify him!” with those same crowds on Good Friday?

Let’s start from the beginning.

We open our worship today with the Palm Gospel, Matthew 21:1-11, which tells the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a colt, with the crowds spreading their cloaks on the ground in his path, waving palms and shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

This is the proclamation of Jesus as the King of the Jews, his primary identity in Matthew.

This is his “election by acclamation,” so to speak, his people and his nation recognizing him as the fulfillment of prophecy and the answer to prayer.

But as we know, the crowd’s love will not last. Why?

There were probably a number of reasons.

Some people were furious when Jesus failed to usher in an armed revolution against the hated oppressor, Rome.

Some took issue with his public affirmation of his identity as the Son of God, calling it blasphemous.

Others probably simply got caught up in the lust for violence that can be hair-trigger in a crowd of people, not to mention one already under the pressure of political subjugation.

I think we who comfortably go about our calm and civilized lives vastly underestimate our own capacity for violence in a large, anonymizing group of people.

And it does not take very sophisticated manipulation to turn a crowd into a mob.

What was in Jesus’ heart as he heard the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”?

Did he truly feel welcomed and loved?

Or did he already know that this outpouring of passionate devotion by so many was a vain and hollow farce?

Did those words “hosanna” and “blessed” form a bitter echo of the words the angels and his mother spoke at his birth?

I picture his face, and I do see happiness. But it cannot cover up an underlying grief.

The question of Palm Sunday is a deep and painful one, and we must reckon with it honestly if we seek to enter Easter Sunday with any integrity.

It is the reality of our own faithlessness.

Can we face the truth that we are the ones who betray Jesus? Continue reading

Friday: Stigma/Stigmata

Today is the Day of Truth.

Today there is nowhere to hide from reality.

There is no escape from the awful, damaging depth of human sin, but there is also no escape from the life-changing knowledge of the lengths that God will go to in order to save us, in order to bring us home.

Today is a day for looking at your life and asking, “What is my deepest truth? Where do I plant my flag and say, ‘Come hell or high water, I stake my heart and my life and my soul on this truth, right here, right now.’?

As we stand in the shadow of the Cross today, as we brave every nerve in our body to look on the bleeding face of our suffering Savior, that truth may come to us in different ways.

We may express it in different words.

Every year I watch as Holy Week develops within me, over the weeks of Lent and over the days and hours leading up to this service.

And this year, the truth that is larger than I am, the truth that sends a rod of steel up my backbone, the truth that will stay with me no matter who or what else deserts me, comes in familiar words:

“I know that my Redeemer liveth, and at the latter day he shall stand upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.”

These are of course the words of Job in chapter 19 of his book, but we are perhaps most familiar with them as the burial anthems, the words that are said at the opening procession into the church at a funeral.

Today is a day of chaos, and we need somewhere to anchor ourselves as the world spins out of control, as we see our God bleeding his life away in front of our very eyes.

Everything is deserting us, we are deserting him, and there is nothing to rely on.

Who will take care of us if Jesus is dead?

Who will hold back the forces of evil?

Who will shield us from the darkness and love us even though we make the same stupid mistakes over and over again?

These words from Job are a promise, but they are not a promise to save us from suffering.

They are not a shield or a protection from pain or fear or death.

They are a promise of what will come on the last day, what awaits us on the other side of our long struggle to be faithful and to be changed into a manifestation of God’s love in the world.

And they’re not just a promise to us or about us. They’re a promise about Jesus. Continue reading

Thursday Dinner, Eating With Sinners: The Second Coming

What we do on Maundy Thursday is attempt to reenact and experience everything Jesus taught us to do while we wait for him to come again.

We might even say that we do what he asked us to do to help him or invite him or make him come again.

I have a hunch that the Second Coming is not the apocalypse of fireworks and epic battles across the skies that we’ve been led to imagine by end times pop theology.

What if the Second Coming of Christ is actually us?

What if the Second Coming of Christ is we, the Body of Christ, growing more and more conformed to the Mind of Christ until we are able to fully manifest his will in the world? Continue reading

Wednesday: The Question We’re Afraid to Ask

One of the most difficult obstacles to experiencing Holy Week fully, to entering into with full emotional integrity and not turning off and tuning out, is the heavy sense of inevitability to it all.

We know that on the other side of these dark days lies the greatest joy in the world, but sticking it out while these terrible things happen, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, day after day of crisis and calamity, is rough.

That is emphasized tonight by the fact that our readings this evening are not actually going to take place until tomorrow. We are reading about Thursday night’s events on Wednesday night.

And we know they’re going to happen. We know there’s no escape.

John often portrays Jesus as impassive, cool and serene and dispensing wisdom from a sage emotional distance.

But here, at the turning point of his life and work on Earth, even John can’t quite believe that Jesus could experience his own betrayal to death with no visible reaction.

“At supper with his friends, Jesus was troubled in spirit,” John says.

Troubled in spirit. Can we speculate on what Jesus might have been feeling at that moment?

Fear, perhaps. He was about to endure an incredible amount of physical pain that would in the end kill him.

I don’t think his human self could anticipate that without fear.

Despair—he only has a few days left and his disciples are still clueless. Will they stubbornly continue to fail to understand what he’s been trying to teach them?

And pain. Jesus hurts to know that Judas, Judas whom he chose, whom he taught, whom he loved, will sell him out to be killed. Continue reading

Tuesday: Where I Am

Jesus says something very important in our gospel lesson today. He says, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”

We’d like to think of ourselves as servants of Jesus.

Well, we’ve just been given a very simple test of whether we are in fact servants of Jesus.

We ask where he is, and then we evaluate whether we are there also.

This seems like a simple test at first.

Where is Jesus right now? Well, he’s everywhere and nowhere, at the right hand of God the Father and present in the Eucharist and living in our hearts.

Jesus is in a lot of places.

So in that sense, it’s not a very helpful test. But let’s ask where Jesus is just in this gospel lesson and see where we end up.

We begin with the Greeks at the festival.

They have clearly heard of Jesus and they approach Philip saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Well, let’s start there. Is anyone approaching us to ask to see Jesus?

Are we living in such a way that people, strangers, know that they could approach us to ask about Jesus?

If someone has heard something interesting about Jesus, would they know that we are someone who could tell them more, show them more? Continue reading