Archives: Holy Week

Friday: Mary and Joseph: At the Manger, At the Cross

Today is about loyalty.

Or rather, it is about loyalty and the lack thereof.

Everyone in this story reveals where his or her loyalty lies, and actions speak much louder than words.

So today becomes the opportunity for us to show where our loyalty lies, because what we receive on Good Friday is a pledge of loyalty to us that stares down the forces of death and hell themselves.

Loyalty is something we admire.  We consider it a virtue.

The difficult part of this story is that some of the people whom we consider villains in the story are showing admirable loyalty.

But where they choose to place their faith and commitment ends up being on the wrong side of history.

And that makes us afraid that we could be guilty of the same. Continue reading

Thursday: Final Table

So, I hate to cook, and I’m terrible at it.

Well, “hate” is perhaps too strong a word.

But I missed a lot of days in the “Stuff Women Are Supposed To Know How To Do” classes, otherwise known as “American Gender Socialization,” and I’m just really bad a lot of that stuff.

I cook poorly, I can’t wrap a gift properly, I seem to lack maternal instincts entirely, and I don’t decorate to the point that friends have said my apartment looks like a padded cell.

As you might imagine from someone who does not enjoy cooking nor has ever bothered to really learn, I have never seen a cooking show in its entirety.

I know there are entire television networks devoted to food and cooking, hosted by celebrity chefs.

And I admire greatly people who cook as a hobby, hunting down obscure recipes and turning out glorious creations that are as much art as sustenance. But I will never be among them.

I count myself lucky to occasionally enjoy the fruits of their labors, and offer to wash the dishes in thanks.

Due to my lack of familiarity with culinary culture, I was surprised to hear of a specific tradition in the restaurant business among chefs, and the book someone wrote about it.

It turns out that once chefs reach a certain point of proficiency, they like to engage in a little thought experiment with each other.

You’ve heard of the question: “If you were abandoned on a desert island, what one book or album would you want with you?”

Well, chefs and cooks ask each other and themselves: “If it were your last night on earth, what and how would you prepare for your final meal?” Continue reading

Wednesday: Disregarding Shame

As we continue our journey through Holy Week, our attempt to be faithful to Jesus in his hour of need, we need to ask: what prevents us from following him?

What drives us away from his presence? What keeps us from living up to our aspirations to love God and our neighbor with freedom and joy?

Shame.

Shame shows up all over our texts today, and it turns out that shame is one of the deadliest barriers lying between us and faithfulness to Jesus.

Our Hebrew scripture lesson is the third of the four Servant Songs in Isaiah. Although this text can stand on its own with rich meaning, as Christians, we hear these verses in the voice of Jesus.

It describes the pain and indignity of what he will go through on Good Friday, and his willingness to endure it: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”

Pulling out someone’s beard and spitting on their face are ways of imparting shame to someone. They demean and devalue the victim.

And most of what happens to Jesus on Friday is designed to enforce shame, all the way up to and including his death on the Cross.

Crucifixion is intended not just to kill someone efficiently—that could be done much faster by beheading them, as happened to John the Baptist.

Crucifixion is a slow, painful death in full view of the world, meant to be a spectacle showing everyone that the crucified person is a criminal and the dregs of society.

And the victim is robbed of all dignity or privacy.

As he slowly loses strength, he is reduced to animal pain, losing control over his body and his mind in full public view.

As with all shame processes, it robs the person of his or her identity, crushing him completely until he dies, no longer who he was or wanted to be.

Praise God, we will never have to go through something as terrible as crucifixion, although we must always remember our brothers and sisters around the world of all faiths who are persecuted for their beliefs.

But what the world did to Jesus on the Cross, killing him not just with violence but with shame, the world tries to do to us. Continue reading

Tuesday: Dying to Feed the World

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

In a gospel reading so rich with meaning and import, it can be easy to skip over this one sentence.

But this short piece of the text sums up in many ways the entirety of Jesus’ life on earth, and how we are called to join him in Holy Week.

The grain of wheat falling into the earth is a simple agricultural image, easily accessible to the people hearing it in Jesus’ time.

But the meaning is so much deeper than it first appears, when we think about it in terms of how and why Jesus gives us his life.

What is Jesus talking about? What does it mean to be a grain of wheat?

Well, first, it means smallness.

You’ve seen grains of wheat—you know you can hold hundreds in a handful. And yet it creates a large plant that then becomes bread for the world.

We could not sum up Jesus’ life on earth more clearly or simply than that.

And the original smallness matters.

Jesus came to earth as one person, born into a poor family in an obscure location.

There may have been angels and Wise Men at his birth, but aside from drawing threats to his life from a fearful king, these early accolades earned him little.

He lived a normal childhood in an ordinary town. Just like most of us.

A grain of wheat does not stand out among its fellows.

You can’t pick it out from others and say, “That’s the one. That’s the one who will change the world.” To be a grain of wheat is to be small and hidden, unappreciated, unrecognized, then to burst forth with growth.

So far we follow the metaphor. Great work for the Kingdom of God can come from one seemingly ordinary person, a person who is radically open to God’s grace flowing through them.

That’s encouraging. That’s hopeful. That’s something we can get on board with for ourselves in terms of following Jesus.

We all like to hear about how we’re full of wonderful things just about to happen if we say yes to God.

But then the image takes a turn. Continue reading

Monday: Grieving a False Jesus

Holy Week opens tonight with John’s story of Jesus’ final meal with the Bethany siblings, and we’re going to trace Mary’s story.

She was the sister of Lazarus and Martha, and she knew grief.

Mary’s first grief was the death of her brother.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were probably the closest thing Jesus had to personal friends.

If the twelve apostles were his chosen students and fellow ministers, the Bethany siblings were the ones he went to when he needed some downtime.

They spent many an evening together in the little house in Bethany, laughing, talking, eating, and sharing their lives.

We know how close they are from a thousand small details in the text, not the least of which is the sisters’ message to Jesus begging him for help: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

But Jesus doesn’t come. He doesn’t arrive.

For some greater purpose, Jesus does not come to the rescue, and the worst happens. Lazarus dies.

Mary loved Jesus as a friend, as a teacher, as a companion of her heart.

She loved him, and she believed in him. Moreover, she trusted him.

But now Lazarus is dead, and Mary and Martha blame Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” they both say.

Mary’s grief for her brother is mixed and mingled with an equally deep grief she can barely bring herself to acknowledge: she is grieving the death of the Jesus she thought she knew. Continue reading

PaIm Sunday: Proving Scripture Wrong

Palm Sunday is an invitation of the most extreme kind.

If you picture a polite and proper written invitation to an important event, it’s usually on pretty white paper and arrives quietly in your mailbox with a diffident request for an RSVP.

Palm Sunday is an invitation to events that shatter the status quo and reconfigure the universe, and it arrives with strikes of lightning, booms of thunder, and crowds shouting themselves hoarse in the streets of Jerusalem.

We are here now to make our answer to the invitation of Palm Sunday.

Jesus is hailed by the crowds today, and we throng along with them, waving our palms with bright, self-congratulatory allegiance to our matchless king.

And then we have a choice.

Many of us will go home and not darken the door of spiritual encounter until Easter Day.  But that is a mistake.

As your priest, I’m selfish and I hope you come to some of the darkly beautiful liturgies that lie before us this week.

But what I really want is for you to enter the sanctuary of your heart to be with Jesus.

Whether you come to this building between now and next Sunday is beside the point.

Verse 12 of Psalm 31, our psalm for today, struck me as I began to work with Holy Week this year.

“I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind.”

In some ways, I feel like this is Jesus’ greatest fear. Continue reading

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

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