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Holy Week Devotionals

Easter Sunday

Read: Luke 24:1-12

Reflection:

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is risen. That is the good news of Easter morning. Jesus conquered death by death. In so doing, he reconciled rebellious humanity to God. 

And, as his followers, we must follow him to the cross and on to new life. We are to be resurrection people. Bonhoeffer famously said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." And, so he does. 

But, that is only part of the story. He bids him to die to the old, false self so that he can be raised to new life. Through the power of Jesus we die and are raised to abundant life... in the here and now... not just the hereafter.

We are to die to self, so we too may live as resurrection people.

 

Holy Saturday

Read: Matthew 27:57-66

Reflect: 

On Holy Saturday, we find Jesus buried in a cold, dark tomb. The tomb is sealed. Soldiers stand guard outside. Friday is about his death. Sunday is about resurrection. But, what about Saturday?

AJ Swaboda describes it as awkward Saturday. It is the "in between" day. The day of uncertainty. The day of doubt.

It is the day that the glory and power of God is so close, but feels so very far away.

We want to rush to Easter Sunday. We want to announce boldly, "He is risen." We want our doubts to be replaced by certitude. The truth is that for much of our lives, we inhabit the awkardness and doubt of Holy Saturday.

Hurt and in pain from yesterday's wounds... Wanting to believe... Wanting to hope... But, unsure.

And, like Jesus in the tomb, there God is... in the darkness with us. 

 

Good Friday

Read: John 18:1-19:42

Reflect:

NT Wright poetically points out the ironic echoes between the scene depicted in John 18 and that found in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve betrayed God in the garden. Holy God came to the garden looking for Adam. Adam hid. 

In John 18, the roles are reversed, but the scenes conncected. Because of the fall, Jesus, God incarnate, is in the Garden. The betrayer comes looking for God, though he does not realize the true identity of the man for whom he is searching. Unlike Adam, Jesus does not hide. He steps forward when they say they are looking for Jesus and declares simply, but profoundly, "I AM he." 

He is arrested, tried, taken before Pilate and condemned. He is beaten, mocked and hung on a cross to die. A spear pierces his side to make sure the job is done. 

Jesus, the Annointed one, dies. He is then buried in a tomb. And, for now, on this day, he remains buried. 

But, as Tony Campolo famously preached, That's Friday, but Sunday's coming.

 

Maundy Thursday

Read: John13:1–17, 31b–35

Reflect:

The Scripture text today's offers an intimate portrayal of Jesus' final hours with his disciples. In it, Jesus demonstrates love and then commands his followers to love in the same way.

First, Jesus' washes the disciples' feet. The Son of God, wraps a towel around his waist, bends down, and cleans between the toes of some of the people he left heaven to save.

Notice that though he loves all of us, he does not force his love on us. Judas, the betrayer, is among those whose feet Jesus washed. He offered the same love to Judas, but also allowed him the choice to reject his love. As CS Lewis noted, God doesn't ravish. He only woos.

After performing this intimate act demonstrating "his full love to the end" (v.1), Jesus tells his followers that they are to do the same for one another.

He then gives them a "new commandment." It is from this commandment, that Maundy Thursday receives its name (derived from the Latin, "mandatum" meaning command). And, what is this new commandment? Jesus tells them to love one another.

But, that is not new. God's people are told to love their neighbor as themselves all the way back in Leviticus. No, what is new is not the act of love, but the quality of it... the lenghts and depths of it. He tells them to love one another "just as I have loved you."

Jesus' love will, of course, find its final and fullest expression in his death on a cross. That is how we, his followers, are to love. We are to love so selflessly that we are willing to give away our own lives for each other.

This love, Jesus says, is the hallmark of followers of Christ (v. 35 "by this love everyone will know that you are my disicples..."). Or, as Bonhoeffer famously put it, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." And, it is precisely in that loving death, that we find true and abundant life.

 

Wednesday of Holy Week

Read: John 12:44-50

Reflect: 

In today's text, Jesus summarizes his central teachings. This is his last public appearance before he is tried as a criminal. After this, he will enter into his last meal with his disciples, agonize in the garden, and then suffer betrayal at the hands of one of his followers.

Before those climactic events, Jesus says essentially this: "when you look at me, you see God. When you hear me, you hear God. God sent me to bring you light and life. And, you must choose: light and life or darkness and death."

And, there it is. The choice with which we are all faced. Walk in the light or stumble and fall in the darkness.

"I have come as light into the world," Jesus says. He is that light, because the source of all light, God, shines in and through him. Jesus reflects the light of God.

And, he comes on a rescue mission to save, not to judge. He comes to save us from the darkness. He comes bringing light and life and love to a world shrowded in darkness and death and decay.

May we, his followers, do the same.

 "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." - CS Lewis

 

Tuesday of Holy Week

Read: John 12:1-11

Reflect:

In today's reading, we witness Mary annointing Jesus. The passage is rich in imagery that foreshadows Jesus' upcoming death. For instance:

  • Jesus is having dinner in Bethany with Lazarus, Martha and Mary. It was in Bethany that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, commanding him to come out of the tomb. In just a few days time, God will direct Jesus to come out of the tomb.
  • Mary anoints Jesus' feet. At the event we call the Last Supper, Jesus will wash the disciples' feet. This story prefigures events that are central in Jesus' last hours.
  • Judas is mentioned and the portrayal is not kind. John labels him a thief who was stealing from the "common purse" and Jesus sharply corrects his criticism of Mary ("Leave her alone."). Judas' inclusion in the story serves as another direct link to the events that will lead to Jesus' death and eventual resurrection.
  • Finally, the annointing itself was traditionally done to prepare a body for burial. Whether Mary knows it or not, her act is prophetic. Jesus will, indeed, be buried soon.

Perhaps what stands out most in this passage is Mary's extravagant devotion to Jesus. She annoints him with a pound of perfumed ointment! Judas points out how costly (and wasteful!) her act is. Three hundred denarii would have been about a year's wage for a common laborer in that time. Mary's extravagance demonstrates her commitment to Jesus.

It would be funny if it weren't so sad, but notice that Martha is still working in the kitchen. In an earlier visit, she got upset with Mary because Mary sat at Jesus' feet while Martha busied about. And, Jesus told her then that Mary was focused on the one thing necessary (Luke 10:38-42). As Jesus' death approaches, Mary pours out a pound of perfumed ointment on his feet. The aroma must have been pungent. Recall at the occassion of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (who is dining with him in this story!), Martha had warned Jesus not to open the tomb because the stench of death would come out of the tomb.

Here, through Mary's act of extravagant worship and devotion, the stench of death in Bethany is replaced by the fragrance of love, as it will be again when the stone is rolled away from Jesus' tomb on Easter! It seems Mary is still focused on the one thing necessary.

 

Monday of Holy Week

Read: Mark 11:12-35; Matthew 21:12-22

Reflect:

On the day following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (the event we commemorated yesterday during Palm Sunday), Jesus' confrontation with the established religious authority and tradition escalates. He drives out those buying and selling in the temple courts. Jesus' action was less a statement against monetary exploitation, and more a statment against the entire sacrificial system. The temple system itself is now under God's judgment. It has become something other than it was originally intended to be. 

It is notable that Matthew's retelling of the cleansing of the temple is sandwiched between the "cursing" of the fig tree. Matthew uses fruit as a metaphor for good works seventeen times in his gospel. Jesus comes exepcting that the tree would produce fruit, but he finds only leaves. There is the appearance of productivity but no fruit. Thus, Jesus causes the tree to wither.

He then connects the two encounters with the reference about faith and prayer. The temple was to be a house of prayer. It was to have been the center point where God connected with his people. It had turned into something else. It was no longer fulfilling its intended purpose. It was no longer fulfilling its mission.

And, so Jesus comes, literally, to turn the status quo upside down. His overturning the money tables will lead quickly to confrontation with the temple's high priest, which ultimately leads to the cross. And, it is there that all is turned right side up again.