I've enjoyed writing some reflections on Holy Week all week at my blog's Facebook page. In case you've missed some, I thought it would be helpful to have them all in one place.
Most of my life I grew up celebrating Easter on two Sundays. We’d kick things off with Palm Sunday. Wave a few branches, sing a few songs using the word Hosanna! Then we’d celebrate BIG on Easter Sunday. The tomb is empty! He is risen.
He is risen indeed.
Only a handful of times did I reflect further about the days in between the two Sundays. Maybe through a devotional or in attending a special service. This year, let’s all take a closer look.
Holy Week screams important to me. If you knew a brutal death awaited you at the end of the week. That your friends and family would reject you. What would your week in between look like?
Holy Week - Monday
As I study Jesus’s life, I am struck by how often He went off alone by Himself. Or at least tried to. We read of Him waking up early to pray. Getting in a boat, leaving large crowds behind.
He sought some down time this week as well.
And He went into Jerusalem and into the temple complex. After looking around at everything, since it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:11)
Jerusalem would have been bustling. About 250,000 people. Every Jewish family from miles around would have made the trek there for Passover. Where did they all stay? Would Jesus have even had anywhere to stay in the city if he’d wanted to do so?
I think He intentionally went to Bethany. A mile and a half outside of Jerusalem. Home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Surrounded by His dearest friends. He left the crowd behind for a small town nearby. Just close enough to head back into Jerusalem when He needed to.
I live in a town like that. I understand the benefit of having a choice. You decide when you want to put up with all those people. And when you don’t.
Jesus had enjoyed the hospitality of those in Bethany a number of times before this week. I think He knew it was just what He needed to face the coming days ahead.
Holy Week - Tuesday
After the Palm Sunday parade, much of Jesus’ week looked pretty typical. He went to the temple and spent time teaching there. A lot of teaching. His mind must have been racing with all the parting words He wanted to offer.
All four gospels record events from Holy Week. Today, we’ll turn to Luke.
He looked up and saw the rich dropping their offerings into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow dropping in two tiny coins. "I tell you the truth," He said. "This poor widow has put in more than all of them. For all these people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-4)
The day before, Jesus had overturned the money changers’ tables. Righteous indignation. On this Tuesday, He blasted the Sadducees and Pharisees. He talked about the temple and Jerusalem being destroyed. He was stirring the pot big time. Enough!
But then, He took a moment. Like Jesus always did. He noticed this sweet little lady. (I just know she was elderly and short. Can’t you see her?) This woman who over the years has become one of my greatest heroes.
He notices her. He praises her. You see, no matter how weighty this week would get for Jesus. All the last minute teachings and details. He never, ever stopped noticing the forgotten.
He never, ever stops noticing you either.
Holy Week - Wednesday
We know very little about what happened the Wednesday of Holy Week. It appears Jesus spent the entire day in Bethany. Preparing His human heart and mind for what He knew was coming in the next few days.
Perhaps Jesus spent this day being ministered to. Do you ever think this way? What can I do for Jesus? So much of our relationship with Christ is spent asking for Him to work in our lives, answer our prayers. On occasion, consider offering Him a quiet heart where He can just rest.
He spent time in the homes of Mary, Martha and Lazarus and Simon the Leper, whom He had healed. They fed Him. Perhaps let Him take a nap. A quiet day.
Let’s turn to Matthew for our Scripture reference today.
A woman approached Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive fragrant oil. She poured it on His head as He was reclining at the table...
The disciples couldn’t believe it! What a waste.
Jesus... said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a noble thing for me... By pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she has prepared Me for burial. I assure you: Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her." (Matthew 26:7, 10-13)
Our Savior knew how to receive. Something we’re not really all that good at ourselves. The fragrant oil was worth a year’s wages. Extravagant. Countercultural in every way. The lady anointed Jesus at great cost. He graciously accepted it.
It wasn’t the greatness of the gift that Jesus praised. It was the heart behind the offering. We read later on in the story that a number of women were at the foot of the cross. They observed His burial in the tomb. They were the first to find the tomb empty! I like to think this woman was among them.
Perhaps she’d spilled a few drops of the fragrant oil on her cloak as she poured it out for her Savior. And every time she smelled the scent, she remembered the time she got to minister to Him.
Holy Week - Thursday
Holy Week holds so much significance, especially this year as it coincides with Jewish Passover.
Christians around the world will participate in Maundy Thursday services today. For as much as Jesus spent His Wednesday being ministered to, He became the Servant in every way these next few days.
John devotes five chapters to the Passover meal Jesus participated in with His disciples. For several hours that final evening, He sat and taught them. Including Judas, even though “the Devil had already put it into [his] heart to betray Him" (John 13:2). How did Christ sit so calmly next to the one who would have Him killed?
I’m so thankful Jesus taught about the Counselor that evening. There is so much we don’t understand. Nothing, nothing, He said that evening could have prepared the disciples for the next few days. In our lives too.
When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14)
No way could anyone have guessed God’s plan. The Crucifixion. The Resurrection. Then, we’ll turn our eyes to Pentecost. But make no mistake, since the beginning of time, He had a plan. It included the Holy Spirit taking up residence in us.
Listen closely to the Spirit of truth these next few days of Easter. He still takes from what is Jesus and declares it to you.
Holy Week - Friday
We, my daughter and I, went to a Station of the Cross service at a local Episcopalian Church this morning. On Good Friday. I hoped it would be a good experience. It’s one thing to try these things on my own. But things change when we include our children.
You know, I grew up thinking my denomination, my faith, was right. But every time I venture out into these other denominations, I keep finding Jesus there too. Today was no exception.
A beautiful sanctuary. The fourteen Stations hung along the side walls.
My heart was already prepared to receive this morning. I’d had my daily Bible reading. Facebook had scattered posts about the Crucifixion. I’d discussed the day’s significance with my daughter.
We took a seat on a back row pew upon arrival. I explained to her what we saw in the sanctuary. The kneeler bench. A hymnal. Each Station. An organ. The statue of Jesus with a crown of thorns elevated above Him. My daughter called them prickers.
When the priest arrived, he looked just like I expected. I’m not sure if you have an image of a priest in your mind but I do. Today, he stood before me.
The service opened with us crossing ourselves. My daughter’s first time. She ran through it a few extra times for practice.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The group of about 20 of us then recited the Lord’s Prayer. It struck me that we have much more in common than I realized.
Every participant received a booklet and the priest led us to the first station.
“Jesus is condemned to death.” Each station had words we recited. Parts for the priest, sections for the whole group and a paragraph to be read by a different individual each time. Also a time for silent prayer.
We ended each station with these words.
Holy and Mighty
Holy Immortal One
Have mercy upon us.
The whole service lasted about 35 minutes. After the first few stations, a few of the ladies told my daughter to move up front so she could see the framed pictures well. So thankful for faithful church women.
My daughter paid attention the entire time. I wonder if it’s because we actively participated. Seeing various pictures. Reading from the booklet as we walked to each station.
When we finished, I asked Allie what she thought. She said,
"A few parts of the story were creepy."
I agree. We have to go through the creepy story of Good Friday to receive the joy of the Resurrection. Sunday’s coming.
This year, we revisited the story with the Episcopalians. They were good to us.
Holy Week - Saturday
I’ve grown to hate this Saturday. The years I celebrated Easter only on Sundays were easier in a lot of ways. We didn’t have to deal with this Saturday.
This Saturday feels so hopeless. Another blogger called it “Sadder-Day.” Isn’t that just it?
Jesus was gone. The Messiah who everyone thought would rescue them from Roman rule. The disciples’ Christ of God. It all ended as they watched Him die a criminal’s death on the cross.
When your whole world falls apart, what do you do the next day? Saturday sucks. Peter couldn’t stand to look at himself in a mirror. (Did they even have mirrors?) Judas decided he couldn’t live with the reality of all that had happened. The Levites ran around wondering how on earth they were ever going to fix that rip in the temple curtain. Nicodemus, of John 3:16 fame, finally decided he was all in even though it didn’t bring Jesus back. Joseph of Arimathea made his allegiance to Jesus public by offering up the tomb where He was placed. I wonder if he tormented himself though. “Could I have done more to change this outcome?”
Before we celebrate Resurrection Sunday (It is coming soon!), we have to endure Saturday. Maybe it might help to know that dating back to the crucifixion, it’s never been easy.
Holy Week - Sunday
This Easter Sunday, I did two things most familiar to me. I went to a little church in a small town. And I visited the Methodists. I grew up on a dirt road about half a mile from a country Methodist church. I attended their services a couple times a year, attended VBS, ate at chili suppers, participated in their Christmas pageants, played church and got married there.
The Methodists and I go back a long way. They’ve always opened their arms wide to me. I knew they’d invite us into their midst today as well.
I visited the same church this past Christmas Eve. I wrote about my experience taking Communion with them. An actual fresh loaf of bread. Dipped in the grape juice while you hear the words,
Christ’s blood, poured out for you.
Resurrection Sunday indeed. Today’s sermon focused on Mary Magdalene. The words jumped out anew to me. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus until He called her by name! If I’d been in a Baptist church, we could have had the invitation call right there.
Can I steal a phrase from another Bible story? I mean, I know it’s Easter and all but the Scripture I’d like to reference comes from the birth of Jesus. We can’t really separate the manger from the cross, no matter what time of year it is.
After all the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, we read this about His mother.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
That’s today for me. A beautiful service with friends. Singing all the familiar songs. A wonderful sermon. That Methodist loaf of bread again.
Except today, I took Communion with my daughter. She walked to the altar right behind her teacher, took off a chunk of the bread and, for the very first time, heard these words uttered over her,
Christ’s blood, poured out for you.
I’ll forever treasure up this particular Easter Sunday, with the Methodists and my daughter, and ponder the details in my heart. To God be all the glory.