Holy Week Reflections
Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the last week of Lent and commemoration of the week of Christ's life leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. Since Easter the queen of all church festivals and high point of the entire Christian year, this week is filled with rich traditions of liturgy, worship, and devotion. Instead of reflecting on just the text for Palm Sunday, this week we will walk through the sequence of Christ's life leading up to the resurrection. I hope you will use this as a guide to your own time of devotion, prayer, and reflection during this most holy week of the year!
If you were raised in the church, the events of Palm Sunday are undoubtedly very familiar. Even as a child, I knew something was special about this day--we started singing the Alleluias again after leaving them out during the somber season of Lent, everyone had a portion of a palm leaf given them as they entered the sanctuary, and the children processed waving palm branches with a fervor and spirit not usually encouraged in our small, Presbyterian church. This day was always memorable!
Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is recorded in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 12 and is one of the few events captured in all four Gospels.
I will include the daily prayers for each day of the week from the Book of Common Prayer, which are the traditional prayers used by almost the entire liturgical tradition of the Western Church:
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon himself our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We don't know exactly what happened on the Monday of Holy Week, but the chronology of Matthew, Mark, and Luke lead us to believe this is the day that Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, rebuking them and saying, "My house will be called a house of prayer but you're turning it into a gathering place for thieves" (Mt 21.13 GW).
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Holy Tuesday and Spy Wednesday
The Gospels aren't entirely clear about the chronology of events on Tuesday and Wednesday, though we know these days included everything from Jesus cursing the fig tree (beginning in Matthew 21.18) all the way through Judas' plot to betray Jesus (Matthew 26.14-16). Historically, the plan of the Jewish leaders to spy on Jesus (Matthew 26.4) and their conspiracy with Judas fell into place on Wednesday, hence the ominous sounding name, "Spy Wednesday."
Prayer for Holy Tuesday:
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Prayer for Spy Wednesday:
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I confess, as a child I thought this was "Monday Thursday," which really didn't make much sense at all! For those of you old enough to have taken Latin in high school--like me!--you will of course remember the Latin word 'mandatum,' which means 'commandment.' This day gets its name from Jesus' words, "I'm giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other" (Jn 13.34-35 GW). On Maundy Thursday we celebrate the establishment of the Eucharist/Lord's Supper (Matthew 26, Mark 13, and Luke 22) and Jesus' washing the disciples' feet and final teaching to the Twelve (John 13-17).
Prayer for Maundy Thursday:
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Historically, the feast of Easter spans three days, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday and is called the Triduum--which, you guessed it, is Latin for 'three days.'
On Good Friday, we remember the events from Jesus' betrayal and arrest through the crucifixion and burial. The Gospel reading is Matthew chapters 18 and 19. This reading is long but records the central truth of the Christian faith--Jesus Christ (true God and true man) giving his own life on behalf of the world to ransom us from sin, death, and the Devil. This is the heart of the Gospel! Read it slowly. Savor it. Meditate on it...and rejoice!
Prayer of the day:
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening remembers Christ's time in the tomb and recounts the entire story of salvation history from the creation to the resurrection. It is usually a long service with many readings, but if you can find a church that observes this service, it is a powerful time of prayer and worship!
As the end of Lent, it also marks the end of the time of Catechism / Confirmation in the early church--for many years Christians were baptized on Holy Saturday, welcomed officially into the church, and participated in their first Eucharist/Communion.
There are as many as twelve readings suggested for Holy Saturday, but they almost always include the Creation (Gen 1.1-2.4), the Flood (Gen 7-9), the Exodus (Ex 14), Daniel in the blazing furnace (Dan 3), and the resurrection (Mk 16 or Jn 20). Several other readings are also commonly read, including: Isaiah 4:2-6, Isaiah 55:1-11, Ezekiel 36:24-28, Ezekiel 37:1-14, Daniel 3:1-28, Jonah 1:1-2:10, Zephaniah 3:12-20, and Romans 6:3-11.
The prayer for Holy Saturday:
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Holy Week is filled with the events that make up the core of our faith--the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ for you. All of these events culminate in Easter Sunday, where we finally get to celebrate the resurrected Lord and his victory over sin and death...but that's another letter for another day.