Reflections for Holy Week

SATURDAY IN HOLY WEEK

Reading Matthew 27:57-end

Here we are at Holy Saturday. In the time of Jesus it was a day of rest, the Sabbath. After what they had been through in the last days the disciples and the women who were at the cross needed that rest.

A second century homily on Holy Saturday begins with these words “Something strange is happening.”

It is a good way of putting things. It suits today as it is unlike any other day. It is an in between day. A day of watching and waiting. In many ways a more difficult day to cope with than even Good Friday. I don’t feel I should just go about doing the same things as usual.

“Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.”

A difficult time of really nothing happening. The events of Good Friday are over. Jesus is dead and in the tomb. He hasn’t yet risen. So where does that leave us?

We’re between Friday’s death, and Sunday’s life. Between Friday’s despair and Sunday’s assurance. We can’t simply sit back and wallow in our sense of loss at what has happened. Nor can we fast forward a day, and bask in the glory of our redemption.

So what happens? Joseph of Arimathea, the man who was waiting for the Kingdom of God, went and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus so that he could bury him honourably. The women came to visit the tomb and prepared their spices and ointments to annoint Him.

Similarly we have a task on this Holy Saturday. Today is one of preparation:

It was for Joseph a day to put his reflection on the kingdom into practice. For us it is a day of reflection, to look back on the Lent we have just kept and to see whether it has been a time of growth for us. Has it brought us to know God better and to love Him more deeply in the way we have lived towards our fellow brothers and sisters?

A day of preparing ointments and spices – being ready and prepared – ready to seek out those who need our care.

But for now, it is a day of silence and stillness, waiting and wondering, remembering and hoping. Perhaps that is what faithfulness looks like on Holy Saturday. There is not much to do except be present to the reality of what is. To sit opposite the tomb, as we continue to try and make sense of what happened yesterday. To grapple with what God has done for us in the cross.

To let go of those things which we cannot bring back to life. Putting behind us things that are not helpful so we can be released to go forward on Easter Day.

So, may we wait in quiet expectancy to meet our risen Lord in the Easter garden .Let us do all that is needed to be ready for such an important meeting so that sin cannot cast a shadow over what is a wonderful reunion.

Prayer

Christ our God, your love is poured out in death for our sakes.
Hold us in your embrace as we wait for Easter’s dawn.
Comfort us with the promise that no power on earth, not even death itself,
can separate us from your love;
and strengthen us to wait until you are revealed to us in all your risen glory. Amen.

A MEDITATION FOR GOOD FRIDAY

Good Friday is different this year. No united service and no procession through Kendal. The Walk of Witness with readings and prayers reflected ‘The Stations of the Cross’ that ancient way to consider on the meaning of the day. Another ancient way was to dwell upon ‘The Seven Words from the Cross’. Here are two of them.

‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’. (Luke 23. 34)

Criminals being crucified were encouraged to shout and swear to help get them through the initial pain. Jesus offers a quiet prayer for those who crucify him. But who does he refer to.. the soldiers (who were doing their job), Pilate and the power of Rome, the Pharisees and Sadducees, (moral and spiritual power gone bad), the crowd lusting for blood, the disciples who did nothing ? Or do they represent you and me and the human family who, lost in selfishness and self interest continually cut ourselves off from God’s presence and love, and seek power to control others.

But Jesus forgives!! That means you and me. You are forgiven and you belong to a forgiven community. This is not pie in the sky when you die. It is a present reality. Embrace the cross. Embrace forgiveness.

‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me’ (Mark 15. 33-34)

Many say that this is the most profound and deepest word from the Cross. Jesus, in unthinkable physical and spiritual pain, bearing the sins of the world, bearing the evil of what Paul called the ‘principalities and powers’, is cut off from the presence and love of his Father. Sheer desolation and emptiness. God is absent ! Is this the terrible feeling of those today in the last stages of the coronavirus illness, when no family or friends are present. A lonely terrible death. Yet – in the end this day becomes Good Friday ! The story of the cross tells us that Jesus shares our desolation. It is not the end ! The very place we feel separated from God becomes the place he gives us the victory. The moments of our greatest failure is a place where God is available to us. In a strange way the place we feel most forsaken is the point where Jesus is closest to us. It is all mystery and paradox. And its good to note that the quote Jesus uses comes from Psalm 22, describing a point of defeat, but the psalm ends with a cry of victory. His is a victory on the cross for you and me.

Everything is different this year. Except the story of the Cross remains the same. Don’t just celebrate the story as an historical event. Hold it is your heart and it will transform you. Let this year be different for you !

Prayer

Gracious God, before the Cross of Jesus there is nothing I can say. In awe I simply offer you my worship. Richly bless all those who are in a very dark place at this time. Hold in your embrace all who are suffering alone. May your loving presence drive out fear and fill them with your love and peace. Amen !

MAUNDY THURSDAY

Reading John 13 1-17 & 31b-35

The Thursday of Holy Week, is often called Maundy Thursday. which comes the Latin meaning “mandate,” a command. Jesus gives us a new commandment.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. ” The command to love was nothing new. But to love in the manner that Jesus has loved – that is new. And the command to love, having been loved first by Jesus – that is new.

He didn’t command them through words or by force but set himself as an example to them. Jesus by washing feet modelled the type of love he was commanding of them. Washing of feet was a common cultural practice, so nothing new there. However, it was the lowliest member of a household, in Jewish households a gentile slave, who undertook this task. So no wonder that the disciples were shocked, when Jesus their leader, their Lord, drops to his knees to wash their feet! It all seemed too humiliating for them.

In some churches today there is the practice of feet washing which many find just too uncomfortable an idea. Too embarrassing to have someone wash their smelly feet. But that is the whole point! Maybe there is something about the love of God that makes us uncomfortable.

But Maundy Thursday is not primarily about washing feet, though that is an important part of the story of Jesus’ Last Supper. It’s about a deeper humility; the gift of Christ himself. If Christ gives us Himself, then so should we give ourselves to others:
“So if I, the Master and Teacher washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. A servant is not ranked above His master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.” (Vs 16-17 The Message)

It seems counter intuitive, but serving others is our path to happiness. We were made to be in relationship with others, and our relationships blossom when we serve. Rather like the paradox :“when we love our life we will lose it, whereas the one who hates their life in this world will keep it”, which we had in our Tuesday reading.

Prayer

Tender God, give us the grace to let you wash us and to find your face in the turbulent waters of our lives. Amen

An Idea!!
We may not be able to have an Agape meal or a Communion together tonight, nor a walk of witness in Kendal on Friday nor a sunrise service at Kendal Castle but there are some things we can do symbolically to mark this coming weekend.
I am going to erect a bare wooden cross in my front garden tonight ready for Good Friday, then Saturday night I shall light a fire in my firepit, as we would have done for the Saturday night Vigil service, light a candle from it and take it into my darkened house. Then at dawn on Easter day I shall go and put yellow flowers on the Cross on my lawn.
Why don’t you join me?


 

WEDNESDAY OF HOLY WEEK

Reading: John 13:21-32

We are now half way through Holy Week. Today we come to a passage that most find uncomfortable. Jesus has gathered with His disciples for a meal. We join the story after Jesus has already washed the disciples feet. It should have been a joyful occasion but a shadow falls over the gathering when Jesus predicts that one of his closest companions is going to betray Him.
The disciples, confused about who could do such a thing, want to know who he is speaking about. All Jesus will say is that it is the person to whom he will give the bread that he dips in the dish. This he hands to Judas Iscariot, telling him that ‘what you are about to do, do quickly’.

The story of the betrayal is a complicated one and raises more questions than are answered. We are told that Jesus’ spirit is troubled. Again we don’t know why: is it about Judas’ actions in betrayal, is it about His death, is it about leaving the disciples? There are still three days left of this week to discover more about what all this means.

This passage makes us look at ourselves more closely and our own motivations for actions. It makes us ask if Jesus’ spirit is troubled in any way because of the actions and choices we make. Holy Week is a good time to take a serious look at the path we are on . Every day God invites us to choose Him, but like Judas we so often choose the attractions of this world instead.

There is something of Judas in us, but also something of Peter, something of Thomas and something of the ‘beloved’ disciple.

In whatever way we identify ourselves at this moment. We can take comfort from the fact that Jesus loved Judas, even though he betrayed him – no one is beyond redemption.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, when temptation urges us to abandon you, you pray within us. Even if we forget you, your love remains, and you send your Holy Spirit upon us. And when we come to know our weaknesses, unexpected resources appear within us. Amen.


 

TUESDAY OF HOLY WEEK

Reading : John 12:20-36

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem when he has an interruption in his journey, by some people arriving who find Philip and say to him “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Jesus was constantly being interrupted by people and events on his journeys. Our lives at the moment are being interrupted in a very big way, indeed as are lives all over the world.

Just as Jesus’ was, our lives are always being interrupted, it is part of the pattern of living. At this moment in our history, the interruption has potentially catastrophic implications.

Interestingly each year Holy Week calls us to enter ‘an interruption’ to take time to reflect upon the Passion narratives and to look at what the Cross means for us.

Coming back to the question that was asked, I wonder, if these visitors had any idea what they were asking? On the surface it seems a simple enough request, but Jesus’ response is anything but simple. I don’t know what the visitors expected nor what Philip and Andrew expected but I imagine they didn’t expect to hear about death.

Jesus’ words are an invitation to a journey, meaning that ‘Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me and where I am there will my servant be also.’ It is probably not the answer we would expect or want when we ask to see Jesus, but it is the answer Jesus gives. I wonder if we know what we are asking?

Maybe we can use the interruption that we are now living in to consider what Jesus’ words really means for our lives.

Prayer

You have looked deep into my heart, Lord, and you know all about me.
You know when I am resting or when I am working, and from heaven you discover my thoughts.
You notice everything I do and everywhere I go. Before I even speak a word, you know what I will say, and with your powerful arm you protect me from every side. I can’t understand all of this!
Such wonderful knowledge is far above me. Amen

(Psalm 139 vs 1-6)


 

MONDAY OF HOLY WEEK

Reading : John 12:1-11

Jesus is at a dinner that his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus are having in his honour, when Mary does something which can only have been motivated by love. She did something a Jewish woman would never do in public. She stooped to anoint Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. It was certainly an extravagant action appearing to be without thought to the cost. But her action was much more more than this. For a woman to untie her hair and to have it loose in public was a sign of grave immodesty. From all accounts Mary was oblivious to everyone around her, except for Jesus. She took no thought for what others would think, but wanted simply to show love and gratitude to Him. She exemplifies discipleship and understands it before Jesus explicitly teaches the disciples his commandment to love.

Thomas Merton (an American Trappist Monk and writer 1915-68) wrote, “The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.”

Thinking about life is not living. Thinking about how we would like to love Jesus is not loving. Mary got it. She was the best disciple of all : she loved Jesus and was not afraid to show the enormity of that love, even though others thought her behaviour scandalous and profligate in wasting a valuable resource.

The question this Monday is ‘How do we anoint Jesus’ feet and show him our love and gratitude?

Prayer

Give us, Lord, a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, a love of you. Take from us all lukewarmness in meditation, dullness in prayer. Give us fervour and delight in thinking of you and your grace, your tender compassion towards me. The things we pray for, good Lord, give us grace to labour for: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

(Sir Thomas More, 16th century defender of the Catholic faith)