Psalm 36:5-11 – Monday of Holy Week

Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland, 1947

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
    your judgments are like the great deep;
    you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
    and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,
    or the hand of the wicked drive me away. (NRSV)

We have a Holy Week because of love. There is a journey along the Via Dolorosa (traveling through a place in route to a destination) because of God’s steadfast love.

Love suffers. Every parent knows this. Because of a parent’s committed and faithful love toward a child, they feel not only the joys but also the sorrows and pain of their children. I can say that this feeling does not go away, even with adult children. And it is compounded with grandchildren. Just as our love is big enough to hold multiple children and grandchildren, so our capacity for experiencing deep emotion for their welfare is equally large.

Holy Week reminds us that God’s committed parental love suffers. It is because of God’s immense and steadfast love that there was a road to the cross and a tortured death for Jesus. The cost of our salvation involved a very bloody affair. Deliverance came at the price of horrible violence. Jesus Christ lived and died for us, because of love. He suffered much because he loved much.

God’s people, walking in the way of love, quickly discover that it is simultaneously walking in the way of suffering. From Old Testament times through the New Testament and into the present day, the faithful have always experienced suffering as a central part of their piety and devotion in showing steadfast love. 

The medieval mystics of the Church understood well the connection between suffering and love. They could not imagine a Christian life without hardship, difficulty, and persecution. Thomas à Kempis, a sort of pastor to pastors, wrote in the fifteenth century these words:

“Sometimes it is to our advantage to endure misfortunes and adversities, for they make us enter into our inner selves and acknowledge that we are in a place of exile and that we ought not to rely on anything in this world. And sometimes it is good for us to suffer contradictions and know that there are those who think ill and badly of us, even though we do our best and act with every good intention…. When men ridicule and belittle us, we should turn to God, who sees our innermost thoughts, and seek His judgment…. It is when a man of good will is distressed, or tempted, or afflicted with evil that he best understands the overwhelming need he has for God, without whom he can do nothing…. It is in such times of trial that he realizes that perfect security and full peace are not to be found in this world.”

And yet, it is because of love that suffering is transformed and endured as something wholly other than sheer pain or hurt. Thomas à Kempis went on to say:

“Love is a mighty power, a great and complete good; Love alone lightens every burden and makes the rough places smooth. It bears every hardship as though it were nothing and renders all bitterness sweet and acceptable. The love of Jesus is noble and inspires us to great deeds; it moves us always to desire perfection. Love aspires to high things and is held back by nothing base. Love longs to be free, a stranger to every worldly desire, lest its inner vision become dimmed, and lest worldly self-interest hinder it, or ill-fortune cast it down…. Love knows no limits, but ardently transcends all bounds. Love feels no burden, takes no account of toil, attempts things beyond its strength; love sees nothing as impossible, for it feels able to achieve all things. Love therefore does great things; it is strange and effective; while he who lacks love faints and fails.”

Holy Week’s message is certainly one of suffering love. Jesus went to the greatest lengths possible to give Divine steadfast love to humanity. So, let us not run away from the cross, but journey with Jesus to Golgotha, embracing the love of God for us. In so doing, we will find the inner resources needed to love the world, even in all its unloveliness.

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, though in our weakness we fail, we may be revived through the Passion of your Only Begotten Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Hebrews 9:11-15 – Monday of Holy Week

Wood Cross

When the Messiah arrived, high priest of the superior things of this new covenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven’s “tent”—the true Holy Place—once and for all. He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God. (The Message)

The Christian Holy Week is an opportunity to embrace the value and practice of journeying with Jesus.  Just as birthday and anniversary celebrations allows us a different rhythm of life for a time, or as holidays provide us with certain family traditions, so Holy Week can be a special and unique time of contemplation and reflection on the last week of Christ’s earthly life.  As we journey with Jesus, consider the days of this week:

Palm Sunday is a focus on the entry of Christ into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Monday of Holy Week looks ahead to Christ’s sacrifice with Mary’s anticipatory grief through a heartfelt and beautiful anointing of Jesus’ feet with her hair and her tears.

Tuesday of Holy Week depicts the difficulty of the disciples in wrapping their hearts and minds around what Jesus is telling them about his impending death.

Wednesday of Holy Week is known in some Christian traditions as “Spy Wednesday” because we remember that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, a clandestine spy among the disciples.

Maundy Thursday marks three significant events in Christ’s last week:  his washing of the disciples’ feet; his institution of the Lord’s Supper; and, his new commandment to love one another.

Good Friday marks the death of Jesus Christ.  It is “good” because his death means redemption for the world.  We especially remember why the cross is so very important, that it is the once-for-all sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  There is now eternal forgiveness.

Holy Saturday remembers the death of Jesus and his body in the grave with the Romans securing and keeping guard over it.

Easter Sunday is the culmination of all the expectations of God’s people, and the fulfillment of all God’s promises to them in Christ.  We rejoice, celebrate, and renew our love and commitment to God for raising Jesus from death.  His resurrection means new life for us.  He is risen, indeed!

Observing Holy Week is rather different this year.  Whereas this week typically takes the form of attending special church services, we are presently reliant on virtual community and spiritual presence.  It seems to me that, more than ever, we are reminded of our wonderful privilege in a worldwide community of redeemed persons who together are focusing on the life and death of Jesus.  If ever there was a time to realize our incredible connection with believers across the earth in contemplation and celebration together as Christ’s own Church, now is such a time.

Together with Christ’s Church throughout the globe we have opportunity to read treasured Christian Scriptures over the course of the week and to focus on the passion narratives in the Gospels.  For the follower of Jesus Christ, these are the fundamentals of our faith, the base upon which our eternal lives are constructed.  We return to the redemptive events of Jesus again and again so that for the entirety of the year we can live in careful devotion to the Savior who has brought us salvation from sin and offers new life.

Holy Week is here.  So, we choose to remember and give thanks with both quiet gratitude and loud shouts of praise, with solemn reflection and expressive response.  There is no time like it in the year.

Grant to us, Almighty God, that in our weakness we might be revived and renewed through the Passion of your one and only Son Jesus, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.