Holy week is a season of vigil; an invitation to enter into the gospel narrative, to stay present, day by day, night by night. The great storm which has been mounting against Jesus is now breaking. But he stays. And he invites us to stay: “Stay with me. Watch and pray.” (Matthew 26)
On the Thursday of this week, John draws us into the gospel narrative at night. The people of Israel, gathered in to Jerusalem from throughout Palestine and the world beyond, have eaten the Passover supper. This high festival of their faith nurtures their communal and personal memory of rescue from slavery, and sustains their sense of identity as God’s people. The words of Yahweh serve as a table upon which to set this great feast:
“This shall be a day of remembrance for you. . . .on this very day I
brought (you) out of the land of Egypt: . . . And when your children
ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ you shall say . .
‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’”
(Exodus 12:14,17,26; 13:8)
As they walked away from slavery in Egypt and made their way into the vast and unknown stretches of desert, Yahweh watched over them, protecting, guiding, and providing.
“That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out
of the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:42)
On this night Jesus enters his own vigil, and asks his followers to stay with him in that attentive remembering and receptive obedience. God is setting the world free from slavery to sin and death. He, the Passover lamb–the Lamb of God– is about to offer his life, and the blood applied to the doorposts of our collective human house for the sin of the entire world. But the disciples admit they had forgotten the words of John the Baptist who had first directed their attention towards Jesus, saying, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” They are still expecting Jesus to reveal himself as the triumphant Messiah, using military might to restore world power to their nation, and to ensure his seat on the throne of David in Jerusalem. It is this reality which still shapes their thinking, and undergirds their sense of security as to how the world works–theirs and God’s.
Sandra Cronk explains that we have established ways of understanding the direction and purpose of our lives. These ways of understanding serve as structure and supports for the framework of our world; strong pillars which hold and order the shape of our lives and understanding. Like the disciples, we tend to resist anything that threatens to dismantle these pillars. When Jesus announces what is about to happen, his followers filter what they hear through the structures of their understanding that the pillars support.
But Jesus knows who he is, from where he has come, and where he is going. His love for Abba God guides his decisions. He sees what is about to happen in the light of God’s love and purpose. Yahweh is about to rescue the world from slavery to sin and death! But the disciples desire to defend Jesus from anything that would threaten his physical life and theirs.
When lanterns and fiery torches suddenly flare in the dark of the garden, and voices of the chief priests and temple police trouble the quiet.
Jesus’ followers see what is about to happen. Simon Peter draws his sword and strikes out at the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. But Jesus has already fought his own battle: his revulsion against being handed over to evil, to mockery, flogging, and the slow agony of crucifixion and death. In the presence of Abba he has wrestled, begging for another way to be found. Three times he struggled, weeping bitter tears of grief, and three times he submitted to “Not my will, but yours be done.” Finally, his Yes was complete. He struggles no more. This is God’s way of bringing the world back home to peace and reconciliation. On the other side of that struggle and costly obedience he can see what is about to happen in the light of God’s love and purpose. He has found the still point of God’s presence and design at the center of the hurricane breaking upon him. Here he has a welcoming space for the world, for his enemies, and for those he loves–these followers who have been with him over the last three years–in Jerusalem, in Galilee, on the lake, on the road, and now here in the darkness of this night.
It is out of this spacious center that Jesus responds. First to Simon Peter: “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Jesus declines the use of force on his behalf and on behalf of the Kingdom of God. It is within that spacious place that he turns to the wounded servant and heals him, and that he reveals to the chief priests and those with them what is that drives their rejection and desire to see him dead: the power of darkness.
However, the followers of Jesus admit that they did not yet see or understand what Jesus was trying to show them at that time. Stripped of their reliance on use of weapons to defend their Lord and themselves, they abandon their beloved Rabbi and flee. (Matthew 26:56)
John and Simon Peter return, and follow Jesus, now bound and a prisoner of the temple guards, to the courtyard of the High Priest. We too are invited to return and to stay.
The cluster of readings for each day offer us guidance for Holy Week. Allow the readings to draw you in, to companion you as you stay in vigil – until the dawn breaks on Easter morning!
(Some content is taken from Jesus, Our Spiritual Director: A Pilgrimage through the Gospels. Upper Room Books, 2004. Used by permission.)
Prayer before reading
Lord Jesus Christ,
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,
I desire to stay with you,
To do vigil.
Be my pillar, as you lead us
through the suffering of exodus–
away from all that holds us captive–
and into the joy of your resurrection life.
Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture.
Holy Week and Easter
- 4/18 – Monday: John 12:1-11; Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 36:5-11; Hebrews 9:11-15
- 4/19 – Tuesday: John 12:20-36; Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14; I Corinthians 1:18-31
- 4/20 – Wednesday: John 13:21-32; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 70; Hebrews 12:1-3
- 4/21- Maundy Thursday: John 13:1-17, 31b-35; Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; I Corinthians 11:23-26
- 4/22- Good Friday: John 18:1 – 19:42; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16 – 25
- 4/23 – Holy Saturday: Matthew 27:57 – 66; Job 14:1-14; Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16; I Peter 4:1 – 8
- 4/24- Resurrection of the Lord; Easter Day: John 20:1-18; Luke 24:13-49; Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-14