Embracing Holy Week
EMBRACING ALL OF HOLY WEEK
By Steve Summerell
In less than two weeks, the Christian church will celebrate its most important holy day/holiday, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. I am aware that Christmas gets more “air time” than Easter in our culture (examples: the season starts earlier and lasts longer, more gifts are bought and exchanged, students get two weeks away from school instead of just one).
But cultural air time is not the ultimate determiner of importance. While the coming of Jesus at Christmas is indeed important, the events of Holy Week that culminates in Christ coming back to life and out of the tomb, never to die again, are the capstone of his life and ministry. It is the ultimate proof that he was the Son of God and is victorious over sin and death (Romans 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:17).
In our remembering the events of the Easter season, the majority of our attention is placed on Resurrection Day. But Holy week is a WEEK; it is not just Easter Sunday! Throughout that week there were a variety of events, encounters, and occurrences taking place in a number of peoples’ lives, all of which add to the drama and depth of that week. But many of those events often fall off the screen of our consciousness.
What if between today and April 12th, this year’s date for celebrating Easter, we gave extended attention to what was going on in the lives of those around Jesus during that week? What if we pondered, meditated on, and placed ourselves into the various circumstances and situations those people faced in that week? What might we find out about them, and more importantly, what might we discover about God and about ourselves?
I would like to invite you to consider entering more intentionally into Holy Week, beginning today, in order to open yourself to new discoveries God may offer to you during this time.
Here are some suggestions of things you might do/ponder over the next two weeks as we approach Easter:
1. Read through the Passion and Resurrection narratives in the Gospels (Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, and John 13-21).
a. Read slowly, perhaps one chapter a day, or one gospel account a day. Our tendency is to read quickly because we are so familiar with the story. As you slowly read through the passages, what struck you? What caught your attention?
b. Did anything stand out that was new to you?
c. Besides Jesus, which character in the story grabbed your attention and why?
d. In which character do you see yourself? How are you similar to that character? How are you different?
2. Luke 22: 31-34, Jesus foretells Peter’s denial.
a. Can you think of a time when your professed allegiance to Jesus turned out to be little more than words?
b. Reflect on that situation. What was the fear that compelled you to “deny” (either by words or actions) your loyalty to Christ?
c. Rest in the truth that in spite of your failures, Jesus is praying for you and offers you restoration and forgiveness (see John 21: 15-19). How does this make you feel towards yourself in this situation? Towards Jesus? What do you think Jesus feels about you in your failures?
3. Matthew 26: 36-46, The Gethsemane experience
In vs. 37, Jesus says to Peter, James and John, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”
a. These are real, authentic human emotions that Jesus is experiencing. We sometimes tend to view Jesus more through the 'divine’ lens than through the ‘human’ lens. How do you respond to seeing Jesus as this vulnerable, this human? How does it make you feel about expressing your real, authentic emotions to yourself, God and others?
b. As you go through the Passion texts in the Gospels, stop and imagine and feel what Jesus was feeling and experiencing; the pain, the loneliness, the betrayal, the suffering, being misunderstood, being falsely accused. Can you recall times in your life when you experienced similar circumstances, experiences? Do you find comfort in knowing that Jesus has experienced what you are going through? Why or why not?
c. Throughout church history, entering into the suffering of Christ has been an avenue of great blessing and act of devotion for many. Has this been your experience and if so, how? How did it make you feel towards Jesus? If not, why do you think that is? How did that make you feel about Jesus? About yourself?
4. John 19: 25-27, Mary, John and the women at the cross.
a. Put yourself in the place of those at the foot of the cross. Imagine and feel the sorrow and grief, the despair, the loss.
b. Recall the times when you have experienced great despair, sorrow and loss. In what ways did God make himself known to you during that time?
5. Luke 22: 54-61, The Denial by Peter
a. This is probably one of the most well known events of Holy Week. Can you imagine yourself doing what Peter did in that courtyard by that fire? Perhaps it was at your office, in a classroom, or in your neighborhood?
b. What was the fear that drove Peter in his situation? What fears were you facing in your circumstance?
c. Vs. 61 says that following Peter’s third denial, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” What do you think Peter saw in the eyes of Jesus? Rebuke? Compassion? A look of judgment? An “I told you so!” look? Eyes of mercy? What do you think you would feel if you were in Peter’s place?
d. What do you feel from Jesus in your times of failure?
e. Peter “went out and wept bitterly.” His utter failure was too much for him to bear. He was probably totally surprised at his actions. But Jesus was not surprised by what Peter did.
f. Ponder these verses from Psalm 103, “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. 9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. 10 He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. 11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. 12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. 13 The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. 14 For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
God is well aware of your weaknesses and is not surprised when they surface. How could reflecting on the words of Psalm 103 have helped Peter in his time of failure? Is it easy or difficult for you to appropriate these words for yourself in your times of failing? What is it that makes it difficult for you to believe these words for you? There is always enough grace to cover our sin.
6. Find a church or retreat center that provides the exercise of the Stations of the Cross (or if that is impossible, find one online to download). Carve out an hour to walk through the stations. Ponder and enter into the experience of Jesus and his Passion. Spend some time talking with Jesus about what came to your mind as you walked the stations.
7. Let’s end this Musing on an upbeat note! Spring has arrived, trees and bushes are budding forth in new life, rose bushes are in bloom, and new life is all around us! If Easter is about anything it is about new life, real life, resurrection life.
a. As you move through the days of April, observe the new life that is bursting forth around you. If you look carefully you will notice new life in places that are sometimes obvious and other times quite subtle. Each time you see new life in the creation, pause and give thanks to God for the new life that is yours in Christ. Thank God for the new creation that began bursting forth with the resurrection of Jesus.
b. Take 30 to 60 minutes to sit in a park, your backyard, or at the beach. Simply be still, opening yourself up to God as you take in the world. Spend time noticing the new life bursting forth all around you.
c. Offer a prayer, asking God to release the resurrected life of Jesus in you and through you in new and deeper ways than ever before.
d. Ask God to open up opportunities for you to extend the life and love of the resurrected Christ to those around you. Keep your eyes open for those opportunities to appear among the poor, the downtrodden and the marginalized of society.
b Los Angeles Area Regional Director
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