Reflections for each day of Holy Week
Please do use these reflections with the Bible readings from Matthew’s gospel as we travel through this special week, but in a way, none of us has had to do before. Holy Week is not easy; we face our own failings but in looking deeper we will find freedom in God. #lookingwithin
Palm Sunday – Reading Matthew 21: 1-11
Ride on, ride on in majesty, in lowly pomp, ride on to die
Jesus had planned this event; he had organised a donkey to borrow for the occasion. Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy from Zechariah, the king arriving on a donkey, an incongruous public spectacle, a bit like the Queen entering Bolton in a milk-float.
But the humour is also a deliberate and dangerous piece of political subversion. Jesus is declaring that he is the King, and so challenging the Roman rule and the power of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. In that sense, it is not like the Queen entering Bolton, but more like a rebel leader brazenly entering the capital in full view of the current leaders. Palm Sunday was a public and political act, as Jesus declared his Kingship even as he knew in doing so he would be sentenced to death by the rulers of his day.
We tend to take the political element out of the reading; this year we cannot process or sing our well-known hymns. Maybe it gives us a chance to think about the political edginess of this event, the uncomfortableness of joining in this opposition-march. It is not easy to stand up against oppression and injustice and we will see the disciples fall away as the week progresses.
But we should rejoice that God came and lived in our world and confronted injustice, sin and oppression; to bring in his Kingdom, of peace and righteousness, of hope and life, of joy and the future.
When I am faced with the choice of following you or the world’s leaders,
may I have the strength to follow the King
who rides with cheerful love
to confront the powers of wrong, Amen.
Monday of Holy Week – Reading Matthew 21: 12-17
All glory laud and honour, to thee, Redeemer King
Jesus first confronted the political injustice and oppression of his day, riding in on the donkey; he went then to the Temple and confronted the corrupted worship practices he found there; the buying and selling for profit, the emphasis on money not mercy, the self-interest not a concern for others. And to demonstrate what God desires, he healed the blind and the lame. Children saw and were excited, but the chief priests were disturbed. This challenge is closer to home – do we want the church to be how we want it, or are our churches places where the struggling find welcome and hope, and where our children lead the excitement of a wonderful God. This Jesus is not a comfortable figure to the establishment; can we reclaim our “little child” and be amazed at God who is so outrageously on the side of the weakest and neediest.
When I might prefer to keep things safe for me
rather than care for others,
may I have the strength to follow the King
who bristles with indignation against the wrong
and who overflows with concern for the needy, Amen
Tuesday of Holy Week – Reading Matthew 21: 33-46
I danced for the Scribe and the Pharisee,
but they would not dance and they would not follow me
As if a public demonstration and a confrontation in the Temple was not enough, Jesus now tells pointed parables against the establishment. We should note Jesus is not against establishments in toto, but against those that use power for their own interests.
In this parable we are reminded that God has given us a wonderful world to live in, a vineyard fully equipped and ready; as a world, a nation, and as individuals, we have rather assumed this is our world, what we have is ours, and we have resisted giving God the honour and living in accordance with his rules, which we think are irksome; like the tenants, we are faced with a critical choice: the son of the owner is now asking for what is due – will we acknowledge him or try and get rid of him so we can claim the vineyard as our own. It is easy to see how others might do this and have done this, but actually we ourselves can so easily resist the call of God, make a god in our own preferred image. The Bible teaches us that it was/is our sin which contributed to the Cross, not just other peoples’.
When I am tempted to feel my life is mine to organise
and choices are for me to make,
May I have the strength to live in the truth
that all I have is from you, Amen
Wednesday of Holy Week – Reading Matthew 26: 6-13
Love so amazing so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all
So far the gospel readings have been about antagonism and opposition, but here for a moment we find an act of devotion and generosity – a woman pours this most expensive perfume over Jesus’ head; if this is loving and generous, it is also “chaotic”, just as the donkey was, and the overturning of the tables. You just don’t go around pouring perfume in large quantities on people’s heads! The disciples saw it and were angry! This Jesus continues to provoke reactions – the children sang but the priests grumbled: the woman is generous, but the disciples are angry.
Do we secretly admire the woman even if we are not sure we could be that riskily generous; do we secretly side with the disciples feeling we have to be careful stewards? Jesus sees this particular lavish gift as a preparation for burial – in our consideration of other people in the story, we should not forget that Jesus continues to show concern, despite being more and more consumed with the knowledge of what lies ahead.
Give me a generous faith which delights in giving
Even as I know how much you have given me, dear Lord.
Thursday of Holy Week – Maundy Thursday; Reading Matthew 26:17-75
Broken for me, broken for you,
The body of Jesus, broken for you.
Read this long section describing the Last Supper, Jesus praying in Gethsemane, the arrest and trial. Imagine yourself in each scene, maybe as a disciple, maybe trying to understand the hostility in those who arrest Jesus, and try and understand the strength, character and love in Jesus who suffers this ordeal.
Forgive me when I sleep rather than pray, and when I deny you.
Good Friday – Reading Matthew 27: 11-61
When I survey the wondrous Cross,
on which the Prince of Glory died…
Matthew describes many scenes, events across the first Good Friday.
Jesus is confronted by the power of Rome, the noise of the crowd, the brutality of the execution squad. Power at its worst, whether the cold power of government, the wild power of a mob, or the violent physical subjugation of force. There is an ordinariness to this execution – crucifixions were not unusual, and there is extraordinariness, as the sky darkens, the Temple curtain is torn, the earth shakes and even dead people briefly arise. Matthew wants to highlight that this death disrupts death, shakes the created world, tears open the curtain in the temple.
At the heart of Matthew’s account is Jesus’ cry of dereliction – My God, why have you forsaken me? In his utter obedience and self-giving, Jesus experiences total forsaken-ness. If we did not know more, we would say this death is truly the end, even of his relationship with the Father. It has killed him and broken the eternal bond in the Trinity, as he breathes his last.
This is no easy story to take in. This demands slow reading and deep and painful thought. Is this what God went through because of sin, because of human rebellion? While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
Was it, is it necessary? Can’t we just have a God of love without this violent death? The world, or rather humans have inflicted violence and death on each other; From Cain and Abel, there has been anger spilling into hatred and violence. God endured, took in himself, this violence. God in Jesus took our sin, the sin of the world, the poisons that corrode life and relationships and the planet; the scapegoat.
Saturday of Holy Week – Reading Matthew 27: 62-66
After all the detail of the last two days, there is not so much to say today.
Jesus is dead, his body in a tomb; the authorities seal the tomb, lest someone steal the body. This is not a sort-of death, or a pretend death. ‘Jesus died and was buried’, as our Creeds succinctly put it.
The disciples observe the Sabbath as best they can, in shock and disbelief we suspect.
The first Sabbath God rested after the Creation, but this Sabbath, the eternal God rests in a very different way. This Sabbath could feel like the anti-Sabbath. For those first disciples, it was no day of rest but a day of emptiness.
There are so many times in our own lives when we feel God is no longer there, even dead. There are times and places in history when it feels as if evil has triumphed. While we cope with isolation with its problems, the people of Yemen or Syria live with the effects of war, and hunger.
The spiritual challenge for today may be to hold these places in prayer and to hold those people in prayer for whom it feels evil has triumphed.
We can want to rush to Easter Day and to celebrate, but while tomorrow is our guarantee that God will bring in his Kingdom, does offer new life, has conquered sin and death, today is a reminder that this ultimate victory is still in the future; we continue to live in the world which is corroded by sin, and like the disciples, we have to wait. The Sabbath is both that day when we celebrate the Creation in its fulness and the day when we acknowledge we live between the crucifixion and the full Resurrection. Do not rush through today.
Lord help me live in the reality of this world and its broken-ness while knowing your promises, your presence, and your peace.
Give me the strength to pray and care for others, and the joy of knowing your everlasting and unchanging goodness.
Easter Sunday – The Day of Resurrection – Reading Matthew 28: 1-10
Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia.
The most important first day of the week since Creation began. But it begins quietly. As the dawn breaks and lights come back to the world, two women go to the tomb. They went to mourn and maybe to complete the burial ceremonies which had not been done on Friday evening.
“And suddenly ..” We probably know the story too well. What an impact that “suddenly” should have.
Matthew can’t quite keep this quiet event quiet, so he includes the earthquake, just as the earth shook at the death of Jesus. What he is saying is that the Resurrection also brings healing and hope to Creation.
After spending three years with his disciples, teaching and healing and making known the Kingdom values, you would think Jesus would demonstrate with public power his victory, would vindicate himself over the authorities who conspired against him. But he does not.
In the quiet of the dawn, he meets the grieving women and tells them to go and tell others. The word “Go” is repeated in his instructions.
In God’s plan, it is for us to spread this good news. There is still freedom for people to accept it or reject it.
Has our journey this past week taken us deeper into understanding something of the wonder and mystery and truth of God’s redeeming love? If so we can worship, thank God, but we should also go and tell, go and share this good news with others.
Alleluia Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
His rising sets us free; free from the guilt of sin, free from the power of sin, free from the fear of death and futility.
Dying and living, he declared God’s love,
gave us grace,
and opened the gate of glory.