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Reflections on Holy Week


HOLY WEEK is the most important time of the year for us as Christ followers.  In ancient times, the Jewish people were given an expected means of communication through participation in the Passover sacrifices.  This is fully realized by the Christian who participates sacramentally in the death and resurrection of the incarnate Son.  The death and resurrection of Christ is sometimes referred to as the Paschal mystery. The word “Paschal” reminds us that the New Testament word for Passover is “Paschal.” Jesus’ death occurred at the time of Passover, when Jewish people celebrated their passage from slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea to freedom in their own land.

And so the death of Christ and His resurrection have come to be understood in the church by the revelation of New Testament scripture as the fulfillment of God’s mighty acts to save His people. God acted decisively to rescue His Israel from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God acted to save His people from sin and death.

An essential tenet of Christian worship exemplified in the Eucharist (thanksgiving) is that of re-presentation.  There’s a Greek word for this (anamnesis), which means to make a past event a present reality.  “Remembrance” is the English translation that attempts to capture the meaning, but it some ways doesn’t do it justice. When the Jewish people celebrate Passover, they believe that the saving work of God in delivering them from slavery in Egypt is re-presented in their midst by means of these essential elements to anamensis:  1) the gathered community of believers, 2) the elements prescribed by God – unleavened bread, wine, lamb, and bitter herbs; and 3) reciting the story of the vent using the words of Sacred Scripture.  In the same fashion, that which was only a type finds its true meaning in the celebration of the Christian Eucharist, (Communion).

John 6:55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. (ESV)

The Assembled community of the faithful, the ordained officiant, the bread and fruit of the vine, and the word of God, all these in the celebration transcend time and space making the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus 2,000 years ago a present reality.  In a like manner the Holy Week services bring to us today those final events in Jesus’ life which comprise the Paschal Mystery.

      PALM SUNDAY begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then the mood reverses rapidly from acclamation to “crucify him!, crucify him!” We are given pause to contemplate the fickleness of human nature and our often wavering loyalty and devotion in the actions of the crowd. After all, it was our sin that needed His steadfast faithfulness, truth, and total committed love in bringing us to salvation, and in bringing us from death to life.

Roman 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.











MAUNDY THURSDAY re-presents the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, the Mass, the Divine Liturgy. In this celebration Jesus words and actions with the apostles are made present in our midst. We gather with them to hear Jesus say, “This is my Body. This is my Blood — Do this in remembrance of me.” In fact, a more accurate rendering might be “Do this to make me present with you.”  Our word “maundy” comes from the Latin, maudatum (commandment) with reference to Jesus’ commandment to love one another.

John 13: 34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

All this leads to GOOD FRIDAY and the cross.  Where does the cross fit within our faith in Jesus Christ?  It’s more than a decoration or a piece of Jewelry.  The cross involves death as depicted in the gospels.  A cruel death on one hand but on the other a death forged in love.  The cross is the radical expression of love that gives itself completely.  A life that is given completely for others.

In other religions, men and women experience some sense of guilt and attempt to remove it through working on themselves from the outside in.  In Christianity, Jesus invites us to participate with him from the inside.  We are invited into the harmony of a continuous relationship in the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In the New Testament it isn’t man who goes to God with a reconciliatory gift, but God who comes to man to bring him the gift of himself.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God restores His much loved creation in the initiative of his own power to love.

2 Corinthians 5:18  “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciles us to himself.”

He does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; He goes to meet them and reconciles them! We see here the true direction of the incarnation leading to the cross. The cross moves from above to below. It is not a work of expiation which mankind offers to a wrathful God, but as that expression of God’s extravagant love for us!
  Where does the cross lie within our faith? Look at the world we live in right now.  We live in a boiling cauldron of trouble that weighs on the human population physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  The Passion of Jesus steps right into the problems we encounter – the treachery of Judas, the betrayal of Peter, the cruelty of the soldiers and above all, the murderous demands of the crowd: “Crucify him!”   Jesus could have avoided it but he chose obedience; obedience out of love. Paul describes this love in his letter to the Philippians:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, bring born in the likeness of man. and being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God had highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”    (Philippians 2:5-11).

     GOOD FRIDAY worship makes this present through the liturgy of the Word, an understanding of the high place of the cross in God’s purpose, and holy communion in Christ’s presence by the Spirit. For our participation in the body and blood of Christ has this effect: it makes us become what we receive; it enables us, with our whole being, in our spirit and our flesh, to bear him in whom and with whom we have died and been buried and risen again.”

Holy week culminates with the celebration of EASTER. It’s evident from of the gospels that the resurrection occurred sometime during the night. The Exodus from Egypt began at night, and because of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Christians expected the second coming of Jesus to happen at night.  From this a widespread custom of vigil watch became a part of some traditions as they anticipate the resurrection event.  (The popular “midnight mass” of Christmas stems from this.)  We see in the resurrection of Jesus in bodily form a promise of the life we have now in Him as well as our own future with Him.  Jesus comforts those who fear he has left them.  He removes the greatest fear, that of death and isolation. He promises to go with them and us as he sends us into the world.  All of the promises made to his disciples are sealed in his resurrection from the dead…  We don’t have to be slaves to sin… Death does not have the final say in our eternity…We will never walk alone…God loves us beyond the grave!

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