The core of the Christian Faith—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—is compacted into this one week. Evangelical Lutherans, as part of the western catholic tradition, approach this core from different perspectives simultaneously. In public worship, we will re-enact key events of the last week of Jesus' life, getting into the story of our salvation by participating in its actions. At the same time, the Gospel proclamation for each day steps away from our simply re-enacting events of that last week to our putting them in perspective. Meanwhile our response in prayer and hymns is to recognize that this is not just a re-telling of events from 2000 years ago. This week is about what God is doing in Jesus Christ today, for you, for me. And we go through this week not forgetting for one moment that Jesus is not dead, but that he is alive. This is no metaphor in Christian hearts and memories. Jesus lives, now!
Passion/Palm Sunday (St. Luke 19:28-40; 22:14-23:56)
Everyone loves a parade, especially when we get to march in it with our heroes. This Sunday begins with Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a sly parody of Caesar and his legions marching into a conquered city. But the Gospel reading is the entire account of Christ's Passion—Jesus' last meal, the betrayals of the Twelve, Jesus' trials by the authorities, his humiliating execution and burial. The story rushes by us too quickly to reflect much on what has happened, but we hear it all today anyway. We will have all week to see what it all means. For now, though, the triumph seems shattered by darker powers.
Monday (St. John 12:1-11)
The Passion Sunday proclamation is, depending upon the year, from Matthew, Mark, or Luke. The rest of Holy Week belongs to St. John, who teaches that not all is as it first seemed. Jesus knows exactly what is happening. In fact, he is in control! Meanwhile, his followers are extravagant with what they have—Mary (sister of Lazarus and Martha) on her Lord's behalf, Judas (treasurer of the Twelve) on his own behalf. How extravagant am I when I am in the Lord's presence?
Tuesday (St. John 12:20-36)
Gentiles are curious about Jesus, who takes this as the sign that his time is at hand. And how shall Jesus be glorified? How shall abundant life be restored? By dying. By losing. By not settling for what this world thinks is the best, but by going through the worst of this world that we may share in eternity with God. The ruler of this world, who confuses darkness with light and light with darkness, is finished. If you follow him, so are you. Come, die to this world and its ways with Jesus.
Wednesday (St. John 13:21-32)
"One of you will betray me." "You" is his closest, dearest followers and friends. They are like family to him. They are perplexed. Family and friends don't betray each other. Except, they do. That is the way of the world, people betraying each other. And not only have you and I been betrayed even by those we love, but if truth be told, you and I have betrayed them. Often. In Jesus, God is betrayed once again. And what does he do about it? "Now the Son of Man is glorified...."
Maundy Thursday (St. John 13:1-17, 31b-35)
We heard on Sunday that the Lord's Supper (Holy Communion, the Eucharist) was instituted by Jesus on the night he was betrayed. This is that night of the week, so we celebrate that meal as part of our re-enactment. The Gospel proclamation, though, has Jesus washing his disciples' feet. They are as embarrassed about this as my people will be when I wash some of their feet this night. For while we may not mind serving some or being served by others, we'd rather keep some distance between servant and served. Jesus breaks through such barriers as an example for us. Shall we re-erect them?
Good Friday (St. John 18:1-19:42)
Once again we hear of betrayals by Jesus' disciples, his trials, humiliations, execution, and burial. But we call this "Good Friday" for we have begun to see that it was for this that Jesus, the very Word of God, came into the world. Jesus dies, but his death is his glorification. The One who hangs on the Cross is the only one in control of events. And as we kneel at the foot of the Cross, we are reminded in scripture and hymns that this happened not because of the Jews or the Romans. By my words and actions I have denied my Lord. I crucified Jesus!
If this were where the story ended, it would be unbearable. Being unbearable, it would have been set aside and Jesus of Nazareth would have been lost in the haze of history. Entire cultures are forgotten in a century or two; what's one man in 2000 years? Instead, God raised Jesus from the dead. Evangelical Lutherans and others within the catholic tradition of the Church are beginning to recover the Vigil of Easter. You see, this week is not about Christians re-enacting events of long ago. It is about proclaiming what God has already done! We do not need to wait until the dawn of Easter morning to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can do just as well at night, as Saturday departs and Sunday begins. We are, after all, children of light. Who needs the light of the Sun, when we have the light of the Son.
The daily Gospel readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary as used in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
These devotions were originally written by Pastor Tibbetts for the Peoria Journal Star Faith & Values page, where they were published in edited form for Holy Week 2001 with similar reflections by two other local priests, one Roman Catholic and the other Greek Orthodox.
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Copyright © 2001-2010 Steven P. Tibbetts
Created -- 7 April 2001
Last Revised -- 2 October 2010