Now more than ever, we benefit greatly by stepping back from the day’s urgent demands to get God’s perspective on life and on our own experience.
Contemplation is not a luxury. In his book, The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring, Parker J. Palmer writes, “Contemplation… is a way of changing consciousness that may have more impact on the world than strategic actions can have… [because] the function of contemplation in all its forms is to penetrate illusion and help us to touch reality.” Reflection strips away illusion.
This blog will help us touch the reality of Jesus’ journey—and the disciples’ journey—to the cross. I will explain the significance of each day in Holy Week and offer a question for prayerful reflection. You may want to print this and keep it with your Bible and journal to consider for a few minutes every day.
Holy Week was developed in the fourth century by Christians in Jerusalem. “The aim of Holy Week is to make the life of Christ real for the worshiper. Enacting Jesus’ last days and entering into His experience was a way of offering worship to Him” (Robert Webber, Worship Old and New).
Palm Sunday (also known as Passion Sunday) celebrates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for Israel’s Passover celebration. As Jesus rode down the steep road from the Mount of Olives, a large crowd cut down branches and spread their cloaks on the road, making the equivalent of a “red carpet” (such as celebrities and dignitaries walk). They shouted, “Hosanna (which means, ‘Lord, save us’) to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:6-9).
They did not realize Jesus’ throne would be a cross, nor that the enemy to be defeated was not Rome, but the powers of darkness. Nor did they anticipate the victory would be over sin and death.
Prayerful Reflection: Lord, how have I preferred my own agenda and missed your message for me?
Holy Monday – While returning to Jerusalem the next day, Jesus noticed a fig tree that had many leaves, but no fruit. He cursed the tree, and it withered. This is a powerful image of God’s goal for our salvation.
It’s likely Jesus had this fig tree in mind when, in the Upper Room, moments before his betrayal, he said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
Prayerful Reflection: Lord, where am I all leaves, and no fruit? Hear my confession.
Holy Tuesday – Church tradition focuses this day on the religious leaders’ conspiracies to trap Jesus. They formed a very unusual three-party collaboration of the theologically conservative Pharisees who opposed Rome, with the theologically progressive (liberal) Sadducees who accommodated and benefited from Roman rule, and with the Herodians, who had little religious interest but supported Herod.
Jesus warned the crowds and disciples about hypocrisy and unbelief, pronouncing seven condemnations (“Woes”) against the false religion that is abhorrent to God (Matthew 23:13-33).
Prayerful Reflection: Lord, how have I held fast to my “politics” at the expense of your claim on my life?
Holy Wednesday focuses on Judas Iscariot’s offer to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious council. There are many possible explanations for Judas’ betrayal—it’s complicated! (Read Luke 22:3-6 and John 12:4-8) Ultimately, self-love overpowered devotion.
Prayerful Reflection: Lord, where am I vulnerable to letting my desires eclipse my 100% devotion to you?
Maundy Thursday includes three major events:
Washing the Disciples’ feet: Note the spelling is ‘Maundy,’ not ‘Maunday.’ The name comes from the Latin word maundatum, which means ‘commandment.’ Jesus said to his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34 NIV). Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ experience with his disciples in the Upper Room, washing their feet and celebrating ‘the Last Supper,’ which is the basis for our celebrations of what we call ‘The Lord’s Supper,’ ‘Communion,’ and ‘Eucharist’ (meaning Thanksgiving).
Prayerful Reflection: Lord, how am I loving others in such a way that they see Jesus in me?
Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane: Following supper Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and surrender fully to God’s will. His hour had come. Do not dismiss or diminish the reality of Jesus’ struggle.
“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18 NIV).
Prayerful Reflection: Lord, how can I daily surrender my short-sighted desires to accept Your blessed and, ultimately, fruitful will?
Being put on trial: Jesus, having been betrayed by Judas, was arrested in the garden and went on to endure multiple sham trials before the chief priests, Pontius Pilate, and Herod (Luke 22:54–23:25). But perhaps Jesus’ greatest heartaches were Peter’s denial and the other disciples’ desertion.
Prayerful Reflection: Lord, when have fear and others’ opinions overwhelmed my faith and witness?
Good Friday – Then came Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified. Why is it called ‘good’? The original designation was “God’s Friday.” Like the phrase “Good-bye,” which originally was “God be with ye,” the pronunciation was contracted over time, with ‘Good’ being substituted for ‘God.’ Traditionally, this is a day of fasting and reflection for Jesus’ followers.
The disciple Peter explained the cross,
“For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT).
Prayerful Reflection: Lord, how have I surrendered to a culture that substitutes a generic ‘Good’ in place of You, the unique and glorious God who gave his only beloved Son?
Holy Saturday – On Saturday of Passion week, we remember the time Jesus spent in the tomb. Theologically, Jesus, the Son of God, experienced death, the full penalty for sin, so those who believe could receive eternal life.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5-6 NIV).
Prayerful Reflection: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all,” says the hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Lord, how do you want me to live each day differently because I believe Jesus died for me?
Then comes Easter—but more about that in my next blog.