Holy Saturday

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The tomb was nearby; they laid Jesus there.
—John 20:42

A devotion written by Mary C. Earle.

Holy Saturday is sometimes called the Great Sabbath, referring to Jesus being asleep in death, resting before being raised. It is the day in which we remember Jesus laid in the tomb, before the women discover that the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of that rocky resting place. It is a mysterious day on which members of the early church wondered how this “Holy Undying One” was abiding—a sacred pause between death and resurrection.

A homily from the second century tells us that this is also the moment when Jesus “descended into hell,” as the Apostles’ Creed states. The tradition remembered Jesus Christ, the Holy Undying One, going in search of all who had died before. The homily tells us that this Lord went in search of Adam and Eve, our own first parents. Finding them, he lifted them up and proclaimed, “I did not create you to be a captive in hell!” He bid them to waken from the sleep of death, to rise and follow him into fullness of life.

Whether you understand this figuratively or concretely, the point of the homily is that in this Holy Undying One, the Risen Lord, God’s desire to liberate us from all of our hells is revealed. Your hell may be personal, perhaps enslavement to addiction of some type. Or your hell could be communal, a family trapped in cycles of violence and abuse. Or your hell could be political if you are living in a country in which power and corruption go hand in hand.

Holy Saturday proclaims to us that the life, mercy, and light of God suffuses every single hell we can think of. We were not created to be captives in hell. When that divine truth sinks into our brains, our bodies, our very bones, we begin to know the inner liberation that leads us to speak truth in love, to take risks, and to desire freedom for all who are captive. Holy Undying One, have mercy upon us.

Holy Undying One, I know that You did not create me to be a captive; may your liberating grace and mercy guide me to seek the freedom to love in your Name, and to stand with those who are not yet free. Amen.

Good Friday

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Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
—John:19:30

A devotion written by Mary C. Earle.

A day of great solemnity, Good Friday calls us to do what the disciples could not. Good Friday calls us to join Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus and John at the foot of the cross. Good Friday invites us to enter that most excruciating moment of standing in our own impotence, unable to stop the dying. This day calls us to the steadiness of being present with Jesus and with one another in those harrowing moments of suffering and death.

It is always a “both/and”—we are called this day to wait for the moment when Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit. And we are called every day to be present in that way to one another. Some will discover a gift for nursing or AIDS ministry or hospice work. Others will have the innate ability to be with others whose lives are torn to ragged shreds by violence or war or natural disaster. Still others will discover that deep-rooted compassion that comes with living through grief and tragedy, seeing anew the suffering that surrounds us at every minute, though hidden by the glitz of our culture.

A mystery is revealed to us this day—the mystery of divine love that permeates every moment of human life and experience. This day we are brought to the foot of the cross to see, as early church writers reported, God’s cheerfulness in this self-offering. The face of divine Love shines through Jesus’ dying flesh, and God’s own life, in Jesus, is united to ours.

“The Word became flesh and lived among us,” as the Gospel of John declares. (John 1:14) In a way far beyond our human capacity to know or to understand, God is in Christ, knowing our sufferings from the inside out, hallowing the blood, the sweat and the tears, converting the cross from an instrument of death to a tree of life.

God grant me the grace to stand at the foot of the cross, to adore You, O Christ, and to bless You, because by your cross you have redeemed the world. Amen.

Maundy Thursday

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Then Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
—John 13:5

The Thursday of Holy Week is known as “Maundy Thursday,” referring to the Latin word for commandment, mandatum. As we saw yesterday, in these last days of his life, Jesus both states and enacts his new commandment—that we love one another as he has loved us. To show the disciples what he means, he washes their feet. These feet would have been dusty, cracked, lined. A servant would normally have taken a basin and washed the feet of guests arriving for a meal.

Jesus, whom the disciples know as teacher and friend, healer and leader, abandons all of those roles and kneels before each disciple, washing feet. It is scandalous. Peter, for one, cannot bear it. He says to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” (John 13:9) Jesus leads him to see that this washing of one another is a way revealing divine tenderness in common, human need. All of us need to have our feet washed. All of us need to wash another.

On this night in which he is betrayed by Judas, Jesus also has a last meal with his disciples. He shares bread and wine with them, saying “Do this in remembrance of me.” A washing and a meal—both shared in common, both offered by Jesus as signs of the love that will not let us go, of the divine life embodied in him.

There is a kind of familial care in these last actions—washing, feeding, teaching. Jesus knows that his time is short, and so he desires to give the disciples the essence of his life and his work: Love one another. Wash one another’s feet. Feed one another. In those actions you will discover the very life of God, dwelling there with you, waiting to be discovered and celebrated. You will discover, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said, Jesus the Christ in “his many different disguises.”

Holy Friend and Savior, may we know you in the washing, and in the breaking of the bread. Amen.

Holy Wednesday

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Mark 11:27-30 Then they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?” But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John-was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.”

Today is Wednesday of Holy Week. The week is half gone. As the first Holy Week passed by in Jerusalem, the blind opposition to Jesus increased. Jesus healed the sick before them. He gave sight to the blind. They heard reports that He had raised the dead. He drove the money-changers out of the temple, calling it His house. He spoke to them with authority from the Scriptures. They would even hear voices from heaven. It was evident to anyone who honestly looked that at the very least God was with Jesus. It was plain to prominent council member Nicodemus. “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).

But many others were obstinate in their unbelief — despite the power and wonder of Jesus’ actions (Acts 2:22-23). They came to Him and demanded by what authority He was doing these things. This wasn’t the first time they had asked. Nor would they be satisfied with His answer now.

So instead of reiterating His authority, Jesus answered with another question. It was a no-win question for them. If they answered that John’s baptism was from God, He would ask why they had despised it. If they said that it was NOT, then they would be at odds with the people. Jesus knew the conundrum they faced. He wanted them to consider again, even if they didn’t believe it, that both John and Jesus had been sent by God.

Yes, John came to prepare the way before the Savior, revealing sin and preaching repentance. Jesus came to call all humanity to Himself, to offer forgiveness of sins and a place in the Father’s house.

Jesus still comes in His Word, with authority and power, to call us to Himself to receive forgiveness and a place in heaven. The miracles He accomplished show His power and authority, that He is the very Son of God. The same Jesus walks with you today.

Holy Tuesday

Light

I have come as light into the world.
—John 12:46

A devotion written by Mary C. Earle

Jesus says, “I have come as light into the world.” It is a world of his making, St. John tells us in the Prologue to this gospel: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:10) It is a world that is confused and disoriented, a world in which it is hard to perceive what is good and true and lovely. And it is a world that belongs to the One who brought it into being.

Oddly enough, Holy Week, for all of its moments of violence and ruthless politics, is also a time for remembering that Jesus comes as Light into this world. He comes into those moments in our lives when things are suddenly fraught with forces beyond our control, when we sense we may lose our grip on reality, when everything seems alien to our yearning for a world in which respect and kindness predominate. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it,” writes St. John (John 1:5)

Jesus is tried on trumped up charges, found guilty by a corrupt political system, and put to death because he challenges the powers that be. Many are complicit in his death, and few stand with him at the end as he dies. Yet in this wrenching sequence of events, there is light. There is the promise, through Jesus, of God’s enduring and inescapable presence in every valley of the shadow of death—those of our own making and those that come despite our best efforts to hold them at bay.

May the Light of the World be known to me and through me this day, in my life, in my household, in my community, in my actions. Amen.

Holy Monday

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There they gave a dinner for him. —John 12:2

A devotion written by Mary C. Earle.

The gospel lesson appointed for Holy Monday takes us to the household of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. These three siblings regularly have offered hospitality to Jesus. Mary and Martha have demonstrated great faith, and Lazarus has been raised from the dead. Their lives have been knit together in powerful ways, and, particularly in the Gospel of John, we have glimpses of moments of miracle and mystery.

As is the case with many biblical accounts, there is much that is revealed in one verse. “There they gave a dinner for him.” In addition to being witnesses of Jesus’ authoritative teaching and life-giving presence, these three are his familiars. They treat him like family. He is at home in their home. Sometimes I have the sense that they are closer to him than the disciples, who are always busy bumping heads with one another, trying to see who is going to win “Best Disciple” of the week.

The disciples are on the road with Jesus, trying to learn, missing the point half the time, not wanting to hear Jesus tell them the truth of his life. By contrast, Mary, Martha and Lazarus offer Jesus their home. In the quiet domestic space of these three siblings, perhaps Jesus could be at ease. Perhaps he could put aside the messiah-projections and savor conversation, enjoy a meal, sleep in familiar surroundings.

According the Gospel of John, it is in this house that Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus. She dares to take the pound of costly perfume and pour it on Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. She dares to say with her actions, “I know what you are facing into; I know that this entry into Jerusalem will lead to your death. And I know you have to do this.”

I imagine that such honesty-in-action would have been a great gift to Jesus. Someone— friend—knows that darkness is up ahead. This family of siblings is willing to receive the truth, and in so doing they give Jesus a great gift.

Each of us has times in our lives when we need a friend who will not sugar-coat the reality we have to face. Each of us has a need for a Martha or a Mary or a Lazarus—for a friend who will let us be, who will let us say, “I am scared to my bones.” Or “I am going to suffer.” Or “I am going to die.”

When we encounter such friends, we know something of the presence of God in our midst, God in Christ as friend who allows us to tell the truth in love, to be the truth in love, by God’s grace, for one another.

Prayer

This Holy Week, O God, may I remember that Jesus calls us his friends, and may I seek to love as he loves. Amen.

Saturday Review

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As we enter into Holy week, we find Jesus riding into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna”(praise, joy, adoration); yet, in just a few short days these same people are shouting “Crucify.”

Question

How are some of the ways do we do this same thing, and why? One day we praise God, and the next day we turn our backs.