The Sixth Week in Lent | Holy Week
Palm/Passion Sunday | April 10
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” — Matthew 21:1–9
The “least of these” that Jesus mentions are those who find themselves in need. Who do you see in your community in need? Who among you is struggling? Who needs prayer? Who is a person on your path to whom you can show the love of Christ?
What the Lord needs
Before Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he asked his disciples to go get a donkey and a colt. The disciples questioned Jesus if the owner of the animals would give them freely. Jesus replied, “Just say the Lord needs them.” Sure enough, the disciples didn’t run into any hesitation and were able to secure the animals Jesus wanted.
I love lingering on this little detail in the story of Jesus’ passion, for it so often gets pushed aside for the palm-waving fanfare and promising shouts of “Hosanna!” And every year that I was a pastor in a rural church, I would look at the palms waving from those in the pews and listen to the organist do her best to play “All Glory Laud and Honor” on the out-of-tune organ, and I’d wonder: “Are we really willing to give what the Lord needs?” Sometimes it’s just easier to show up and wave a palm every so often.
Just say, “The Lord needs them.” Can I really give the one who thirsts water?Just say, “The Lord needs them.” Can I give my bread to one standing before me hungry? Just say, “The Lord needs them.” Do I see Jesus in the least of these that are in the world?
The hosannas fade. The palms that were held high with enthusiasm lower. Reality sets in. Grace is not cheap. It’s costly. And by the end of this week, it will cost our Savior his life.
But for now, don’t drop your palm too quickly. Hold tightly to it and ask, “Can I give what the Lord needs today: a trusting heart when it’s hard to trust, hope for new life when the old way is dying, bright joy even in the shadow of the cross, courage to go the distance with Jesus, or the patience to wait for the promise of resurrection that is to come?”
Redeeming and grace-filled God, you know how fickle our hearts are. We are so quick to sing our praises to you when things seem to go our way, but we are reminded in this week we call “holy” just how hard it is to live for you. It is hard to hold on to your promise that all will be well when the world exchanges its “Hosannas!” for “Crucify!” God, we are in the Palm Sunday crowd. You see us. You know us. We cry out to your Son, Jesus, “Save us!” We are trying our best to hold on tightly to our palms. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Take time today to think back on your Lenten journey thus far. What do you hear God asking of you? What does the Lord need in making Matthew 25 a living reality in your community? Can you give without hesitation what is needed?
And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” — Matthew 25:40
Monday | April 11
As the time approached, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.
— Luke 9:51
It’s Monday of Holy Week and rather than introduce a new spiritual discipline to explore, let us reflect on the ones we’ve already tried throughout Lent: fasting, centering prayer, welcome and hospitality, prayer walking and speaking words of kindness. Which one did you find fulfilling? Which one was more challenging? Revisit either the fulfilling or the challenging one and commit to practicing it this week. And consider making it a goal to continue exploring spiritual practices during Eastertide, the 50 days that lead to Pentecost.
Now, let us delve into our Scripture as it is one of my favorites that I have often found myself mulling over as Holy Week begins. Luke tells us that Jesus “set his face” to go to Jerusalem, knowing all too well that there would be nothing but trouble and death awaiting him. I’ve always wanted more information, for I know when I’ve had to face something difficult “down the road,” anxiety, worry and fear would fill me. I would even try to change the direction of the path I was on. Jesus, as the Son of God, was fully human and fully divine, and so I wonder if Jesus, for just one second, wanted to turn back.
Moving forward isn’t always easy. We often want to run back at some point to what is familiar. When presented with our own “God futures” — that is, a future full of unknowns — we wistfully wish for things to go back to what feels safe and comfortable. But think about this: When we don’t take a step forward, we risk missing all the precious opportunities to serve Jesus in the least of these.
Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem because he knew God wanted something new for all humankind. What would have happened if Jesus had turned back? Where would we be today?
The Good Friday cross looms. How steadfast are you in following Jesus? Are your eyes looking forward to new possibilities or do they keep sneaking a peek to a past which is just that: past. Our hopeful futures are found on those scary, dangerous, unknown paths forward.
Loving God, help us this day to be steadfast on our journeys, keeping our eyes on Jesus and trusting our unknown futures to you. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Where are you on the path of life right now? Are you stuck and afraid of taking the next step? Have you been romanticizing about a past that you wish you could return to? What “step” — literally and figuratively — can you take today to enter the future God has for you?
Tuesday | April 12
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. — Mark 11:15–18
Where the hoof prints lead
A few years ago, on a Tuesday of Holy Week, shortly after Sofie, my sweet Bernese Mountain dog died, I went for a lonely walk on the trail she loved. The night seemed quiet without her. It’s funny how you get used to another’s presence with you are on a well-worn path. Since I didn’t have a bumbling dog occupying my attention, I could notice little details on the path — like the hoof prints in the dirt. The impressions were deep and distinct. I took note of how far down the path they went and decided to follow them, being very careful not to step on them as I didn’t want to erase their presence from the path.
As I walked alongside them and thought of the hoof prints the donkey left on the path as it carried Jesus into Jerusalem, I thought about the events that would happen in that holy city. There would be an altercation in the temple. Some tables would be overthrown. A meal would be shared in an upper room. Feet would be washed. A mandate would be given to love one another. Then a betrayal followed by an anguished prayer in a garden would be capped off with an arrest, a trial, a guilty verdict for being the King of Jews, and then a crucifixion.
I thought of the tears shed by the faithful few, emphasis on few, who stayed with Jesus at Golgotha, which brought to mind that painful first day after someone dies. You might know what I am talking about: the first day without your beloved when you don’t even feel your tears because you are just so numb with grief. And then, there would be an empty tomb. Death never has the last word.
I stooped down and gently traced the hoof print in the dirt. The birds ceased their singing. The peepers hushed their peeping. I traced it over and over and thought about this week: a week I walk more slowly and feel more deeply. I felt a heavenly nudge of a dog’s wet nose against my skin. I felt a divine warmth embrace me. We don’t get to the glory of Easter until we trod the lonely path with our Savior.
Many probably didn’t notice the hoof prints left behind so long ago by a humble animal carrying Salvation on its back. But those who did, did they keep following to where they led?
Dear God, the world around us is acting anything but holy. Life goes on as usual with no one really stopping to notice divine hoof prints all around. This is a week to slow our steps, to feel the weight of Friday’s gathering gloom, to stand still and feel the awe of a love so great that you sacrificed your Son for us. We pause. We feel the heaviness of the holy. And we whisper, “Thank you.” In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
What can you do today that will set apart the ordinariness of this Tuesday in Holy Week as holy?
Wednesday | April 13
Among the many memories I have of visiting my grandparents in Switzerland were the meals we ate together in the old farmhouse nestled among the Alps of Appenzell. At each meal, you could count on the same staples being on the table: rustic bread, cheese and soup.
Seven Greens Soup
The Swiss love their soups, and I didn’t realize how deep that love was until I discovered an old Swiss cookbook in an antique store. There were so many soup recipes — and fabled stories. I found “Peace Soup” — a milk and bread concoction — that legend has it prevented a battle between Catholics and Protestants as both armies gathered on the field and, instead of whipping out their swords, took out their spoons and ate together. And there was a soup that is served on Maundy Thursday: “Sieben Grün Suppe” or “Seven Greens Soup.” When I asked my father if he remembered his mother making this soup, he recalled fondly how she would say a prayer for someone in need with each of the seven greens she added to the pot.
Traditionally, the soup was offered to break the Lenten fasting on Thursday of Holy Week, which is called “Gründonnerstag” or “Green Thursday.” There are many different explanations for where the “green” entered Maundy Thursday. Some theorize the green was a nod to liturgical vestments. Before the 13th century, priests would wear green vestments on Maundy Thursday. It was also common to refer to those fasting as “green ones” as they would wear green herbs on Maundy Thursday to point towards the Easter joy that would come. Others, though, say that the “green” is an old word, “greinen,” which means “mourning.”
No matter its origins, I like the idea of a simple soup served during Holy Week. I like the idea of lots of greens, which symbolize the rebirth of spring. But most of all, I like how my Swiss grandmother would use the mundane task of making soup and turn it into a prayerful act — taking seven greens and thinking of seven people to pray for. And so, I offer you this traditional Maundy Thursday soup to make either today or tomorrow, or any time, really. But whenever you make it, take the seven greens and pray for the needs of the least of these that Jesus asks us to see us our siblings.
Abundant God, we thank we for full pantries and for the access to seven greens in which to make a nourishing soup. As this soup feeds us physically, increase our hunger for wanting to reach out to those whose stomachs are empty. Open our eyes to the “others” and grant us wisdom in how to truly love in a way that isn’t just about checking off a “good deed done” box. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Make Seven Greens Soup
(Feel free to use whatever greens you have available.)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 shallots, minced
- 1 medium leek, chopped
- 4 cups water
- 2 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
- 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 cup chives, chopped
- ½ cup fresh dill, chopped
- ½ cup celery leaves, chopped
- ½ cup sorrel, watercress or arugula leaves, chopped
- ½ cup milk
- 1 and ½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Melt butter in a 3-quart soup pot. Add shallots and chopped leek and sauté over medium heat until the onions are soft, 5–7 min. Add the water and chopped potatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the potatoes until tender, about 20 min. Add the greens and herbs, and simmer for 10 min. Puree the soup using an immersion blender (or transfer the soup to a traditional blender and blend until smooth). Add the milk, salt and pepper. Mix well. Serve the soup as is, or topped with sour cream, croutons, or extra herbs.
Maundy Thursday | April 14
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” — Matthew 26:36–39
A garden prayer
It was a powerful night for those gathered at the little rural church I was serving — powerful, not just because it was Maundy Thursday. That itself makes for a moving worship experience. No, this was powerful because the staunch New England traditionalists were open to trying something different.
They gathered in the fellowship hall, better known as Mackenzie Chapel, named after the man whose grim-looking picture, hanging on one wall, had caused many a child to ask, “Pastor Donna, are his eyes following me?” Of course, they were teasing me, claiming that the famous friendly ghost that was legendary for haunting their school occasionally came down the street to visit the church. There was plenty of hallowed ground in the little village, with a Revolutionary War cemetery greeting visitors upon arrival as well as stories of which old house was an underground railroad stop.
But on this holy night, an intimate group gathered in the chapel for a quiet candlelight supper to recall the Passover meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples on the night of his betrayal and arrest. We ate and discussed the importance of that night from the foot washing to the breaking of the bread to the hearing of a new mandate to love one another. As was recorded in Scripture, we then sang a hymn after supper was over and made our way outdoors.
The sweet smell of a spring night was strong. The daffodils and hyacinths from Easters past, planted by the white picket fence of the church’s parking lot, were in full bloom. A bird fluttered by, and, in the silence of the circle, we realized we weren’t just standing on hallowed ground. We were standing on holy ground, and there were angels all around. Just then a little girl, who couldn’t contain her excitement any longer, let out, “Mommy, listen to the peepers!”
It was surreal. We were there to recall the agony of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane yet mingling with his cries was the beauty of God’s creation. Everyone smiled at the girl’s joy, and I continued with reading the Scripture passage. With the chorus of peepers singing an anthem, I read the words I knew those in the circle had whispered, pleaded or cried out many times. I read the words that were all too familiar in my life: “Father, please let this cup of suffering pass. But not according to my will, but your will be done.”
The words wafted into the air. The stars appeared. We closed with our voices joining together in a simple prayer that marked the anguish with hope: “Thy will be done, God. Thy will be done.” That night, the faithful tried something new for worship. And as they got into their cars to go home, there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.
God, the news of growing poverty, hunger and homelessness grows more dire each day, with numbers rising and needs increasing. The endless news can numb us and make us indifferent. Keep us alert, O God. Awaken us to the needs in our own community. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
What “cup” have you prayed fervently to God to be removed? What happened when it wasn’t? Can you recall how God held you and strengthened you through trials and tribulations? Who were the “others” sent to you as angels to be by your side?
Good Friday | April 15
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. — John 19:25–27
You are my family
Out of all of Jesus’ words from the cross, this exchange between his mother and his beloved disciple was always a sidebar to me. There goes Jesus’ human side, expressing concern for who will take care of his mom when he’s gone. I’ve always thought his words on forgiveness and the painful lament, “I thirst,” and finally, “It is finished,” carried more importance than “here is your son.” But as I have been thinking for these past 40 days about seeing Jesus — truly seeing him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger and the imprisoned — I now hear his words differently — and powerfully.
“Here is your son” and “here is your mother” are not compassionate gestures. They are words of direction for us all to see one another as family members, not bound by blood but by grace. We are meant to be the love of God to one another, to be there to console and comfort, to tend and care for, to advocate and support.
In his book, “Seven Last Words,” Timothy Radcliffe shares a story about Brazilian Archbishop Hélder Pessoa Câmara, who had a deep sense that the poorest people in the world where his family. One day, Câmara heard a man was unjustly arrested. He called the police telling them that they had, in fact, arrested his brother. The police were apologetic, horrified that they had arrested someone in the archbishop’s family. When Câmara came to the station, the chief, though, inquired why the man didn’t have the same family name as the archbishop. Câmara simply said that every poor person shared the name of Christ with him.
Jesus is asking us, who are gathered this day at the foot of his cross, to not be hung up on our family names, on our shared interests, on our denominations or on our need to protect “our own.” Jesus is asking, “Who will you share the name of Christ with today?”
God, broaden our definition of family so that we will emerge from our Lenten journey truly seeing all as our siblings in Christ. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
What does the word “family” mean to you? How do Jesus’ words from the cross challenge your definition of family?
Holy Saturday | April 16
For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. — Psalm 30:5
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. — Mark 16:1–2
All of a sudden
The other night, as my husband and I were driving home, I remarked that I always find it amazing how “all of a sudden” the grass turns from brown to green. My husband didn’t seem to be quite as amazed, simply replying, “All it takes is a bit of rain and a few warm nights.”
He’s right. That’s all it takes. Still, I went back to staring at the green fields that we were passing by, silently enjoying my sense of awe as to just how quickly the earth came back to life when it seemed it would never return, especially after a long winter.
The windshield wipers whisked away the spring rain, which was also drizzling down upon the ever-greening grass. Back and forth they swished, and I found myself thinking about life’s other “all of a sudden” moments: the moments when “all of a sudden” our mourning turns to dancing, the moments, when in the painful silences, “all of a sudden” God speaks so beautifully to us.
All of a sudden — God reveals something beyond what we could have ever imagined or asked for. All of a sudden — God wipes away tears of sadness with gives us tears of great thanks and praise. All of sudden — God colors our lives with the greenest of grass where once it seemed nothing would ever grow.
I have always treasured the story of the women going to the Jesus’ tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week to prepare his body for a proper burial because I have made similar walks in my life. I know the dark coldness that grips the world before the sun rises. I know how hard it is to muster enough faith, courage, energy and willpower to take even one step because the pain in your heart, the dashed dreams in your life, are just too heavy to bear. And yet, you must walk forward. So, you walk knowing you must say good-bye to the past. You walk forgetting that “all of a sudden” — or so it will seem — God will act.
I looked out at the ever-greening grass being fed by the warm spring rains and realized God is never done surprising us. But there are times we must wait in the sacred silences when it seems nothing is happening at all. Holy Saturday is that time of sacred waiting, and we must slow down and enter the grief, the emptiness and the stillness. We need that space where our tears can flow freely. And like drops of warm spring rain, those tears will help something beautiful to bloom again.
God, you know how hard it is for us to wait. Our “on demand” society doesn’t help our impatience. We want everything good, and we want it right now. But you, O God, have a different schedule, and your timing is always the best. On this Holy Saturday, help us not to rush ahead to the tomb. Help us to sit with the holy silences. Catch the tears that fall. Chase away the loneliness with your embrace. We are here, fully present in this dazzling darkness. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Holy Saturday has often been a day filled with last-minute preparations for tomorrow’s Easter celebration. Take a look at your schedule and your list of errands. How can you change today’s agenda to have more quiet time to pray and embrace the stillness?
Easter Sunday | April 17
And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” — Mark 16:2–7
Rolling the stones away
The Easter sunrise service was held in the historic cemetery of the church I served in Maryland. We began our worship inside the sanctuary, then quietly walked in the dark through the cemetery. When we arrived at a small clearing, the sun had just begun to reveal the beginnings of what looked to be a glorious day.
I was overcome with such emotion that I couldn’t continue leading worship. I began to cry — freely. That had never happened before, but in that moment of Easter Day breaking upon us, I felt tremendous gratitude. I tried to pull myself together, but I just couldn’t. Those gathered were gracious and gave me the space I needed. When I finally was able to talk, I looked around the cemetery — the place where the world sees “endings” but where I saw only new beginnings — and I said, “Isn’t it beautiful? Look around. We have all been given the chance to LIVE.”
All throughout Lent, I have shared thoughts and reflections on each of Jesus’ “I was” sayings in Matthew 25. I have invited you to live Matthew 25. Yet as I wrote, I kept thinking about all the times I have failed to see Jesus. I remembered the times I didn’t stop to help someone, to feed someone, to reach out and help those in need.
Yet, Easter has dawned upon us. We have been given a chance to embrace a new life where, instead of running by the one who is asking for help, we find ourselves stopping.
We will not live out Matthew 25 perfectly. There will be times when we fail to see the Christ in one another. There will be times where we hold on to what we have rather than give freely, but we are being asked to find our lives by losing them and not to fear that loss.
While writing this devotional, I came across a song by the Irish contemporary Christian musician, Robin Mark. I was familiar with some of his songs, but this one, “Central Station,” I had never heard before. It was a gift that spoke to me, its words capturing the spirit of what living Matthew 25 looks like. The song is about a friend seeing an old acquaintance at the train station who had clearly fallen onto bad times. The friend, though, didn’t stop to reach out to this person who clearly needed someone to talk to. The song alludes that Jesus, though, would have stopped and talked to them.
I thought about all those times I didn’t stop for someone. That I, too, like the song says, “was a little scared … I did not do anything, I just stood and stared.” We will have those days in which we do nothing but stare, but by the grace of God, as the song says, we will be given a new day to do better. Easter is that new day. We need to stop wondering how the stones in this life will be removed and start trusting that God can use our hands to remove such barriers.
It is Easter. The tomb is empty. Do you see Jesus? He is out in the world, in many different guises. Will you have the grace to serve him?
God grant that someday we’ll meet again and give me the grace to talk to you — a soft word on the love that turns a life around and a kind hand that will lift you to higher ground. God grant that someday we’ll meet again. Amen. (This prayer is the last line to Robin Mark’s song, “Central Station.” You can listen to the entire song at pcusa.info/CentralStation.)
What Easter moments are you feeling great gratitude for? What are the endings you need to leave behind in the cemetery? How will you challenge yourself each day to live