Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16 Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24 1 Peter 4:1-8 Matthew 27:57-66 or John 19:38-42
Holy Saturday can sometimes get lost in both our theological imaginations as well as in our Easter preparations. The Saturday before Easter is understandably filled with pressing our best suits, laying out pastel dresses, and maybe even stuffing plastic eggs while mapping out the most balanced course for scattering them in the yard.
Losing Holy Saturday in the Easter hustle and bustle, however, is a great loss. We honor this day in our liturgical calendar for a reason: it’s holy. It’s sacred. For the friends and followers of Jesus, this particular Saturday was full of shock and utter disbelief. They woke up on this Saturday morning having just witnessed their hope, their savior, their leader and friend, brutalized and executed. Perhaps they hoped it was just a nightmare but awoke crushed with the memory.
Year after year, as we liturgically walk alongside Jesus and his followers, we’re invited to remember the breadth of emotions they went through two thousand years ago. And on this particular Saturday, we are invited to lament with them.
Lament is a somewhat lost art in our modern experience. Lament is a practice of grief, mourning, and sorrow. The book of Lamentations shows us that this kind of pain and despair is an integral part of being human. Its presence in our scripture shows us it is also an integral part of being a child of God: it’s holy. It’s sacred.
But lament is not simply the experience of a raw emotion. It is, in fact, a practice. It is an act of faithful sorrow, which makes room for all the pain and suffering in this life, but never loses sight of the hope on the other side.
The author of Lamentations names his sorrow and cries out, and in the same breath remembers his hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. On Holy Saturday, embrace the fullness of lament in whatever corner of your heart may need it today, but always keep your eyes on the Eastern horizon, awaiting the dawn of Easter.
Psalm 22 Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Hebrews 10:16-25 John 18:1-19
Good Friday – The most somber day of the year. Many thoughts. Many emotions. Peter – Jesus labeled him The Rock, on which He will build his Church; Peter, who was with Jesus for his 3-year ministry on this Earth; Peter, one of the three disciples at the Transfiguration; Peter denied Jesus – 3 times. How many times have I denied Jesus? How many times have I sinned; when I didn’t do what I should have done? Too many times. Sometimes during my morning run, I pray “Dear Jesus, Please, Please forgive me for my poor decisions, actions and yes, sins. I don’t deserve your love; I don’t deserve your grace – but you give it to me anyway. I don’t know what to say – Thank You seems so inadequate.” Because of me, you accepted your Father’s will and died an excruciating death on the Cross. I used to cringe when the crowd shouts “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” Surely, I would not be in the crowd shouting that! But because I am a sinner, my actions speak those awful words. That reality is tough to acknowledge.
“Whom are you seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.’ What caused this reaction of terror? Could it have been the Majesty of the person Jesus and/or, His answer, which to Jewish ears conveyed the unutterable name, “Jehovah” (I AM). Did they fall to the ground because they knew they were before the presence of God? To Judas the term must have been familiar and may have brought back a past which may well have made him tremble at the present. They have come to take Jesus by force, but conscience paralyzes all their intentions, and they lay helpless before Him.
I lay helpless before you, Lord. Jesus, thank you, thank you, thank you for being My*Lord & Savior.
If you knew you were about to die, what last, urgent piece of advice, cherished hope or dream would you offer the people you love? In our Gospel reading, Jesus answers this difficult question. The crucifixion clock is ticking. Judas has left the band, and Jesus knows that his disciples are about to face the greatest devastation of their lives. So, he gets right to the point. No parables, no pithy sayings. Just one simple, straightforward commandment, summarizing his deepest desire for his followers: “Love one another.” What is staggering is this commandment is that, though “simple enough for a toddler to memorize…most mature believers are…embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice” (D. A. Carson). When I look at my own life, it is not hard to name why I perpetually fail to obey it.
Love takes trust, time, effort, discipline, and transformation, and I am suspicious and busy. Love is risky business, it cost Jesus his life and I am not ready. And yet Jesus did not suggest but rather commanded; meaning, it is not a matter of personal preference; it is a matter of obedience to the Lord.
But what does it mean for Jesus to command us to love? Does love obey decrees? Most of us would say no. Love is spontaneous. We fall in love. We know that authentic love cannot be manipulated, simulated, or rushed without suffering distortion. So, the best we can do is to behave as if we love each other by being nice, sharing our goods and using kind words. But these actions — often done with gritted teeth and rolling eyes — are not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus does not say, “Act as if you love.” He does not give his disciples (or us) the easy “out” of doing nice things with clenched hearts. He says, “Love as I have loved you.” As in for real, in the whole package of authentic feeling, deep engagement, generous action. Imagine what would happen to us, to the Church, to the world, if we obeyed and cultivated this “impossible” commandment? I ask these questions because I don’t know how to answer them, even for myself. Do I love as Jesus loved, feel a depth of compassion that is gut-punching, experience a hunger for justice so fierce and so urgent that I rearrange my life to pursue it, empathize until my heart breaks? Do I want to?
Most of the time — I don’t. Those things are hard and costly. And yet this was Jesus’ dying wish. Why? “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” Love is the litmus test of our Christian witness. Our love for each other is how the world will know who we are and whose we are. Our love for each other is how the world will see, taste, touch, hear, and find Jesus. It is through our love that we will embody and make Jesus relatable, possible, plausible, to the world. Such is the power we wield in our decisions to love or not love. Such is the responsibility we shoulder, whether we want to or not. Impossible as this commandment may be, Jesus does not leave us bereft and directionless in the wilderness. He gives us a clear road map: “Love as I have loved you.” “Live as you have seen me live,” he says. Weep with those who weep. Laugh with those who laugh. Touch the untouchables. Feed the hungry. Welcome the child. Release the captive. Forgive the sinner. Confront the oppressor and the oppressed. Wash each other’s feet. Hold each other close. Tell each other the truth. Guide each other home. In other words, Jesus’ commandment to us is not something that we should wear ourselves out, trying to conjure from our own depleted resources. Rather, it is someone we are invited to abide in — Jesus — where all love originates. This is God’s love and there are no parched places God will not drench if we earnestly ask. So, let us ask God to help us love one another as he has loves us.
Adam Elsheimer, The Denial of Peter, from 1600 until 1605
Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 70 Hebrews 12:1-3 John 13:21-32
As we approach Good Friday every year, my mood becomes somber. It is hard, in the middle of Holy Week, to feel the excitement of the Resurrection when the Cross looms between us and Easter morning. In the Gospel reading for today, it is clear that Jesus feels it, too. In the previous Gospel reading (John 12:20-36), Jesus speaks of his “troubled soul” as he alludes to his impending death. Time is running out to persuade the crowd of his message to surrender their lives to God in order to save them. Now, it is the last supper, and once again, Jesus is troubled in spirit. For all his teaching, one of his own disciples is going to betray him, and the uncertainty of the others betrays their realization that it could be any one of them. On that night, it would be Judas, the next day, it would be Peter. What is that song? “You Only Hurt the One You Love?” Fr. Mike Marsh observes that we can only betray those “who have given themselves over to us.”∗ And in betraying Jesus, we are betraying ourselves. We do exactly what the lessons of this Lent have been warning us about. We betray our lives to death, love of others to self-interest, and hope to despair. Again and again throughout these forty days we’ve read that surrendering to God is the source of true happiness and eternal life. Like Peter, we sometimes fail, but then, like the thief we can surrender and pray, O Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.
Isaiah 49:1-7 Psalm 71:1-14 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 John 12:20-36
In the days before He is betrayed, Jesus spends his time in a last impassioned effort to explain what is about to happen and why. We often think of the second coming described in Revelations as the hour of final judgment, but as recounted by John 12:20- 36, Jesus tells the crowd, (which includes Greeks as well as Jews) that “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (v. 30-33).” It is a final urgent effort to explain how to get the most out of life now. “Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you (v. 35).”
A 2007 study about what makes people happy found that we become addicted to our own pleasures, and we have to do more and more to be satisfied. According to the study, the best way to increase happiness is to do acts of selfless kindness, to pour oneself out to those who are in need. Research showed that an unselfish life of service gave a sense of meaning, of being useful and valuable, and of having significance. This is exactly what Jesus has been trying to get his followers to understand. The Greeks have come to see Jesus. He tells them if they want to know what He is about, they have to do more than see; they have to follow his example. He is telling them when they surrender their own life, they will find what it means to genuinely live. Instead of seeking happiness by pursuing our own desires, he calls us to set aside what we think we want and say, God, what do you want from me?.
The readings for today pointedly summarize the teachings of Jesus. The message is hard to ignore without willful effort: become a servant, put others first, be humble, and surrender to God’s will. This is how we live truly every day. Judgment day is not some day; it is now. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (v. 23).” Jesus tells the crowd, anyone who loves this life will lose it, and anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Because Jesus died and arose in glory, by following the path of service, humility, and faith, we, too, are glorified today and forever more.