Vines and Branches
- Acts of the Apostles
- Psalm 22:24-30
- 1 John 4:7-21
- John 15:1-8
What is to be done with branches that bear no fruit?
Jesus’ seventh, final “I am” statement is featured in today’s Gospel. The desired relationship between Jesus and his followers is more easily illustrated that explained.
Not only did the disciples understand the image of a vine in its natural setting, they also understood the rich significance it carried from its use in Old Testament writing. The figure of a vine had often been used by the prophets to symbolize Israel and to demonstrate the relationship between Israel and God (Psalm 80:8-16 and Jeremiah 2:21). Isaiah’s song of God’s vineyard is perhaps the best known and demonstrates God’s sorrow over the failure of the vineyard to produce good grapes (Isaiah 5:1-7). What Israel, as God’s servant, was called to be (Isaiah 49:6), Jesus now is. Continue reading
Jesus is Risen!
- Isaiah 25:6-9
- Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
- Mark 16:1-8
Today is the most important day of the Christian calendar. It is the Feast of the Resurrection – a point upon which all our faith is grounded. Three women approach the tomb early in the morning as Jesus’ “follow me” has brought them to a journey’s end where they anticipate sadness and mourning as they perform the last service of honor to the dead.
Mary Gordon states in Incarnation: Contemporary Writers on the New Testament (Viking Press, 1990): But Mark, the harshest, the sparest of the Gospel writers, give us an unhopeful Easter. Many scholars believe that the manuscript actually ended with a failure of nerve. The women, seeing the angel at the empty tomb, are terrified. The angel tells them to bring the message of Christ’s resurrection to the disciples, but they don’t. It is believed that the original manuscript ended with this verse: “Then they went out and ran away from the tomb, beside themselves with terror. They said nothing to anybody but they were afraid.” Continue reading
It is finished.
- Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
- Psalm 22:1-21
- Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
- John 18:1 – 19:40
Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of our Lord. It is known as “Good” because of the new life brought about by Christ’s victory of the cross. The principle theme of Holy Week is Jesus’ passion: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Jesus gives his life to save us from sin and death.
The New Testament draws heavily on the sacrificial of the temple in describing the unique role of Jesus in bringing salvation through the cross. Paschal lambs were sacrificed at Passover, and Jesus’ death on the cross was seen in the light of that temple practice. He is the true paschal Lamb offered, finally, for the sins of the whole world. Without that background of temple practice, some of the language about Jesus’ death and its significance will not be clear. It may be helpful, therefore, to take time this week to study the temple in the days of Jesus. Continue reading
Many customs have marked the Thursday of Holy Week over the centuries. Originally no Holy Communion was celebrated during the week before Easter, but by the end of the fourth century some areas were holding a celebration on Thursday and the custom spread under the name Cena Domini (the Supper of the Lord). It recalls Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. During the middle ages Christians rang bells throughout the Thursday service, then silenced all bells till Easter. The Reconciliation of Penitents was another rite associated with Maundy Thursday.
The word Maundy, which comes from the Latin mandatum (commandment), refers to Jesus’ commandment to “love one another . . . as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Foot washing, according to Jesus’ example (John 13:2-15), came to symbolize this love and service. Continue reading
The Church gives to its people the period of Holy Week as a solemn time to reflect on the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ and to prepare for the celebration of his resurrection from the dead.
The origins of Holy Week are found in the practices of Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, who died in 386; fortunately these practices were witnessed and recorded by a pilgrim nun named Egeria. As pilgrims poured into the holy city for their baptism on Easter Sunday morning, Cyril would lead them out to sites that were significant to the events leading up to Golgotha.
(Note: Excerpts from Egeria’s writings can be found in Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, ed. J. Robert Wright.)
Many of the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week reflect the liturgical customs of the Church in Jerusalem in the fourth and fifth centuries. These liturgies were intended to help the people of the city spend a more intense time of walking with the Lord. The various sites associated with the last week of our Lord’s life became focal points for the devotions of the faithful. Continue reading
Sunday of the Passion
- Mark 11:1-11
- Isaiah 50:4-9a
- Psalm 31:9-16
- Philippians 2:5-11
- Mark 14:1-15:47
I write on this day given to remembering the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem. This year the day seems empty and abstract. The events are too overpowering. The knowledge that Christ’s entry led directly to his Crucifixion looms too (grimly) ahead. This seems the strangest holiday of the year, a celebration of misunderstanding. In this world, the (dominion) has not yet come, though our hearts long for it and our lives incline toward it.
These words by John Leax from his essay, “Lent,” (Stories for the Christian Year: The Chrysostom Society, Macmillan, 1992) sum up Palm Sunday in most our churches today. We will begin the liturgy with The Liturgy of the Palms (BCP 270), often outdoors, in which we welcome Christ to Jerusalem and in our midst, celebrating him as King with all “glory, laud and honor.” We rapidly (depending on the weather) process into the sanctuary, waving our palm branches with joy. Continue reading
Written on our hearts
- Jeremiah 31:31-34
- Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16
- Hebrews 5:5-10
- John 12:20-33
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ encounter with some Gentiles (Greeks) seem to signal to him that his mission is completed; only the cross remains. Through his brief parable about the grain of wheat needing to die before it produced fruit (12:24), Jesus tells his disciples that his time had indeed come, his time to die.
Jesus’ words become progressively more specific about the centrality of relationship with him. We are to follow and serve him, no matter the price. The people, who have concluded that, in some sense at least, Jesus is the Messiah, expect such a figure to “remain forever” as the prophets foretold (Isaiah 9:7). Continue reading