Staying with Jesus: Some reflections on the arc of Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior was betrayed, denied, and abandoned by his friends: Give us grace to accompany him on his journey to the cross and to share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week)

Last night, as I concluded the last of the five Eucharists I celebrated since Palm Sunday, I reflected on how important these weekdays are as I prepare for the Great Triduum. Palm Sunday is a rich and complicated day but it ends with us looking ahead to Good Friday and the cross.

The Eucharistic lectionary for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week retrace our steps. Following the chronology of John’s gospel, on Monday, we read the story of the Anointing at Bethany (John 12:1-11). On Tuesday, we hear the story of the Greeks who came in search of Jesus at the Passover festival (John 12:20-36). It’s almost the identical reading that we heard on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, so in a sense our retracing of steps is taking us back further. Then, yesterday, the gospel is the story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, or perhaps more accurately, Jesus’ identification of Judas as the one who would betray him.

The collect for Wednesday in Holy Week asks God to give us grace to accompany Jesus on his journey to the cross and to share in his resurrection. I found that petition particularly appropriate as I struggled to balance my own experience of Holy Week between my personal spiritual needs and devotional practice with the responsibilities of preparing for and presiding at liturgies for all those others who are walking part or all of this journey with me. We want to condemn Judas, to accept the gospels’ judgment that “Satan entered into him.” Of course that’s appropriate but I also think it’s important to see Judas on the continuum of the disciples’ actions in Holy Week, responses that included Peter’s denial; abandonment, and falling asleep in Gethsemane. In so many ways, the disciples’ actions in Holy Week mirror our own responses to Jesus.

Those daily Eucharists are essential for my Holy Week devotion. I’ve been participating or presiding at them ever since I began my priestly formation and the opportunity to engage scripture each day, to encounter Christ in the sacrament, to be touched by the faith and devotion of those who join with me on these days help to prepare me spiritually and emotionally for the greater observances of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Yesterday, as I pondered Judas’ story, I was taken with the fact that when Jesus told his friends that one of them would betray him, none of them guessed it was Judas; that even when he left to accomplish his betrayal, they interpreted his departure innocently.

The cross challenges us, judges us (to use imagery from John’s gospel) in so many ways. It reveals our lack of faith, our inconstancy, our confusion, and our sin. But at the same time, to use the words of another collect, we see Jesus who “stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace.”

We bring all of our doubt, inconstancy, confusion, and sin to the cross and are embraced by Jesus. I pray that these days may be an opportunity to encounter and experience the saving embrace of Christ’s love.

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