Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Spirit of Holy Week

During Holy Week, we reflect on the events surrounding the crucifixion and face ourselves honestly in the presence of the Almighty. We compare ourselves in our frailty to Jesus in his perfection, like the proverbial plumbline set in the midst of Israel (Amos 7:8).  For the last six weeks of the Lenten season, we have been withdrawing from some of our normal activities to give more time and energy to focus on self-examination and spiritual renewal. Now is the time for us to start implementing the changes we have been thinking about, deciding what to add back in, what changes to make permanent, and what improvements we want to continue.

Holy Week invites us to internalize the love Jesus demonstrated as we prepare to express greater depths of love in all our relationships and encounters. Whatever spiritual exercises and devotional practices we may have intensified during Lent now begin to abate as we return to our normal activities and address the issues and concerns of the coming days and weeks.


Manuscript of the sermon preached on April 2, 2023, at Briensburg UMC   [Audio Podcast] 

Bible Readings for Palm & Passion Sunday:

Liturgy of the Palms: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Matthew 21:1-11

Liturgy of the Passion: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66 Matthew (26:14-27:1-30) 27:31-52 (53-66)

[Video of readings by Briensburg UMC lectors


Especially on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, we unite our spirits with Christians from every faith tradition on Earth and in Heaven in remembrance of Jesus. We gather around all kinds of tables and crosses in all kinds of settings and places. We come together from all different theologies and ideologies, belief systems, and cultures to remember what Jesus has done and why he did it. 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  (John 3:16-17 KJV).

Holy Week Events

Jesus joined friends and followers on Saturday before Palm Sunday in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and the recently resurrected Lazarus. The Triumphal Entry took place on Sunday as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. People carpeted the road with articles of clothing and waved victor’s palm branches in celebration of his arrival. Monday, he cleansed the Temple. Tuesday, he reiterated the Great Commandment as the basis for interpreting everything about our faith as he was teaching in the Temple:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40 KJV)

Jesus again taught in the Temple on Wednesday and was confronted with a trick question about whether our foremost allegiance should be to God or to a political leader.  He held up a coin and famously asked whose picture was on the coin.  ”Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's,” he declared (Mark 12:17 KJV). This tension between spiritual and civil authority continues to this day in the arenas of free societies, while supporters of authoritarian societies continue to elevate their leaders inordinately.  

Thursday, Jesus gave himself up for us. The Twelve joined Jesus for the Passover Seder Supper. After the supper, Jesus consecrated the bread and wine as his body and blood, given for us and for all so that sins could be forgiven. He knelt on the floor to wash his disciples’ feet as a sign of servant leadership. The group sang and talked as they made their way to Gethsemane. Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit as Comforter, Guide, and Teacher. He said he was going to prepare a place for us in the “many mansions” as the King James Version puts it, or “many dwelling places” as worded in the New Revised Standard Version (John 14:2). Along the way, he gave this defining instruction that echoes through ages and strikes fresh chords in our hearts each time we hear it, each time we repeat it, each time we think about how to manifest it more effectively:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all [people] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35 KJV).

Betrayed by one of his best friends, Jesus was arrested in the Garden after he prayed, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42 KJV).  He endured mock trials and severe beatings throughout the night. On Friday he was led to Calvary where he was crucified. His body was placed in a sealed tomb.

Spoiler alert: on Sunday he was resurrected!

Through the Epistle reading for Palm Sunday

The Bible makes this all-Inclusive promise – never a threat -- only a promise:

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.     (Philippians 2:10-11 KJV)

What a wonderful, encouraging word of assurance Paul wrote in the Bible, that everyone will eventually come into a personal saving relationship with God in Christ!  Ironically, so many depictions of this promise are treated as an awful threat, that everyone will be forced to comply with the arbitrary narcissistic demands of a cosmic tyrant and worship in tears of sorrow against their will. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Everything about Holy Week, everything about the Cross, everything about the life and teachings of Christ, and everything about God's grace, mercy, and love tells us otherwise.  Everyone is being loved into the fellowship of believers. The saving relationship is a free gift, given before anyone ever came to faith in Christ. Everyone has been, is now, and will continue to be accepting this free gift in their own time and way, as they and we come to greater realizations of God’s all-embracing, unconditional, universal, infinite love for humanity.

We each have the free will to accept or reject God’s love. We should respect and honor the spirit of that free choice, trusting that everyone will gradually stop resisting God’s love and fully embrace God’s love according to the freedom and grace they experience. Nobody will “worship God in Spirit and truth” as Jesus described to the woman at the well because they are forced to under threat of eternal punishment. Everyone will “worship in spirit and truth” because they want to, by their own free will and accord. Together we are loving each other into the Reign of Christ as we cultivate the commandment Jesus gave on the night he offered himself up for us, that we love one another as Christ has loved us. By this, all people will know who has become a disciple and who is yet to be converted to the perfect law of love – converted not by fear but by the love of Christ working within and among us.

Holy Week begins with the Triumphal Entry and ends with the Crucifixion. This ending turns out to be the new and glorious beginning of the transformation of all Creation – a “new heaven and a new earth” so to speak. We are each personally included in that metamorphosis. As we implement the teachings and example of Jesus in our lives and relationships, we and the world around us experience what Charles Wesley described in his hymn,

Changed from glory into glory,
till in heav’n we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love and praise.

This is the spirit of Holy Week.  In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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