Holy Week Devotionals

Each day of Holy Week we will post a devotional selection to assist you in your worship and refection and preparation for Easter. You can also download the entire booklet.

  • Palm Sunday Devotional

    Palm Sunday

    Written by Mary C. Earle

    Then Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.
    —Mark 11:11

     

    Today in Jerusalem, and all around the world, many Christians observe Palm Sunday, the day that commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into that holy city. Riding on a donkey, he was greeted by ecstatic crowds who waved palm branches in celebration. (Hence the name for this Sunday.) In a matter of days, shouts of victory (“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”) gave way to betrayals. With dizzying rapidity, Jesus went from being celebrated to being crucified.

     

    Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week, a week in which Christian tradition marks the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. It is a week in which we retell and remember a biblical account fraught with violence and tension, political intrigue and incredible cruelty.

     

    Holy Week invites us to know the narrative of these final days experientially. In many churches, Palm Sunday is enacted in some way—the pastor or priest rides on a donkey; the Palm Sunday gospel is read in parts, with the congregation taking the part of the malevolent crowd, shouting at the end, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

     

    It is a week marked by the darkest shadows, the insanity of political machination, the tenderness of a communal meal and the way of the cross. It is also a week filled with hope, a week that culminates in the mystery of an empty tomb. It is a week in which we know anew that God always, mysteriously brings forth life out of death.

     

    By Easter morning, if you have walked through the events portrayed by Holy Week, you will have intimations of hope—real hope. This hope springs from the valley of the shadow of death, from the vast gap where we cannot bring forth anything new of our own power and volition. The hope is known in the frontier of suffering and death, where we least expect it.

     

    Enter the week, enter the story. And listen with your deepest self as the events of the week unfold.

     

    During this Holy Week, may I walk with Christ as he has walked with me. Amen.


  • holy monday DEVOTIONAL

    Holy Monday
    Written by Mary C. Earle

    There they gave a dinner for him. —John 12:2

    The gospel lesson appointed for Holy Monday takes us to the household
    of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. These three siblings regularly have offered
    hospitality to Jesus. Mary and Martha have demonstrated great faith, and
    Lazarus has been raised from the dead. Their lives have been knit together
    in powerful ways, and, particularly in the Gospel of John, we have
    glimpses of moments of miracle and mystery.
    As is the case with many biblical accounts, there is much that is revealed
    in one verse. “There they gave a dinner for him.” In addition to being
    witnesses of Jesus’ authoritative teaching and life-giving presence, these
    three are his familiars. They treat him like family. He is at home in their
    home. Sometimes I have the sense that they are closer to him than the
    disciples, who are always busy bumping heads with one another, trying to
    see who is going to win “Best Disciple” of the week.
    The disciples are on the road with Jesus, trying to learn, missing the point
    half the time, not wanting to hear Jesus tell them the truth of his life. By
    contrast, Mary, Martha and Lazarus offer Jesus their home. In the quiet
    domestic space of these three siblings, perhaps Jesus could be at ease.
    Perhaps he could put aside the messiah-projections and savor
    conversation, enjoy a meal, sleep in familiar surroundings.
    According the Gospel of John, it is in this house that Mary of Bethany
    anoints Jesus. She dares to take the pound of costly perfume and pour it
    on Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. She dares to say with her actions,
    “I know what you are facing into; I know that this entry into Jerusalem
    will lead to your death. And I know you have to do this.”
    I imagine that such honesty-in-action would have been a great gift to Jesus.
    Someone— friend—knows that darkness is up ahead. This family of
    siblings is willing to receive the truth, and in so doing they give Jesus a
    great gift.
    Each of us has times in our lives when we need a friend who will not
    sugar-coat the reality we have to face. Each of us has a need for a Martha
    or a Mary or a Lazarus—for a friend who will let us be, who will let us
    say, “I am scared to my bones.” Or “I am going to suffer.” Or “I am going
    to die.”

    When we encounter such friends, we know something of the presence of
    God in our midst, God in Christ as friend who allows us to tell the truth in
    love, to be the truth in love, by God’s grace, for one another.
    This Holy Week, O God, may I remember that Jesus calls us his friends,

    and may I seek to love as he loves. Amen.

  • Holy Tuesday DEVOTIONAL

    Holy Tuesday

    Written by Mary C. Earle


    I have come as light into the world.

    —John 12:46


    Jesus says, “I have come as light into the world.” It is a world of his

    making, St. John tells us in the Prologue to this gospel: “He was in the

    world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not

    know him.” (John 1:10) It is a world that is confused and disoriented, a

    world in which it is hard to perceive what is good and true and lovely. And

    it is a world that belongs to the One who brought it into being.

    Oddly enough, Holy Week, for all of its moments of violence and ruthless

    politics, is also a time for remembering that Jesus comes as Light into this

    world. He comes into those moments in our lives when things are suddenly

    fraught with forces beyond our control, when we sense we may lose our

    grip on reality, when everything seems alien to our yearning for a world

    in which respect and kindness predominate. “The light shines in the

    darkness and the darkness did not overcome it,” writes St. John (John 1:5)

    Jesus is tried on trumped up charges, found guilty by a corrupt political

    system, and put to death because he challenges the powers that be. Many

    are complicit in his death, and few stand with him at the end as he dies.

    Yet in this wrenching sequence of events, there is light. There is the

    promise, through Jesus, of God’s enduring and inescapable presence in

    every valley of the shadow of death—those of our own making and those

    that come despite our best efforts to hold them at bay.

    May the Light of the World be known to me and through me this day, in

    my life, in my household, in my community, in my actions. Amen.


  • holy wednesday DEVOTIONAL

    Holy Wednesday

    Mary C. Earle


    “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
    —John 13:34

    In December of 2005, my older son Bryan died at age 31 of brain cancer. In his time of living with the cancer, I had a glimpse of the kind of love that Jesus is speaking of on this Holy Wednesday.


    Bryan’s friends stayed with him throughout the sixteen months of surgery and treatment. They continued to be with him as a friend, not as a “case” or as “the cancer patient.” He was cared for by a steadfast group of 30-something men and women who refused to run, refused to hide. They helped him by being present through surgery and recovery, treatment and
    recurrence. They let Bryan tell the truth, and they walked with Bryan and his family in the four weeks of hospice care leading up to Bryan’s death.


    What does love look like? It has many faces, many disguises. What does the love look like that Jesus embodies, this love of God that will not let us go? It looks like being with one another in sorrow and in joy, in wild rides of hope and wrenching moments of diagnostic disclosure.


    One writer of the early church observed that the heart of Christian revelation is in the prepositions: “by,” “through,” and (perhaps most importantly) “with.” Being with one another, through the many twists and turns that life brings to us, allows us to embody God’s own life in the world. When we are with one another in both darkness and light, sorrow
    and joy, we are living the new commandment.


    May You who call us friends grant us the grace and the courage to befriend one another, loving each other until the end. Amen.

  • MAUNDY THURSDAY

    Maundy Thursday

    Written by Mary C. Earle


    Then Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
    —John 13:5


    The Thursday of Holy Week is known as “Maundy Thursday,” referring to the Latin word for commandment, mandatum. As we saw yesterday, in these last days of his life, Jesus both states and enacts his new commandment—that we love one another as he has loved us. To show the disciples what he means, he washes their feet. These feet would have been dusty, cracked, lined. A servant would normally have taken a basin and washed the feet of guests arriving for a meal.


    Jesus, whom the disciples know as teacher and friend, healer and leader, abandons all of those roles and kneels before each disciple, washing feet. It is scandalous. Peter, for one, cannot bear it. He says to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet.” (John 13:9) Jesus leads him to see that this washing of one another is a way revealing divine tenderness in common, human need. All of us need to have our feet washed. All of us need to wash another.


    On this night in which he is betrayed by Judas, Jesus also has a last meal with his disciples. He shares bread and wine with them, saying “Do this in remembrance of me.” A washing and a meal—both shared in common, both offered by Jesus as signs of the love that will not let us go, of the divine life embodied in him.


    There is a kind of familial, maternal care in these last actions—washing, feeding, teaching. Jesus knows that his time is short, and so he desires to give the disciples the essence of his life and his work: Love one another. Wash one another’s feet. Feed one another. In those actions you will discover the very life of God, dwelling there with you, waiting to be discovered and celebrated. You will discover, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said, Jesus the Christ in “his many different disguises.”


    Holy Friend and Savior, may we know you in the washing, and in the breaking of the bread. Amen.


  • GOOD FRIDAY

    Good Friday

    Written by Mary C. Earle


    Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
    —John:19:30


    A day of great solemnity, Good Friday calls us to do what the disciples could not. Good Friday calls us to join Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus and John at the foot of the cross. Good Friday invites us to enter that most excruciating moment of standing in our own impotence, unable to stop the dying. This day calls us to the steadiness of being present with Jesus and with one another in those harrowing moments of suffering and death.


    It is always a “both/and”—we are called this day to wait for the moment when Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit. And we are called every day to be present in that way to one another. Some will discover a gift for nursing or AIDS ministry or hospice work. Others will have the innate ability to be with others whose lives are torn to ragged shreds by violence or war or natural disaster. Still others will discover that deep-rooted compassion that comes with living through grief and tragedy, seeing anew the suffering that surrounds us at every minute, though hidden by the glitz of our culture.


    A mystery is revealed to us this day—the mystery of divine love that permeates every moment of human life and experience. This day we are brought to the foot of the cross to see, as early church writers reported, God’s cheerfulness in this self-offering. The face of divine Love shines through Jesus’ dying flesh, and God’s own life, in Jesus, is united to ours.


    “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” as the Gospel of John declares. (John 1:14) In a way far beyond our human capacity to know or to understand, God is in Christ, knowing our sufferings from the inside out, hallowing the blood, the sweat and the tears, converting the cross from an instrument of death to a tree of life.


    God grant me the grace to stand at the foot of the cross, to adore You, O Christ, and to bless You, because by your cross you have redeemed the world. Amen.


  • HOLY SATURDAY

    Holy Saturday

    Written by Mary C. Earle


    The tomb was nearby; they laid Jesus there.
    —John 20:42


    Holy Saturday is sometimes called the Great Sabbath, referring to Jesus being asleep in death, resting before being raised. It is the day in which we remember Jesus laid in the tomb, before the women discover that the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of that rocky resting place. It is a mysterious day on which members of the early church wondered how this “Holy Undying One” was abiding—a sacred pause between death and resurrection.


    A homily from the second century tells us that this is also the moment when Jesus “descended into hell,” as the Apostles’ Creed states. The tradition remembered Jesus Christ, the Holy Undying One, going in search of all who had died before. The homily tells us that this Lord went in search of Adam and Eve, our own first parents. Finding them, he lifted them up and proclaimed, “I did not create you to be a captive in hell!” He bid them to waken from the sleep of death, to rise and follow him into fullness of life.


    Whether you understand this figuratively or concretely, the point of the homily is that in this Holy Undying One, the Risen Lord, God’s desire to liberate us from all of our hells is revealed. Your hell may be personal, perhaps enslavement to addiction of some type. Or your hell could be communal, a family trapped in cycles of violence and abuse. Or your hell could be political if you are living in a country in which power and corruption go hand in hand.


    Holy Saturday proclaims to us that the life, mercy, and light of God suffuses every single hell we can think of. We were not created to be captives in hell. When that divine truth sinks into our brains, our bodies, our very bones, we begin to know the inner liberation that leads us to speak truth in love, to take risks, and to desire freedom for all who are captive. Holy Undying One, have mercy upon us.


    Holy Undying One, I know that You did not create me to be a captive; may your liberating grace and mercy guide me to seek the freedom to love in your Name, and to stand with those who are not yet free. Amen.    


  • EASTER SUNDAY

    Easter Sunday

    Written by Mary C. Earle


    When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.
    —Mark 16:4


    Mark’s account of the resurrection begins with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome trekking to the tomb in order to anoint the body of their dead friend. They are following what is prescribed by Jewish religious law.


    And I do not doubt that their mood was somber, subdued, and deeply sad. As they walk they pragmatically wonder how they will get to the body. “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (Mark 16:3) It is a reasonable, practical question. How are they to accomplish the ritual anointing of the body if the stone is still in place? There are three of them, but it is a large, very heavy stone.


    And then we have the first real hint that something extraordinary is going on. The stone has already been moved. Their efforts are not needed. They do not have to push and shove, heave and sweat. Instead, the open mouth of the tomb confronts them—a disconcerting moment for sure.


    It leads us to wonder—what in our own lives is beyond our capability to move or to roll away? What is beyond our strength, despite our desire and hope? The narrative suggests that sometimes resurrection begins with a stunning, unexpected change in circumstance. A change that we did not anticipate and certainly did not create.


    When the women enter the tomb, they find no corpse. Instead there is a young man, dressed in a white robe. They are understandably fearful. The young man tells them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” After adding instructions for the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee, the young man tells them, “You will see him, just as he told you.”


    Mark’s gospel tells us that the women were seized with terror and were amazed and said nothing to anyone. (Mark. 16:8) Yet obviously they said something to someone, for we have this account.


    What does resurrection look like? It is possible that we haven’t the slightest idea, despite 2,000 years of reflecting on these verses. Resurrection is life, the very Life of God, springing from death. Resurrection is beyond our imagining, beyond our theories.


    The life of the infinite God, the Holy Undying One, makes an unpredictable quantum leap, and the stone in our life is rolled away. It may be that we know it when we are amazed, when we cannot bring our experience to speech, when we find the tomb is empty when we least expected it.


    Risen Christ, give me the courage to go to my own empty tombs, hoping for the stone to be rolled away. And grant me the grace to await your resurrecting life in me and in the world. Amen.