Why Holy Week Matters in Our Daily WorkBlog / Produced by The High Calling
Meeting Jesus at the Table
What does Holy Week have to do with our wired lives? Where can our 24/7 lives intersect with the slow, significant events of Christ’s journey to the cross?
For centuries, Holy Week was the focal point of the Christian calendar. Six weeks of somber Lenten reflection culminated in a final week in which we gravely contemplated and confessed our sin, awakening on the final morn to the miracle of the resurrection.
Our culture (and the Christian subculture right along with it) tends to make a bigger deal of Christmas than Easter—even to the point of conflict as Christians rally to “keep Christ in Christmas” and mistakenly believe that a benevolent “Happy Holidays” is somehow an affront to faith. (Um, it’s not.)
What about “keeping Christ in Easter” and in the week preceding it? Do we even notice Holy Week, or is it just another work week between Palm Sunday and Easter? Most of us, unless our kids’ spring break coincides with Holy Week, will spend these “holy days” not as holidays, but going to meetings, driving carpools, writing emails and making phone calls, sometimes simultaneously! There’s not much time for contemplation.
Oh, we’ll definitely make it to church on Easter Sunday, and perhaps even on Good Friday, rushing to the service after a long day at work. But will we spend time contemplating events that seem so far removed from our lives and our experience? What does Holy Week have to do with our wired lives? Where can our 24/7 lives intersect with the slow, significant events of Christ’s journey to the cross?
Jesus Wants to Be Part of Your Busy Life
In this short series, we will look at three places where our busy lives can connect with the Holy Week story, and allow us to experience Jesus: the table, the garden and the cross.
Holy Week unfolds like a map: from Palm Sunday’s triumphal entry, to Jesus’ clearing of the temple, his prayer on the Mount of Olives, the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial, suffering and death, the agonizing silence of Holy Saturday, and the victory of the empty tomb.
Jesus, the itinerant rabbi, knew what it was like to be busy, to feel pulled in many directions by the needs of people. He didn’t carry a smart phone, but he certainly knew what it was like to be interrupted (which is, most of the time, what your smart phone does). In fact, many of his healings and miracles happened as a result of interruptions (blind men along a road, a woman tugging at his cloak, and so on). His disciples, it seems, also found themselves overscheduled and overwhelmed:
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. (Mark 6:30-32)
“They did not even have a chance to eat…” The ancient world lacked McDonalds, so a drive-through wasn’t an option. They had no time to gather around a table, to eat and converse, to rest. This bothered Jesus then, and it bothers him now. He wants us to connect with one another—not just through Facebook, but face to face, around a table. Conversation, a simple meal, eaten slowly—this simple act nourishes and restores not only our bodies, but our souls. And it seems that Jesus and his disciples also had trouble fitting that into their schedule.
Slow Down and Share a Meal
So it’s poignant when the Passover comes that Jesus, despite the pain he knew was just around the corner, was eager to spend time at the table with his friends:
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:14-15)
Jesus takes his time at the table, telling them some encouraging words, and some difficult truth (that they would deny or betray him), but still serving them. John’s gospel says he took time for a selfless act of service, washing their feet (see John 13:12-17). He offered them bread and wine, imbuing them with a new significance. He invites them to “take and eat” and perhaps he invites us to do the same.
During Holy Week, connect with Christ’s experience by taking time for at least one meal, eaten not in your car, or over the sink, but at a table. It need not be elaborate. The point is not how much time you spend preparing it, but how you take your time eating it. Invite family or friends to sit down, to look in one another’s eyes, to speak words of encouragement and truth. Love one another with the gift of unhurried time. It’s a gift Jesus gave his disciples during Holy Week, and a way we can connect with and remember him.
Letting Go in the Garden
Chances are, you won’t have to search long to find something that overwhelms you this week, something that causes anxiety. And Jesus understands what it means to worry.
The scene has become iconic, the subject of sermons and movie scenes, preaching and paintings: Jesus on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating it out.
Where does the Garden intersect our story? How do we reach back 2000 years to a time so different from our own, and find the touchpoints that connect us with Holy Week? With these agonizing moments, specifically?
In the garden, Jesus was, in some ways, a hot mess. The text describes him as “sorrowful and troubled,” worried about what he knew was to come. He asked his disciples to pray with him, and they fell asleep, leaving him lonely. He asked God to take the cup from him, and apparently got a divine “no” on that one. If you’ve ever been worried or lonely or felt like your will differed from God’s, you can connect with Jesus in the Garden. Jesus has felt anxious, lonely. He’s wrestled with doubt. Knowing that reassures us and deepens our connection to him.
Let Go of Your Worry
Back in the early days of his ministry, Jesus confidently preached, “do not worry about your life… do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25, 34). He told his followers to trust in God’s provision for all things, to let go of worry.
Contrast that with his words in the Garden: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38).
Do you ever feel worried? Chances are, you won’t have to search long to find something that overwhelms you this week, something that causes anxiety. What is it? Jesus understands what it means to feel worried and overwhelmed. He tells us not to worry, but he was not immune from anxiety. He completely understands and can relate to our anxious hearts.
Let Go of Your Disappointment
In the garden, Jesus asks his disciples, particularly Peter, James and John, to pray with him, to “keep watch.” Jesus makes himself vulnerable, expresses his need for companionship and support. And unfortunately, his disciples let him down.
This week, it’s quite possible that someone will disappoint you, will fail to come through when you need them. You might feel lonely and discouraged. In that moment, think of Jesus, praying in the garden while his disciples snored. He knows, firsthand, what you are experiencing. And he will never let you down.
Let Go of Your Doubt
Another time, Jesus declared: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. “(John 4:34) and “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38). Jesus talked over and over about his unity with the Father, his joyful alignment with the will of the Father.
But in the Garden, we see something unique: Jesus’ will and the Father’s will were in opposition. Luke 22:42 records Jesus’ prayer in the garden: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” This sentence contrasts two things: Jesus will, and the Father’s. It may be the only time in Scripture when Jesus, who was one with the Father, argued for a different story, held an opposing view, wanted something different. Could Jesus have been feeling some doubt in this moment? Could he have been asking some questions like, is this really necessary? Is there any other way to accomplish this? And boldly stating: I’d like another option.
This week, if you run into a situation where you want something different from what you know God wants, or feel a bit of doubt—did God really tell me to do that?—then take a moment to stop. Jesus has been in that same situation. He knows what is it like to wrestle with God, to argue with his Father, to hold the opposite view of things. He voices honest objections, but ultimately, chooses obedience. In his very human response to the promise of suffering, he questioned.
When you question, doubt or even argue with God, know that even Jesus did this, but then showed us the way. He worked through the fears and doubts and came to a place of trust. Following his example, we can do the same.
Taking Up Your Cross
At the cross, Jesus generously gave the most precious gift—his own life. And yet, we can easily take that gift for granted. There are days when we respond with indifference or entitlement.
Not long before he died, Jesus challenged his disciples to “take up their cross and follow,” or as The Message translation puts it:
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
(Matthew 16:24-26 MSG)
During my teenage son’s recent spring break, he and I spent three days on a “mission trip” in the city of Chicago. Teams of kids from our suburban church (located just an hour away from the city) made up beds in homeless shelters, painted walls in inner city churches, cleaned Salvation Army kitchens. We slept on a church floor at night.
One day, my team visited a ministry to teenage moms in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. Girls in the program get an apartment, childcare, help with job placement or finishing school, and a strong support system. They work toward self-sufficiency.
Don’t Miss the Chance for a Better Life
The ministry is a beacon of light in the violence-plagued neighborhood, and the staff was grateful to have a group of eager volunteers. After cleaning all morning and then eating lunch, our guide, the maintenance man for the building, took a few of us to an apartment which had housed a young mom (the ministry focuses on moms ages 13 to 19) and her two small children, ages about 6 and 18 months.
Unfortunately, she had to leave the program after she left the children alone in the apartment for more than seven hours. (Her children were placed with a family member). The apartment had been a wreck, our guide told us, “it looked like Hurricane Katrina.” We were to finish the cleanup started the previous day.
Some girls respond to the generosity of this ministry with gratitude and positive action. However, some are simply not ready to accept the responsibilities that go along with the gift.
We washed dishes and pots and pans that were crusted with grease, we scrubbed walls and the range hood and the bathroom, cleaned the windows, sanitized the beds. Many dishes and pots had to be thrown away as they were ruined by neglect.
That young girl, a mom too soon for countless reasons, wasn’t there to say thank you to the team of kids who scrubbed down the apartment, singing worship songs as they did so.
Sure, the staff of the ministry thanked us repeatedly. We were serving them, but we were also serving that teenage mom. And the ministry had tried to serve her.
How could she be so cavalier about such a generous gift—housing, help with childcare and finding a job? Why would she not respond to such a gift by at least making an effort?
Probably because she was still a child herself, and being responsible is hard. It would require self-sacrifice—putting her children first, saying no to partying and hanging with her friends. Washing her own dishes. Being unselfish.
The Incredible Opportunity of Self-Sacrifice
As we think about Holy Week, we think of the cross, where Jesus generously gave the most precious gift—his own life. And yet, truth be told, I can easily take that gift for granted. There are days when I respond with indifference or entitlement. As much as I wondered how that young mom could do what she did, I realized—I do the same with the gift that Jesus offers.
Sure, I’ll take the gift of salvation, just like she took the free apartment and free childcare. But will I take up my own cross, or will I choose comfort (or ease) over self-sacrifice? Will I do the hard work of serving others? I saw this girl’s enrollment in the program as an “incredible opportunity.” But do I see Jesus’ invitation to take up my cross as an “opportunity”?
That girl missed out on the chance to build a better life for herself and her children. Why? Because it would require hard work, sacrifice. She would have to take up her cross. Raising two babies by yourself is difficult, changing generational patterns is incredibly challenging. And I realized, I do the same thing. I miss out on abundance, on “finding my self, my true self,” because doing so requires self-sacrifice. It’s hard. It requires putting others first—even others who don’t show me any respect or gratitude.
Ironically, the way to fully embrace the gift of what Jesus gave us on the cross is to take up our own cross, to serve others without expecting anything in return. The joy I ultimately experienced in that apartment on Chicago’s west side had nothing to do with the ministry thanking me, or the young mom not thanking me. It had to do with realizing that I’m just like that young mom—but Jesus loves me anyway. Like her, I sometimes choose to avoid the hard work—but Jesus persistently invites me to the abundance that comes from self-sacrifice.
Keri Wyatt Kent is the author of ten books and co-author of six others. Through her writing and speaking, she helps people grow closer to God and live their faith. Connect with her at http://keriwyattkent.com