Wednesday, 1 April 2015

This is Holy Week

Holy week is that time between Palm Sunday and Easter Saturday when we remember the last week of Jesus' earthly life. Customs of all kinds have grown up around this special time. Observance of Holy Week can be traced back as far as the latter half of the 3rd century. Abstinence from flesh is commanded for all the days of Holy Week, while for the Friday and Sunday an absolute fast is commanded.

In Jerusalem Christ's crucifixion is commemorated as the cross is carried along the Via Dolorosa (the way of suffering) of Jesus.

On Palm Sunday palm branches are waved as the story of the triumphal entry is re-enacted in church, usually by the children. Christians will often be seen carrying crosses made of palm leaves to remember the palm branches and to remember the cross.

These crosses are kept by some for a year and then burned to provide the ash for the following year's Ash Wednesday. (The ash was placed on the heads of participants at the beginning of Lent to the accompaniment of the words, 'Repent and believe in the gospel,' or, 'Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.' It is a sober reminder of our mortality and of our dependence on God’s grace in a world that spends fortunes trying to be eternal youthful)

Maundy Thursday is derived from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase "Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos"; "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you" It is a time when we remember the servant heart of Jesus, how he washed the disciples' feet. In some churches foot washing is still taken very seriously. The Maundy Money handed out by the Queen of England on this day is a substitute for foot washing.

Good Friday was know as the Great Sabbath and was strictly observed, a watch being kept until Sunday in the expectation that Jesus would return on Easter Day.

Preachers will take the time in this period to challenge their congregations over their commitment, and ask them about those times when they have been unfaithful to Jesus, or been hypocritical in their faith, and call them to repentance.

The apostle John describes the triumphal entry like this:triumphant-entry

'The next day the great crowd that had come for the feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,


Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'

Blessed is the King of Israel!''

John 12:12-13

The word Hosanna comes from Psalm 118, sung as a song of thanksgiving for the Lord's steadfast love in delivering his people. It describes a festive procession into Jerusalem after some great deliverance and takes the form of a liturgy, a call and response, and begins:

'Oh, give thanks to the LORD, His steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,

His steadfast love endures forever.

It goes on:

'Out of my distress I called on the LORD;

The LORD answered me and set me free.

The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.

What can man do to me?

The Lord is on my side as my helper...'

The word Hosanna comes from the same root as the Hebrew for 'to save' the same root from which we get the name Jesus, which in turn is the Latin form of the Hebrew Joshua/Yeshua, which means 'Jehovah will save.'

Psalm 118 is the psalm Jesus and his disciples sang on the night he was betrayed, before they went out to the Mount of Olives. Imagine singing this in anticipation of such utter betrayal and abandonment.

Verse 19 of this psalm reads:

'Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them

and give thanks to the LORD

through which the righteous may enter.

I will give thanks, for you answered me;

you have become my salvation.'

The gates of righteousness, the gates of the Holy City, Jerusalem, where only the righteous may enter.

'When Jesus entered Jerusalem,' we are told by Matthew, 'the whole city was stirred and asked, 'Who is this?'

'The crowds answered, 'This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.''

That, I suggest, is a dangerous question; who is this? To take an interest in Jesus is a risky business and today we don't fully appreciate perhaps how risky. Do we want the gates of righteousness opened to us, so we may enter through them, into the New Jerusalem, and give thanks to the LORD? Think carefully before you answer.

Jesus challenges our worship

cleansing-templeThe first thing Jesus does on entering the city, we are told, is go to the temple.

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

'It is written,' he said to them, 'My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.''

Jesus challenged the pale, empty, and avaricious pretence of worship in his Father’s house. He challenges our worship today. He seeks those who are true worshippers, who worship God in spirit and in truth. Are we fulsome in our worship, or do we too often simply go through the motions? If we want the gates of righteousness opened to us we must be prepared to have the tables and chairs turned over in our lives. We must be prepared to give an account of our worship. Jesus challenges our worship.

Jesus challenges our fruitfulness

After spending the night in Bethany Jesus returned to Jerusalem and on the way, we are told, he cursed a barren fig tree:

Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it and found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, 'May you never bear fruit again!' Immediately the tree withered.'

It is possible to  look fruitful, like that tree, rich in foliage, but to be otherwise barren in our Christian lives. If we want Jesus in our lives, if we want the gates of righteousness opened to us we must be prepared for Jesus to seek from us more than foliage, more than tradition, more than form, to expect from us fruitful lives in his service. Jesus challenges our fruitfulness.

Jesus challenges our promises

It is in this Holy Week that Jesus tells the parable of the two sons:

'What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.'

And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went.

And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go.

Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.

For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.'

As Christians, as members of a church, we enter into covenant relationship with God and with each other. By word and by action, we make promises to go and do the will of God, not our own will. If, like the first son, our promises are empty we will not see the kingdom. If we want the gates of righteousness opened to us we must be prepared for Jesus to test our resolve to do the will of God. This is what it means to be a Christian. Jesus challenges our promises.

Jesus challenges our faithfulness

Finally, Jesus challenges our faithfulness. In the parable of the tenants he tells of a landowner who planted a vineyard and rented it to some farmers.

‘Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.

And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.

Finally he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.'
And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’
They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’

If we want the gates of righteousness opened to us we must be prepared for the owner of the vineyard to return at any time, ‘like a thief in the night,’ and be prepared to show ourselves faithful stewards of his vineyard, true to our covenant promises, fruitful in his service, and fulsome in our worship.

'When Jesus entered Jerusalem,' we are told by Matthew, 'the whole city was stirred and asked, 'Who is this?'

'The crowds answered, 'This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.''Murillo_Bartolome_Esteban-ZZZ-Crucifixion

This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.

As that week began, the crowds shouted Hosanna!

By the end of that week the crowds were shouting 'crucify!'

What will you shout?