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Daily Bible Readings and Reflections for Holy Week 2020

Saturday, April 11, 2020 (Holy Saturday)
Hebrews 4:1-16

While the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

‘As in my anger I swore,
“They shall not enter my rest”’,

though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ And again in this place it says, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’ Since therefore it remains open for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he sets a certain day—‘today’—saying through David much later, in the words already quoted,

‘Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.’

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later about another day. So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Rest: The dainty word with spiritual strength

This year, as Passion Week combines with COVID-19 restrictions, some of us may take extra time to rest. Our rest may include daytime naps, recess from academia, breaks from professional responsibilities and hectic overscheduling. Yet, Hebrews 4 describes a different type of rest that may seem elusive, yet I suspect a rest for which we all yearn.

Exploring the Old Testament definition of rest, Hebrews 4 cautions us that work cessation on the seventh day does not in itself rejuvenate our spirit, nor does travelling to a distant land offer a quietness of the soul. We are urged in Hebrews not to follow the path of our ancestors in disobedience; a disobedience described as hearing the word without faith, thus resulting in the inability to enter rest. Rather, we are asked to be diligent, to hear the word with a faithful heart. Described as living and active, hearing the word through faith enables our thoughts to be judged and the intentions of our hearts to be examined. Faith brings us into rest, just as unbelief will deny it.

When we confess the judgement of our thoughts and hearts to Jesus Christ, we relinquish the burden of sin and enter spiritual rest. Our High Priest, Jesus, can offer this unique spiritual rest because He too has been tempted in all things, and therefore sympathizes with our plight. With confidence we may draw near the throne of grace and receive mercy — a mercy that replaces sin’s burden with spiritual rest.
Take heed to the caution in Hebrews 4; there are many professing Christians who do not understand what it is to rest; they believe that works will prove their faith. However, the work of salvation was completed when the Lord Jesus said, “It is finished.” There is nothing more to do; Jesus did it all, and thus we obtain spiritual rest through faith in salvation. So, as we move through Passion Week into Easter, and as we add rest to the COVID-19 restrictions, let us also accept the spiritual rest that is granted to us by the cross.

[Katherine MacLean]

Friday, April 10, 2020 (Good Friday)
1 Peter 1:10-20

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated, when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.

Good Friday can be a difficult day to wrap our minds around. So sombre in tone, and yet still, obviously, by its vary name, “good.”

“He was destined before the foundation of the world…” Hard, too, to think about how the horrors of the Cross were, in some way, “destined.” How the eternal God could have been acting in a series of scenes that seems, to us, to simply reflect the worst behaviours of humanity.

There are several “theories of atonement” that try to explain how, exactly, our salvation is achieved on the Cross. Each age tends to have one or two that become favoured, and end up being expressed in hymnody and poetry. It says something about us (and it’s especially prominent in the Western Church traditions) — that in the face of mystery we want an explanation.

An alternative approach is to accept the mystery, and instead, bow down in worship.

Sure, our minds might still gravitate to explanations, but we can hold them lightly, and hold more tightly to the Saviour himself.

What’s important for me in this moment (early morning on Good Friday) is that Jesus’ Passion — his willingness to give himself up for us, even to the point of a brutal death — is a continuation of God’s revelation to us, God’s movement toward us. The God that was known through the words of the prophets became known to us in the flesh, by the Incarnation. The God that was known to us as all-powerful and radiant beyond our imagining becomes known to us even more fully, when God, on the Cross, embraces weakness and ugliness.

What we thought was the farthest experience from God becomes, on the Cross, the sign of God’s radical solidarity and presence with us. “He who knew no sin became sin.” Sin is often described as that which separates us from God. It seems, however, that Good Friday reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Thursday, April 9, 2020 (Maundy Thursday)
1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 11:27-32

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

This might be be one of those readings that lands with a bit of a thud, its heaviness leaving a mark. It deals with both sin and the eucharist, and it’s not unusual for us to have walls up around these topics, or baggage. We enter into a sort of tension when we grapple with our ideas around God’s mercy and God’s judgement; our inherent goodness and our fallibility.

But a couple of months ago I was discussing confession with someone over several weeks, and I came across a chapter by someone named Harriet Harris, in a book called Liturgical Spirituality: Anglican Reflections on the Church’s Prayer. She endeavours to find out the meaning of confession while holding to the premise that a) God’s mind doesn’t change about us, and b) the eucharist is not reserved for the worthy. Instead of making ourselves perfect so that we can receive communion, the eucharist itself reconciles us.

At the core of her perspective is the parable of the prodigal son. You remember it, how the foolish son eventually realizes that his chosen life was leading to poverty, and so he goes back home, rehearsing what he’d say to his dad, hoping he’d be let back in, if even just as a worker. But what happens? The dad has been on the lookout for the son, and runs to greet him as he arrives. The father hugs his son, smothering the kid’s attempts at getting his confession out!

So for Harris (and I’m reducing a whole chapter into a few small paragraphs) writes that confession is more about helping us to understand that, firstly, we cannot earn God’s favour, and secondly, that God is abundantly forgiving. The emphasis, then, is more on the absolution — the pronouncement of forgiveness — than on our confession. But to really hear and be touched by the absolution, we need first to be honest in our confession. “Because in Christ the love of God comes to the sinner, through Christ we can be sinners, and only so can we be helped” (p. 55). Elsewhere, Rowan Williams has written along these lines, saying that we are all sinners, but that we are called to be “good sinners.” We’re all wrapped up in imperfect, often inhumane systems and institutions. Sometimes our sin is corporate rather than personal (and thus, easier to ignore) — some feast while others starve. But the important thing is that a-ha moment when we’re able to recognize the sin, in ourselves, or in the world. Because when we have clear eyes to see, we can open ourselves up to the change that God desires for us. Which, to me, sounds akin to what St. Paul wrote: “[W]hen we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” Judgement doesn’t have to mean a bearded guy in the sky throwing lightning bolts. Instead, maybe it’s the realization of the consequences of our actions, and the grace available to turn away from our destructive tendencies.

Lastly, and much more succinctly, Paul’s lecture here about confession and worthiness/unworthiness is in the context of the reception of the eucharist. What is this alternative vision that God has for our world? What would it look like if people turned from their selfishness and destructive behaviours? What would it look like if our systems, institutions, and ideologies treated people as beloved family members rather than as cogs in a machine?

Well, I think the starting point for that alternative vision is the eucharist, in all its depth. Diverse people gathering together. An attitude of thanksgiving. An appreciation for the created world (symbolized in the wine and bread). Not rushing, but savouring. And… and… and… (What would you add?)

Today, Maundy Thursday, the Church gives thanks for the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Which is not just to hold up the Eucharist as an object, but to recognize that in the mystery of this sacrament lies the potential for the renewal of our world. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Psalm 55

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David.

Give ear to my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my supplication.
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught by the noise of the enemy,
because of the clamour of the wicked.
For they bring trouble upon me,
and in anger they cherish enmity against me.

My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
from the raging wind and tempest.’

Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech;
for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go around it
on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
do not depart from its market-place.

It is not enemies who taunt me—
I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me—
I could hide from them.
But it is you, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend,
with whom I kept pleasant company;
we walked in the house of God with the throng.
Let death come upon them;
let them go down alive to Sheol;
for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.

But I call upon God,
and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he will hear my voice.
He will redeem me unharmed
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
God, who is enthroned from of old,Selah
will hear, and will humble them—
because they do not change,
and do not fear God.

My companion laid hands on a friend
and violated a covenant with me
with speech smoother than butter,
but with a heart set on war;
with words that were softer than oil,
but in fact were drawn swords.

Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

But you, O God, will cast them down
into the lowest pit;
the bloodthirsty and treacherous
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.

Here we are in the thick of Holy Week, and the reading reflects this. It’s a psalm (at some point in history, a sad and angry song, “with stringed instruments”) seething with the feeling of having been betrayed, let down, and persecuted. It’s a heartbreak song.

It reminds us of Job, whose friends tried to comfort him, but failed. Tried to rationalize and explain his suffering, but made things worse.

It reminds us of Jesus, let down by a friend. Betrayed with a kiss.

We shouldn’t ignore that the psalm also includes words of hope. “But I call upon God, and the Lord will save me.” Nevertheless, the psalm is punctuated by the experience of terror and anger. (Notice how it’s not a simple A/B structure, where it starts sad and ends happy. No, the sadness keeps coming up.) It might trouble us that the psalmist resorts to violent fantasizing. Maybe we can find some reassurance, though, that this tells us that instead of burying our feelings we can be honest about them. Better to process them (e.g. in song) than actually resort to violence, outwardly or inwardly.

All this talk of songs has me thinking about music. Broken-heart songs are a whole genre unto themselves, aren’t they? For me, someone that has provided the soundtrack to the last fifteen or so years of my life is Nick Cave. He’s someone that is able to straddle the line between the sacred and profane in a way that speaks to me, and speaks to the reality of life in the world. Today I’m thinking of a song from what is probably my very favourite album of all time, The Boatman’s Call. The song “People Ain’t No Good” (which I think also appeared on one of the Shrek soundtracks, with swearing removed!) is a beautiful broken heart song. But its honesty and poetry might also help give us the strength needed to keep moving forward.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Mark 11:27-33

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’ They argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But shall we say, “Of human origin”?’—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’

By what authority are you doing these things? Anyone who asks that question believes that they have the authority and not the person they are challenging. When the chief priests and elders and teachers of the law gang up on Jesus, it’s because he assumes the authority of a rabbi, a teacher of Israel, one with the wisdom and gravitas to pronounce what is right and wrong for the people.

How insecure they must be that the people call Jesus Rabbi. It undercuts their official rank in society and turns their so-called authority into mere titles in the face of genuine leadership. The roadsides are lined with crosses on which hang many men who have declared themselves the Messiah, only to suffer a Roman death, but the Jewish leaders largely ignore those zealots and gather around this man to question him. They know he is the real danger to their power in Palestine.

For most of the world, life is structured in a vertical system with those in power at the top and those with no power at the bottom. This man preaches an equality of all humans, including women and slaves. If he was allowed to continue, such preaching could lead to a complete Roman shutdown of any slender power the Jewish elders have in an occupied land. Before the Romans close the Temple and ban their fragile authority, Jesus must be silenced.

In Mark 11: 27-33, they challenge him on this authority, but Jesus is no stranger to political skill. He turns the question back on them in classic rabbinical style, answering a question with a question. He asks if John the Baptist’s work was divine or from man. It puts the elders in a trap. As Matthew explains, if they say divine, it belies their disbelief in John. If they say man-made, they risk the fickle mob turning against them. So, they dodge the question. And Jesus uses their dodge to do the same with their question. He won’t say where his authority comes from.

But in so many other settings, Jesus declares that his authority comes from God. He never says so in so many words. He uses the phrases Kingdom of Heaven, Son of Man and My Father in all his teachings. It’s a fine line, but it keeps him from getting arrested, until the moment of his own choosing.

And that moment comes closer and closer, as Good Friday approaches.

[Peter Mansell]

Monday, April 6, 2020
Lamentations 1:1-2, 6-12

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

From daughter Zion has departed
all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags
that find no pasture;
they fled without strength
before the pursuer.

Jerusalem remembers,
in the days of her affliction and wandering,
all the precious things
that were hers in days of old.
When her people fell into the hand of the foe,
and there was no one to help her,
the foe looked on mocking
over her downfall.

Jerusalem sinned grievously,
so she has become a mockery;
all who honoured her despise her,
for they have seen her nakedness;
she herself groans,
and turns her face away.

Her uncleanness was in her skirts;
she took no thought of her future;
her downfall was appalling,
with none to comfort her.
‘O Lord, look at my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed!’

Enemies have stretched out their hands
over all her precious things;
she has even seen the nations
invade her sanctuary,
those whom you forbade
to enter your congregation.

All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they trade their treasures for food
to revive their strength.
Look, O Lord, and see
how worthless I have become.

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
on the day of his fierce anger.

This stark book is a reflection on the state of things following the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the 6th century BC. It was an event that shook the people to their core. Their faith was predicated on the notion that God’s Presence was there, in the Temple in Jerusalem. How could the city fail? How could the Temple be destroyed? How do we practice our religion in a foreign land?

Just a few decades after Jesus’s death, the (second) Temple would be destroyed. Thus, the New Testament was written in the shadow of that event, that trauma, that sense of dislocation and disorientation.

Our present moment is traumatic for many people. Though, think of how the everyday existence of so many people in the world is an ongoing trauma: corrupt and violent leaders, lack of access to food and safe water, war between nations and peoples.

One way of working through this trauma is by lament. Crying out, grieving, being honest about our feelings. The psalms are full of honest, and sometimes brutally angry, lament.

Liturgically, this is a growing edge for us. Some of our hymns have elements of lament. Again, the psalms definitely do. But I expect that in the coming years we will find that some of our prayers and responses will more fully delve into lament. September 11, 2001 opened our eyes to the prevalence of death, always on the prowl in our world. The current crisis is a reminder.

It’s OK to be afraid, or doubt, or be angry. But as Christians we are called to process these feelings in a way that we still bear witness to the Resurrection, and not add to the chaos and dysfunction in our world.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Sunday, April 5, 2020
Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

I always forget that Jesus had the power of foresight. He was free of time and space for all of his life. When he lingered behind at age twelve to speak to the elders, his explanation to his mother was that he must be about his father’s business. Even then, he knew something of his role in the universe. There are some who claim that the human part of him evolved into understanding his role as the Messiah and how that must play out. And others say he knew all along who he was. The older I get, the less I care about that argument. Jesus had foresight. It’s obvious. He spent the last few weeks and days telling his disciples he would be killed and would rise from that dead. He was not guessing. He knew.

In Matthew 21, he sends his disciples into the next village, telling them they will find a donkey and her colt. They are to bring them for him to ride into Jerusalem. How did he know that donkey was there? He also knew the scriptures and the prophesies as well as Matthew, who had studied them all his life. What is it like to know the future and yet deliberately walk into it, aware of what will happen. What was on Jesus’ mind, knowing he will soon be betrayed, arrested, beaten and crucified.

As Jesus entered the city, I’m sure the disciples encouraged the people to pull down palm branches and spread them along with outer cloaks in his way. They were his ministry team after all. But the crowd got caught up in the excitement. Who doesn’t like a parade? It’s a sign of respect, and it keeps down the dust so everyone can see who is passing by. So, the event transpired. But in the middle of those celebrations, so long ago, Jesus knew what was coming in a few short days. How do you behave towards others in the story when you alone know the ending?

Foresight is a two-edged sword. You know the bad that is coming, but you also know the good. Jesus also told his disciples. In my father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. Everything Jesus told us about what is coming will occur. He is not bound by time. He has seen it.

So, I am comforted by his words. Trapped as I am by time and space, I find peace in his words.
Especially in a time when a plague is sweeping over the land.

[Peter Mansell]