It’s common to hear children describe rain as the tears of clouds. We also know what it’s like to experience dark, rainy days that reflect downcast internal states, sometimes marked by our own tears. And yet something about either sense of outpouring can attune us in a different, meaningful way to the Easter story and season, especially during this current springtime when we’ve seen gloomier skies and clouds crying at historic rates.
While we understand the new life that rain brings, we often forget how much sadness dominates the imagery surrounding the final weeks of Jesus’ life. The Gospel accounts don’t indicate the type of weather or atmospheric conditions Jesus experienced in that first-century spring (save for darkness that covered the land after he took his final breaths), but Christ sheds tears just outside Jerusalem, Peter weeps bitterly after his third denial, and the women mourn loudly as they follow Jesus to his execution site.
As in past years of Holy Week, we begin each day with passages for you to read, a reflection, and activities that enable us to reflect more deeply. This year, our Holy Week experiences challenge us to recognize the beauty of life around us – just as we celebrate resurrection life bursting forth with Jesus’ body from the grave on Easter morning – but with the thoroughgoing and inseparable reality of emptying. Be it like the clouds that release rain to the earth or deep hurts that finally surface in tears, we challenge you to join Christ followers across the centuries and around the globe in Lenten and Holy Week practices that ultimately draw our attention to the greatest demonstration of self-emptying: Jesus and his endurance to the cross.
Holy Week Activities
Click on the link to see the activity for the day:
SUNDAY (4/2): Palm Sunday
Jesus weeps after being welcomed in by the crowds
Luke 19:28-44 (Matthew 21:1-11)
We invite you to begin Holy Week by joining us for our Sunday morning service at 10 am, highlighted by our Sunridge Kids Choir. As our kids lead us in worship through songs that cry out “Hosanna” like those large crowds who enthusiastically greeted Jesus, we also remember that Palm Sunday is more fully understood as an ironically dark day. Many in the large crowd who exuberantly welcome Jesus with “Hosanna!” chants will turn hostile by Friday, screaming louder, “Crucify him!” Furthermore, Jesus’ tears are well-recorded in the events that lead up to his entry. First, John chronicles how Jesus weeps near the grave of his beloved and deceased friend, Lazarus (John 11). Although he raises Lazarus from the dead, this bewildering miracle provokes the religious elite to feel as if they have no choice but to begin plotting Jesus’ destruction. Secondly, after Jesus has traveled from Lazarus’ home and has ridden past the jubilant crowds, Luke notes Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Let the experience of children leading us in outward demonstrations of praise, coupled with our knowledge of the nuanced historical context, set the tone for the internal tension we’ll experience throughout the week.
MONDAY (4/3): Holy Monday
Jesus ignites the fury of the religious elite while the crowds remain in awe
Matthew 21:12-17 (Mark 11:15-18)
As Jesus enters the temple, angrily flipping tables and casting out those who have commercialized this sacred space, he redeploys the words of Jeremiah – the weeping prophet – condemning the people for how they have made the temple the ‘den of robbers’ (Jer. 7:11). On Holy Monday, in symbolic representation of Jesus’ temple clearing, we can participate in acts of spring cleaning and purging as an outward expression of the internal, sanctifying work that the Holy Spirit invites us into. Here are some options: 1) Clean a room in your house; 2) Partner with a friend or family member for a long-overdue housecleaning project or purge; or 3) Select a nearby park or area in the community to pick up trash from. In whatever context, continue with the heart examination set forward on Palm Sunday, only further considering the sin and selfishness that pervade the hidden parts of our lives that Jesus wants to free us from (we’ll return to these on Wednesday).
TUESDAY (4/4): Holy Tuesday
Jesus quietly calls attention to a widow
Mark 12:41-44 (Luke 21:1-4)
Despite his disruptive temple entrance on Monday, the events surrounding Holy Tuesday primarily focus on Jesus’ continued presence in the temple, the crowd’s amazement at his teaching, and the growing resentment of the religious elite that accelerate their hidden schemes to destroy him. However, in the middle of all this, the Gospels of Mark and Luke provide a simple but striking scene, well-known in isolation yet often unnoticed as an abrupt break in Jesus’ teaching: his sudden commentary and pointing out of a poor widow. Widows and the fatherless were supposed to be specially cared for by the Jewish community, harkening back to elements of the law that gravely warned against predatory behavior that would provoke their cries (Ex. 22:24-24). Here, singled out by Jesus in view of his disciples, and yet coupled with the fact that he resists to steps forward, is a powerful nod to what she demonstrates: her quiet act of emptying – this sacrificial gift of her two coins into the temple treasury – signifies her deep trust in God’s care for her.
Today, three actions can be representative of the widow and Jesus’ special attentiveness to her self-emptying. 1) Consider a way to sacrificially give (monetarily) in a way that no one can trace to you, testing the limits of our desire for recognition, as well as our anxieties (or greed) with finances (and security). 2) Reach out to a person and succinctly express how you’ve taken note of their quiet, faithful witness. 3) Spend time in prayer for someone you know who has grieved the loss of a spouse.
WEDNESDAY (4/5): Holy Wednesday
Jesus is secretly conspired against but openly and sacrificially loved on
Matthew 26:1-16 (Luke 22:1-6)
Also known as Spy Wednesday, the middle of Jesus’ final week represents a sharp and uncomfortable turn in the story: Satan’s usurping of Judas, marked by his collaboration with the religious leaders, their rage and hatred toward Jesus now reaching a fever pitch. Traditional Holy Week expressions on Wednesday introduce the observance of Tenebrae, a progressive extinguishing of candles and corresponding Scriptures that represent Christ, the Light of the World, being seemingly overcome by darkness. Our Good Friday service is patterned accordingly, which gives us room to grapple with elements of this pivotal midweek moment differently.
Our options for activity today are in contrast to Judas’ secret acts of betrayal. For one, interwoven into Matthew’s account of Judas’ hidden corroboration with the religious elite is a sudden story of a woman who enters the home where Jesus is staying and pours expensive perfume all over him. At an earlier point in Jesus’ ministry, the Gospel of Luke records a similar instance of a sacrificial emptying of perfume, only there, the woman is ridiculed by the religious elite before Jesus elevates her, promising that she will be remembered for her great demonstration of love as she poured perfume and wept over his feet (Luke 7:36-50). In continuity with these scenes, consider an act of sacrifice that will function as an intentional time of worship. Ideas include: 1) Driving today without music or podcasts, choosing instead to express thanks to God in prayer; 2) Giving up social media for the remainder of the week, choosing instead to read Scripture when you would regularly scroll; or 3) Returning all the stray shopping carts in every parking lot you visit today, asking God throughout for ongoing determination to seek him.
Yet another way we can participate this Wednesday is with an act (or acts) of confession. Here are modified options, first introduced to our congregation in a summer series on spiritual formation: 1) Complete this simple prompt in written form, and then find space to speak these words aloud, “Lord Jesus, I’ve betrayed you through __________________________________. I know that you know these things, but I confess them as an act of trust and repentance, believing and responding to your kindness that calls me, desiring to be moved by your grace to be with you.” 2) Consider confessing sin to another person – either someone you have wronged or, alternatively, a friend who will receive your confession and redirect your shame or guilt toward Christ’s mercy. 3) If someone chooses to confess to you on this day, posture yourself to receive their ownership without condemnation, thank them for their willingness to risk, and seize the moment to practice bearing witness to the good news of Christ’s forgiveness.
THURSDAY (4/6): Maundy Thursday
Jesus shares a final meal before he is arrested
John 13 (Luke 22:7-53)
On the eve of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, he spends time with his disciples in an upper room for a final, formal meal, the traditional Jewish Passover commemorating God’s divine intervention that ultimately catalyzed the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt. (We have recently been studying through the exodus on Sunday mornings as we travel through the life of Moses.)
Maundy Thursday’s name, rooted in the Gospel of John’s (chapters 13-17) detailed accounts of this day, comes from a Latin word that means “commandment,” directly tying to Jesus’ commandment for the disciples to love one another and, in a wild reversal of expectations, Jesus’ lowly washing of their feet. Tonight’s first of two activities converge on these things and are some of our most powerful and self-emptying exercises of the week: 1) Gather with friends, housemates, your life group, family, or any combination for a meal; 2) Before your meal, read Luke’s account in chapter 22:7-34; 3) Take a moment to participate in communion, using bread/crackers and juice/wine; 4) After dinner, read John 13 and take turns washing one another’s feet.
Supplies you’ll need:
– Basin or bowls of water
– Hand towels, towels, or even paper towels (2 per person)
Here’s a simple way to do this:
– Let people know ahead of time that you’ll be doing a foot washing
– Wash your hands and grab your supplies (bowls of water and towels)
– Sit on chairs in a circle
– Read John 13 and read the remaining instructions
– One person begins by taking the basin of water and two towels to someone in the circle (you can do this in any order, but it’s easy to go in a process from right to left or vice versa)
– In a kneeling position, dip one towel in the basin of water, take the other person’s feet, and wipe/wash them with the wet towel
– Take the other towel to dry the person’s feet
– After this has concluded, the person whose feet were just washed goes to the next person
You’re right. If any of the above sounds awkward or uncomfortable – it certainly can be. In our experience, however, it has often been the highlight of Holy Week. If you need further encouragement, our student ministries team did a foot-washing experience on a Sunday morning just over a month ago. Furthermore, our Sunridge worship team has participated in this tradition for our Thursday night evening Easter rehearsal for the last two years, constituting some of our most memorable times together. You can be sure that we’ll be doing it again on Maundy Thursday this year.
Here’s our second activity. Immediately after the meal, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Even though Jesus specifically asked the disciples to keep watch and remain with Him, they all fell asleep before an hour passed. This will be the first of three unique forms of denial, which next includes Judas arriving with the soldiers and the disciples’ abandonment of Jesus, highlighted by Peter’s threefold denial that culminates in his own weeping.
Tonight, we will form a prayer vigil from 7 pm until 7 am. The goal of this time is to spend an hour, which can be anguishing, in an experience of remembering and waiting. Similarly to our foot-washing experience, this experience (although solitary) can be incredibly powerful. When you sign up for the hour during the night in which you commit to keeping watch with Jesus and praying, you will find further directions, passages to read, ideas for prayer, and even worship music to listen to.
Click the links below: (insert links)
FRIDAY (4/7): Good Friday
Jesus is abandoned to suffer as he cries out from the cross
Matthew 27:1-61 Luke 22:66-23:49
For Good Friday observance at Sunridge, our goal is to make room to remember Christ as he endures the suffering of the cross. So here are our two invitations:
1) View our unique Stations of the Cross experience, a reflective prayer walk that traces the final events leading up to Jesus’ death. For the second year in a row, artists from our congregation have submitted pieces accompanied by corresponding passages of Scripture that chart Jesus’ journey from the Garden of Gethsemane onward. While it is most traditional to do the Stations of the Cross between noon and 3 pm (the hours that Jesus was on the cross before he died), our visuals will be available before and after our Good Friday service.
2) We then ask you to join us for our Good Friday service, which will take place at 7 pm inside the worship center. Our service will follow the Tenebrae-inspired format we’ve utilized for the last three years: an interweaving of Scripture and worship, marked by a progressive extinguishing of lights. After the conclusion of our service, we will continue to recognize the loss of Christ, the light of the world. Finally, to further engage our senses with these reminders until Sunday morning, we encourage you to fast from all sweets (including fruit and artificial sweeteners) and all forms of artificial light between Friday night and our Sunday morning services. While incredibly challenging, the latter options provide us with the final opportunities to intensify our sense and experience of loss and lack.
SATURDAY (4/8): Silent Saturday
The disciples are hidden away in shock
Despite Jesus’ forewarnings to his disciples about the suffering he would endure in Jerusalem, there is no way for them to make sense of the last 48 hours. They watched him betrayed and arrested just past midnight of Thursday evening, hours after their intimate Passover meal, only to watch an escalation of beatings, mockings, and a corrupted judicial process declare him “crowned” in advance of a public execution. The brutal and humiliating Roman crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals. Still, in a way that would further excruciate the traditional Jewish mind, the wood of the cross would have evoked the sentiment of Jesus being cursed by God.
And now, on Saturday, which is the Jewish Sabbath – a day of consecrated rest from work and many typical daily activities – the disciples hide away in shock, partly mourning the loss of their rabbi, friend, brother, and greatest hope for deliverance, while simultaneously grappling with questions about if they had been fooled and betrayed by another messianic failure. Today, our activity is straightforward: continue your fast from sweet and the usage of artificial lights, rest, reflect, and seek out ways to be still. Attempt to abstain from distinct pleasures, sources of comfort or disengagement, work, and even exercise. Today should be a solemn day, imagining what it would be like without any guarantee of the hope of what is to come tomorrow.
Jesus is risen, and he will wipe every tear
John 20:1-18 (Revelation 21:1-5)
We invite you to join us on Sunday, April 9th, at our 8:30 am or 10:00 am service, where we will celebrate that He is risen! Invite a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker, but when you do so, tell them why you’re inviting them. Examples include: “I’d like to invite you to come to our Easter service because…” or “It’d mean so much to me if you came to Easter service with me because…”
As our Holy Week concludes on Resurrection Sunday, meditate on these truths and corresponding Scripture:
We celebrate our Savior, whose life, death, and burial were the cause for many tears but whose resurrection and presence are the source of comfort – for those in need today, just as Mary wept in the garden – but with hope toward our resurrection into a new heaven and a new earth, where:
“‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.” – Isaiah 55:8-9