Holy Week

Lazarus’ Tomb Bethany, Israel

The shortest verse in the Bible comes from the Book of John: “Jesus wept.” To better understand the meaning of this verse you have to understand the humanity of Jesus, He was fully God and fully man. When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus had died, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were mourning his loss, He wept. He wept because of the love and sympathy He shared with this family. Jesus asked to be led to the tomb, even though Lazarus had been dead for four days. In the natural, anyone would have had the same reaction as Martha. “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” ( John 11:39 New American Standard Revised). Jesus reminds her that if you believe, you would see the glory of God.

Mr. Bob, (Roman soldier), Jesus (Torie) and me behind Torie

Years ago I was part  of a lay ministry that produced plays to reenact this scene. Mr. Bob always played the part of Lazarus. Mr. Bob was well into his seventies, over six feet tall, he was a character in real life. His voice was loud and animated, his wiry, snow white hair was always unruly. He was bone thin and always wore tan work boots with socks  that long ago wore out their elastic band. We did these plays in a building that was once a restaurant. Toward the back of the building  were two small storage rooms. When it was time for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, Mr. Bob came out with what resembled mummy wrappings. He held his arms straight out, looking more like a horror movie. As he made his way down the aisle, no words could truly express the look on people’s faces; some were smiling and holding in their laughter, while others looked on in amazement. Mr. Bob did a fine job scaring the children.

Lazarus Raised From the Dead

The Roman authorities, and Pharisees were not happy to hear that Lazarus was raised from the dead because this caused many Jews to follow this controversial rabbi.  All this was taking place six days before Passover; Christians refer to this period as Holy Week.

Palm Sunday

When Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem He rode on a donkey. This simple beast of burden was a sign of humility because this is what Jesus exemplified in His ministry. Palm Sunday is a great celebration; palm branches were used as a symbol of praise. The people shouted out,”Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” (John 12:13 New American Standard Revised). The word Hosanna in Hebrew means “Save us!” As Catholics we receive palm branches. Because, they are blessed they cannot be thrown away; they need to be incinerated. This is were we get the ashes we use for Ash Wednesday.

I can only speak for myself, but this is an emotional, spiritual journey for me. The excitement of Easter opens our hearts to the Resurrection of our Lord, but before we arrive we must go through the path that Jesus led us.

The Unbelievers

Soon after Jesus spoke of his death.  Some of His rebellious followers, who had witnessed many miracles, stopped believing. How does this happen? They were there when Lazarus was raised from the dead! This strange phenomenon is still happening today. People attend church; go through the motions yet continue their sinful ways. The great prophet Isaiah was right when he wrote,”He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, least they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn to me to heal them.” (John 12:40 New American Standard Revised). God’s response to unbelievers is to blind them and harden their hearts. Until people understand the concept of free will, they will forever wander in front of the Temple of God, not knowing why they are on the outside. Jesus invites all to come to His great and mighty temple. There you will find rest. The world will offer you a pseudo life of material wealth, but what good is it if your heart is hardened against God?

Jesus Washes the Feet of His Disciples

During the many times I have visited the Holy Land, I can always remember the howling winds in the middle of the night. The old windows rattle and the worn out drapes wave when the wind makes it way through the unstable casements. It gets very windy there and the dust kicks up and dirties the entire region. It was no different in the time of Jesus; people in sandals walked for miles and their feet got dirty. The Upper Room in the Old City is located in the Jewish section. We usually pay a small stipend to visit this holy site. As we participated in the washing of each other’s feet by borrowing the wastebaskets and towels from our hotel. Yes, we were a sight –  the only Americans walking around the Old City with plastic trash cans.

When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, He took the role of a servant. This task was usually done by household slaves, never by the host. This beautiful act of humility will always serve as a reminder of the paradox of Jesus’ character.

 

Peter denies Jesus, The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, (inscription: Non novi illum (I knew him not)

Judas’ Betrayal

Jesus knew who would betray Him. Judas was the disciple who complained when Mary anointed Jesus with the expensive spikenard. He didn’t care about the poor because he already had his dirty hands in the money box. (John 13:5-6). Jesus exposes Judas during the Last Supper; the other disciples were unaware of the malice. When you’re a thief, you’re a liar as well. Satan had already planted a seed of corruption in Judas’ heart. After Judas receives the morsel, he leaves to do his dirty work. It was night, and that is when the Devil does his deceitful work because he loves the cover of darkness.

Good Friday

The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu shares a good view of the Garden of Gethsemane. The translation of Gallicantu is “the rooster crows.” Peter denied Jesus three times in Gallicantu, just as he slept three times while Jesus prayed in agony. After the Resurrection in the last chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to Peter (John 21:15-17). Three times the Lord asked Peter, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” Jesus was passing on to Peter the responsibility of pastoral authority. Christ made Peter the head of the Universal Church. St. Peter became our first Pope.

On Good Friday our beautiful Lord is led down the Via Dolorosa to meet His imminent death.  He is whipped, spat upon and mocked every step of the way, while His accusers boldly cry out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” His Mother Mary, helpless in every sense, looks up at her only Son in great despair. Her eyes have shed so many tears. To witness His death was like a sword piercing her broken heart.

The Resurrection 

Roses from my garden
My beautiful Azaleas
Roses for our Blessed Mother Mary

After a mild winter the flowers in our yard started to bloom. The azaleas surround the front of our home and are fully dressed for Easter. This is our heavenly reminder that just as these flowers come back to life year after year, our Lord is faithful in giving us tangible signs as a reminder of His Resurrection.

You can find the story of the Resurrection in all four gospels. We all know the ending of the story: Christ rose from the dead, and He is our everlasting Savior! We celebrate the  Resurrection as the climax of all Christianity. We give God the glory for without the Resurrection, we have no hope.

My Prayer

Dear Lord, as we enter Holy Week, may we be forever mindful of our spiritual direction. Continue to guide us in this Lenten journey. May we keep our eyes on Your holy Cross. Lord, lead us out of the dark and narrow paths and into Your glorious light. May we never deny Your existence, or betray You in any way. Lord, I pray that millions will return to Your Church Easter Sunday. Amen.

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