Sunday, 25 March 2018

A Daily Chronology of Jesus’ "Last" Week

Spend This Week With Jesus – 

At the heart of our faith is the Paschal mystery: the Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. All of salvation history leads up to and goes forth from these saving events. The purpose of this post is to describe Jesus’ final week. We call this “Holy Week” because Jesus’ public ministry culminates with His suffering, death, and resurrection.
What follows is a brief description of each day of Holy Week. I hope you will print out this flyer (Walking-with-Jesus-In-Holy-Week) and read it each day this week. Prayerfully walk with Jesus in His most difficult yet most glorious week.
Some scholars of Scripture scoff at the idea that we can construct a day-by-day journal of Jesus’ last week. There are historical gaps and things in the different accounts that don’t add up perfectly. Further, St. John posits a slightly different timeframe (shifted by one day) for the Last Supper relative to Passover. The following sequence follows the timing of the synoptic (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) accounts. Despite certain scholarly doubts, the accounts really do add up pretty well if one uses a little imagination and sees the differences not as factual discrepancies but rather only as variations in the level of detail.
So read this chronology as a likely, but not certain, outline of the last week of Jesus. It is still a great blessing to consider the Lord’s last week and to walk with Him.
Plan to attend some or all of the special liturgies of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday at your parish. By celebrating them in community, we make them present today and we learn again, in a new way, the reality of our Risen Lord alive in our midst.
PALM SUNDAY – Our celebration of Holy Week begins today as we remember and make present the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem to begin His final week and initiate His Passion. All four Gospels recount this triumphant entry that Sunday morning so long ago, but made present to us today. As you receive your palms, consider that you are part of that vast crowd. How will you journey with Jesus this week? Let the palms remind you to praise Him with your prayerful presence during the sacred Triduum. According to Mark 11:11, Jesus returned that evening to Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. Perhaps He stayed with his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Pray with Jesus this evening as He considers the difficult days ahead of Him.
Monday of Holy Week – According to Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19, Jesus returned to Jerusalem this day and, seeing shameful practices in the Temple area, cleansed it. John’s Gospel also records that Jesus rebuked the unbelief of the crowds. Mark 11:19 records that Jesus returned to Bethany that night. Pray with Jesus as He is zealous in His desire to purify us.
Tuesday of Holy Week – According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus again returned to Jerusalem where He was confronted by the Temple leadership for what He had done the previous day; they questioned His authority. Jesus also taught extensively using parables and other forms. There was the parable of the vineyard (cf Mt 21:33-46), the parable of the wedding banquet (cf Mt. 22:1), the teaching on paying taxes (cf Mt 22:15), and the rebuke of the Sadducees who denied the resurrection (cf Mt. 22:23). There was also the fearful prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem if the inhabitants did not come to faith in Him: Jesus warned that not one stone would be left on another (cf Mt 24). Continue to pray with Jesus and listen carefully to His final teachings just before His Passion.
Wednesday of Holy Week – Traditionally this day was called “Spy Wednesday,” for it was on this Wednesday before the crucifixion that Judas conspired to hand Jesus over. For this he was paid thirty pieces of silver (cf Mt. 26:14). Jesus likely spent the day in Bethany. In the evening, Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with costly perfumed oil. Judas objected but Jesus rebuked him, saying that Mary had anointed Him for His burial (cf Mt 26:6). The wicked are besetting Jesus and plotting against Him; are you praying?
HOLY THURSDAY marks the beginning of the sacred Triduum, or “three days.” Earlier in the day, Jesus had given instructions to the disciples on how to prepare for this most holy meal, which would be His last supper. Throughout the day they made these preparations (cf Mt 26:17). In the Mass of the Lord’s Supper conducted at our parishes, we remember and make present that Last Supper which Jesus shared with His disciples. We are in the upper room with Jesus and the apostles and we do what they did. Through the ritual of washing the feet (Jn 13:1) of twelve parishioners, we unite in service to one another. Through our celebration of this First Mass and Holy Eucharist (Mt 26:26), we unite ourselves to Jesus and we receive His Body and Blood as if for the first time. At this Eucharist, we especially thank God for His gift of the ministerial priesthood. After the Last Supper (First Mass), Jesus and the apostles made a short journey across the Kidron Valley to the Garden, where He asked them to pray while He experienced His agony (cf Mt 26:30). We will process in Church with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to a garden (the altar of repose) that has been prepared. The liturgy ends in silence. It is an ancient custom to spend an hour before the reposed Blessed Sacrament this night. We are with Jesus in the Garden and we pray as He goes through His agony. Most of our parish churches remain open until close to midnight. It was nearly midnight when Jesus was betrayed by Judas, was arrested, and was taken to the house of the high priest (cf Mt. 26:47).
GOOD FRIDAY – All through the previous night, Jesus had been locked in the dungeon of the high priest’s house. Early in the morning He was brought before Pontius Pilate, who transferred the case to Herod. Herod promptly sent Him back to Pilate who, sometime in mid-morning, bowed to the pressure of the Temple leadership and the crowds and condemned Jesus to a horrible death by crucifixion. In the late morning, Jesus was taken by soldiers through the city and up the hillside of Golgotha. By noon He had been nailed to the Cross, where He hung in agony for some three hours. Jesus died at around three in the afternoon. He was taken down from the Cross and hastily placed in the tomb before sundown. Today is a day of prayer, fasting, and abstinence. To the extent possible, Christians are urged to keep today free of work, social engagements, and entertainment, devoting themselves to communal prayer and worship. At noon many parishes gather for Stations of the Cross and for recollections of the seven last words of Jesus. Many parishes also offer Stations of the Cross at 3:00 PM, the hour of Jesus’ death. In the evening, we gather quietly in our parish Churches to enter into a time of prayer, as we reflect on Jesus’ death on the Cross. We also pray for the needs of the world. To acknowledge the power of the Cross in our lives today, each of us in turn comes forward to venerate the Cross with a kiss. Our hunger from this day of fasting is satisfied with Holy Communion distributed at the end of this liturgy. Consider, too, how the apostles might have gathered that night together in fear and prayer, reflecting on all that had happened.
HOLY SATURDAY – The body of Jesus was in the tomb but His soul was among the dead, announcing the Kingdom. The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear it will Live (John 5:25). Consider what it must have been like for the dead in Sheol to awaken to the voice of Jesus! Meanwhile, the disciples, heartbroken at the death of Jesus, observed the Jewish Sabbath in sorrow. They had forgotten Jesus’ promise that He would rise. We cannot forget His promise. We cannot forget it. Tonight in our parishes, after sundown, we gather for the Great Easter Vigil, where we will experience Jesus’ rising from the dead. We gather in darkness and light the Easter fire, which reminds us that Jesus is light in the darkness. He is the light of the world. We enter into the church and listen attentively to Bible stories describing God’s saving work of the past. Suddenly, the church lights are lit and the Gloria is sung as we celebrate the moment of Christ’s resurrection. He lives! In the joy of the resurrection, we then celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist for our catechumens and candidates, who have prepared for many weeks for this night. As a Church, we sing Alleluia for the first time in forty days. Do everything you can to be present on this evening, and invite friends and family to join you. Our Easter Vigil ushers in an Easter joy that never ends!

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Art in Lent: the washing of the feet

It is one of the more curious discrepancies of the gospels that John does not include an account of the Last Supper, in terms of the sharing of bread and wine as the act of remembrance. Instead the writer of the last gospel account to be put on paper tells the story of a man preparing his small anxious band of followers through words and actions that are not recorded in the other three gospels. Perhaps he thought the other three gospel writers had got the bread-and-wine bit covered; after all, this is clearly all happening at the same event written of by Matthew, Mark and Luke, at which the shared body and blood was central. Yet it was another demonstration of love that John recounted, one that was ignored by the other three: Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.
I have difficulty understanding this passage. Jesus asks at the end, ‘Do you understand?’, as if the message is simple and straightforward; as if there is only one possible answer. But if this were a multiple choice question I would always be left with at least two plausible right answers. So let’s try that: did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet because
a) they were dirty and a bit smelly
b) he was demonstrating his humility, and wanted to teach them humility
c) he wanted them to do exactly that for one another – wash each other’s feet
d) he wanted them to learn that they would always need to be make clean in his presence?
The tradition in Jewish households of the time was that the feet would be washed by a servant on arrival. This was a necessary act; after tramping dusty roads in a hot country wearing sandals – and no socks – the feet were offensive to others; and in a culture where diners reclined at table, the feet would be clearly visible – and smellable! Yet the passage says Jesus got up from the meal to wash the feet. The feet should have been washed already; this was a symbolic act, just as the sharing of one cup is not meant to slake the thirst, but to symbolize our union into the death of Christ.
After he has washed the feet of all, Jesus tells his disciples, ‘you should wash one another’s feet,’ because ‘no servant is greater than his master’. The message is not one of dealing with dirt; it is of servanthood within the body of Christ. Jesus made himself the lowly footwasher – what will he require of us?
And there is another important lesson, in the exchange between Peter and Jesus.
‘Jesus answered, A person who has had a bath needs only
to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.’
The washing of the feet in this sense seems to symbolize our need for regular confession and forgiveness. We are washed clean completely when we come to Christ, in the first instance, on our knees; but we must have the humility and self-awareness to come regularly with the daily grime of our petty selfishness. And every time, our Lord kneels before us, to make us new.
So this is not one simple message; and in this way it does mimic the bread and wine, in its multi-faceted symbolism.
There are many pieces of art that depict the last supper, but far fewer that show Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. In our Lent art group last week we looked at four images, three depicting the events as told by John and one a portrait of footwashing in a different context.
Ford Madox Brown was an English artist born in 1821 and closely linked to the pre-Raphaelites through his tutorage of Dante Gabriel Rosetti. The scope of his worrk is huge, ranging from portraiture to landscapes, sacred to secular, historical to present day commentary. His ‘Jesus washing Peter’s Feet’ caused an outcry when first exhibited in 1856 as it depicted Jesus semi-clad – the artist had to go back and paint robes in later, as it remained unsold for several years.

Ghislane Howard painted the image at the head of this post. She is a British contemporary artist whose paintings focus on the human condition. She has worked as the artist-in-residence for a Manchester maternity hospital, painted children with cerebral palsy learning to walk, and been commissioned to paint her take on the Stations of the Cross by Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Jesus washing Peter’s feet was commissioned for the Methodist art collection.
Sieger Koder is a retired Catholic priest living near Stuttgart. During the second world war he served Germany as a front line soldier in France, where he was captured and made a British prisoner of war. After the war he studied to be a teacher, then worked as an artist and art teacher. His art is predominantly paintings of gospel scenes, which invite the viewer into the scene depicted: the companion piece to the washing of Peter’s feet is his last supper, in which we see things from Christ’s angle, looking down at the cup in his hands in which we again see his reflected face.

We discussed these three images. Responses were varied, although Madox Brown was the least preferred - his Jesus is too far from the simple carpenter we imagine, and the painted-on robes were less appreciated by modern sensibilities. Peter seems too old, but suitably obstinate. His onlookers were appreciated, however - particularly the interpretation of the the beloved disciple as the watching blond man at the table, drinking in his Lord's actions in order to record them for us later. Howard's rough and ready Peter, engaged in a moment of private vulnerability before a friendly and unassuming Lord, appealed to most. Koder's Christ seems engaged in an act of contortion, and it is perhaps a pity that the face reflected in the water does not register more obvious emotion. But it is poignant to see the face of Jesus peering back from the grime of human feet, echoing the stench of Golgotha. Here he wears a scarf reminiscent of the garb of a Jewish priest: it is his cleansing that makes us clean, to walk into the courts of heaven.
 Our preferred image is this one, by Mary Cassatt who was an American-born painter of the later nineteenth century. Trained in Paris and a friend of Degas, she painted intimate portraits of domestic life such as this. There is something about its simple service and adoration that we loved. A mother does not see washing a child's feet as a chore, nor does she pause to consider her status. The feet are precious to her: beloved. Those of us whose children have now grown ache and long for one more chance to wash tiny toes, holding the child on our lap as we whisper songs into their ear. 
In the three images above we see Christ as servant, as priest, as carpenter-king, and as friend. But Jesus as parent - God as mother-father - gives us a fresh perspective on his intention.


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Keeping Time with Jesus

 Lenten Companion

When do we pray? Don Saliers reminds us that some in the early church believed that “the life of the Christian is one long continual prayer.” During this season, Dr. Saliers invites us to consider the Church’s Lenten journey as a double journey “into the mystery of God’s unfathomable grace and into the depths of our humanity.”

The Church’s Lenten journey is a double journey: into the mystery of God’s unfathomable grace and into the depths of our humanity. Both are required. For some of us the pathway to divine encounter is when we confront our deepest needs; for others it is only when God’s love suddenly embraces us that we begin to learn about the mystery of being human. The Christian community cannot avoid this journey because, for the Church, it is also a liturgical pilgrimage journey toward Easter and the mystery of our baptism into Christ—a confrontation with the “gap” between the world as it is and the world as God intends it to be; the gap between who we are and who Christ calls us to be.

At the heart of the Christian faith and our life together is our entry into the life, teaching, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and Spirit-giving of Jesus Christ. Lent calls us to face in the direction God’s embodied love looks. We proclaim that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Born into our human history in the fullness of time for our salvation—and the redemption of the whole world—Jesus lived and suffered and died our death. But God “raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand…, and has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20, 22-23.) This is the Paschal Mystery which the season of Lent prepares us for, the mystery which Easter and the Great Fifty Days celebrate.

When we speak of the Paschal Mystery, we point to the inexhaustible range of meanings found in the saving work of Christ and in the church’s participation in his life poured out into our world—into our lives, our struggles, our hopes and disappointments, our sorrows and deepest joys. We use this term to refer to the depth of the Eucharist itself. This Paschal Mystery has everything to do with our baptismal journey in Lent, and with re-entering the narrative of passion-death-resurrection. My favorite definition of the Christian liturgical year is “keeping time with Jesus.” Thus Lent is a way of keeping time with the whole story that unfolds from Ash Wednesday through Easter to Pentecost. The journey is from ashes to fire.

So we are summoned to fast and pray. We pray through the astonishing images given in Scripture this season. As Jesus faced temptation, so must we. As he struggled with human misunderstanding, so must we. As he healed the sick and fed the hungry, so must we pray and work for healing and for feeding the hungry. As he faced mortality and human weakness, so must we. As he steadfastly journeyed toward Jerusalem, so must we face the world’s conflict of good and evil. All of this is prayer. As some in the early Church have said, the life of the Christian is one long continual prayer.

Our double journey unfolds the whole range of our humanity before God and neighbor. We go the way of Christ’s liturgy. Take heart, the One who bids us follow has gone this way and will not fail us. The Paschal Mystery embraces and sustains us on our way.