During Holy Week, we are invited to listen again to Jesus’ final words from the cross. Could it be that his final statements on that first Good Friday speak with new power in the midst of this very unusual Holy Week? How is Jesus speaking to us about the power of grace, the reality of a community that is stronger than touch, a family that reaches further than genetics?
Is he teaching us how to pray in an unusual time? Is he showing us how to really trust? Join us as we prayerfully hear Jesus’ “Words in the Dark” in this seven-part Holy Week video series starting Palm Sunday, April 5 at 2 p.m.
Below is a summary overview of each installment of this special seven-part video series from CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley. Videos will be posted each day Monday-Saturday at 10 a.m. here and available for download and also featured on the CBF Facebook page.
Holy Saturday (April 11) — “Into your hands I commend my Spirit.”
This is the second time Jesus quotes the Psalms, this time Psalm 31:5.
In the midst of the darkness, the anguish, the approaching death, Jesus’ prayer is not one of anxiety or abandonment, but one of trust. It is a trust that shines like light in a very dark place.
The way Jesus prays requires him to take himself out of other hands and put himself in God’s hands. What hands does Jesus reject as he prays this prayer? He rejects the hands of the corrupt government, or the angry people around him, or those who have taunted him. He decides to place himself in the hands of the one who is always with him in love and power.
What would it mean for us now to pray and live in trust—to trust the presence and provision of God? To recognize his presence in the darkness? To know that we are not alone? What hands and powers might we have to reject? To diminish? What would it mean to live these days in trust?
Good Friday (April 10) — “It is finished.”
These last words of Jesus are really one word in Greek… “tetelestai”
Is it a word of surrender? A word of resignation? We are tempted to hear it that way. And right now, many of us are tempted to think that way. After all, we don’t know how long this unusual season will last. We don’t yet know what all the impacts will be. It is easy to surrender, to feel defeated, to give up.
But no. That word can also be translated “victory.” Is it a word of triumph? A cry of conquest? Does he cry out as one who can see Sunday morning from a dark Friday afternoon?
What does it mean for us to live as people who are held by a resurrection confidence in the midst of a Good Friday world? How can we announce the power of resurrection with our words and deeds and in our congregations?
Maundy Thursday (April 9) — “I thirst.”
These words of Jesus bring us face-to-face with the fullness of his humanity. The extraordinary suffering he is experiencing has left him dry and parched; he is thirsty. Any human being having experienced the cruelty of crucifixion would be thirsty. The fullness of Jesus’ divinity does not diminish the fullness of his humanity. In this moment, we see his humanity and hear him cry out in thirst.
Where do we hear him crying today? In whose voices do we hear his thirst? Is it in the voices of those who face this pandemic in contexts of poverty? Is it in migrant communities? Is it in urban and rural contexts where people’s livelihoods are on the line and among those who do not have the privilege of working remotely and protecting some semblance of security for their families? Who is thirsty because of injustice?
Whose cries of thirst do we need to hear during this Holy Week? In whose voices do we hear Jesus’ cry? And how are we called to respond?
Holy Wednesday (April 8) — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Of all the words from the cross, this is the most painful to hear. It is a completely honest cry of lament, lifted from the opening phrases of Psalm 22. In this moment of extraordinary agony, Jesus enters fully into the darkest places of human experience, and he prays this prayer of abandonment.
He teaches us what it means to pray in difficult seasons. He models for us what honest prayer looks like. His prayer is permission for honest faithfulness.
There is no doubt that this Holy Week is different from any we have ever experienced. We are dealing with changes and uncertainties that bring us to a place from which we must learn to pray honestly. But beyond that, there are people in our communities and all over the world who are fighting for life itself in the face of this pandemic. There are health care workers and chaplains who are risking illness themselves to care for those who are hurting. Among those who are most ill, and among those who are risking most, are there prayers of agony and pain and frustration and abandonment rising from the darkness?
But in this prayer of Jesus there is Gospel. The Christ to whom we pray is no stranger to our sufferings or our challenges. He entered into the darkest places, experiencing the worst pain, suffering and abandonment that are possible. He prayed this honest yet agonizing prayer. So, the one who hears us as we pray is not unfamiliar, but knows.
And there is more Gospel. He has not only been to the deepest and darkest places. He has overcome them.
Holy Tuesday (April 7) — “Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother.”
Among Jesus’ words from the cross are words of provision for his mother and a disciple whom he loves dearly. As he dies, he models a sacrificial concern for his mother and a tremendously close friend.
When we listen to Jesus speak these words, we are called to consider how we take care of one another in our families and in the holy friendships that most sustain our lives. What does it mean to provide for our families and also support holy friendships in the darkness of this season?
And what does it mean to listen to Jesus speak with a widening definition of compassion and an expanding concern? Are not all who share faith in Jesus connected to us in the same way Jesus is to this disciple whom he loves? What does it mean for us to notice sisters and brothers in Christ living in poverty, most at risk for the impacts of this virus? What can we provide each other?
Holy Monday (April 6) — “This day, you are with me in paradise.”
Jesus’ second words, spoken to a thief on another cross, are spoken across a terrible boundary of physical separation and social distance. Jesus and this thief cannot touch each other. We cannot even be certain that by position they can see each other. But the thief reaches out to Jesus, and Jesus responds, “Today you are with me.” With me across painful, horrible separation; with me not only in this life, but in the life of the world to come. Jesus’ words forge a bond that overpowers distance
On Good Friday, this happens more than once. The Gospels tell us that standing far off from Jesus are several women. They cannot reach and touch him, but they will not leave. In the darkness of mid-day, their visibility is reduced. But there is a bond between them, a connection that overpowers separation.
This is a powerful truth to discover in the midst of this Holy Week. We are all separated by new boundaries—created not this time by evil, but instead to offer healing and protection. But they still feel isolating. We are separated from people we love and from practices that give us life. But in Christ Jesus there is a bond more powerful than social distance.
Palm Sunday (April 5) — “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”
Jesus’ first spoken words during the darkness of Good Friday are words of indescribable grace. He offers forgiveness to those who crucify him, affirming that they don’t really know what they are doing.
These are also powerful words of grace for us to hear early in the COVID 19 pandemic. Over these first several dizzying weeks, many of us have had the sense that we do not know what we are doing. It feels as though we are breathing different air. We are adjusting to different patterns of living and worshiping and loving. Those of us tasked with making decisions are trying to absorb overwhelming amounts of information. Sometimes in hindsight we may already wonder whether if we had known more sooner we would have acted differently, or more decisively.
Today, Jesus speaks words of grace to us…grace that recognizes that we are finding our way in a dark and unfamiliar world, grace that demands that it be shared with one another.
But it is not cheap grace. Grace offered from a cross can never be cheap. It demands that we be faithful stewards of costly grace. We steward it by sharing it. We steward it by doing the best we can.