Tag Archives: Holy Week

Kevin Watson ~ A More Meaningful Holy Week

There are several moments from classes when I was in seminary at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D. C. that have stayed with me in the years since I graduated. I remember the class “Methodist History and Doctrine” when Dr. Doug Strong’s summary of the Wesleyan Way of Salvation brought so many things together for me and made me feel in my bones that I was a Methodist, and was a major catalyst for where I am today. I remember Dr. Amy Oden reminding us in “Church History” every class to ask the “So what?” question when we studied the past. I remember Dr. Sondra Wheeler’s passion for clear thinking and her ability to challenge students to be consistent and carefully consider and probe unexamined ethical assumptions. I remember Dr. Scott Kisker sending us out into the streets of D.C. to ask people about what grace meant to them. And I remember Dr. Kendall Soulen saying that you could put a host of different things as descriptors of Jesus, but at a very basic level the gospel was simply, “Jesus saves.”

I learned a lot in seminary and had some amazing teachers. Perhaps the image that has stayed with me more than any other came from Dr. Laurence Hull Stookey’s “Corporate Worship” course. Dr. Stookey was discussing the Christian calendar, and he was trying to help us see that the purpose of the Christian calendar was more than a circle where you do the same things over and over again. He described the Christian calendar as being like a spiral staircase: you come to the same point in the circle each year, but you have ascended higher up the stairs each year than you were the year before, or at least that is the purpose of the Christian calendar.

Dr. Stookey’s image of the Christian year being like a spiral staircase has helped me understand why Christian time is itself a means of grace. Every year we go through seasons of repentance, self-denial, and fasting. Each year we also go through seasons of celebration, rejoicing, and exultation. And every year we go through seasons of ordinary time, when we are in a season of “regular” living.

I have come to appreciate many things about the Christian calendar. I appreciate the way the Christian calendar helps you practice what real life is like. As I have ascended the spiral staircase, I have become better at rejoicing – really celebrating –what God has done for the world – and for me. I have also learned how to grieve, to lament, to say no to myself and others, and to notice the heartbreaking extent to which things in the world are not ok. Perhaps what has surprised me the most about the major rhythms of the Christian calendar is that I have come to appreciate ordinary time, the gift of unextraordinary days, even seasons when you experience normal rhythms and routines.

This week, Holy Week, is the highlight of the Christian calendar. To speak in a way that I suspect Dr. Stookey might not approve, Holy Week is like the Super Bowl of the Christian calendar. It is packed with meaning and is like the entire Christian year packed into one week.

Observing Holy Week has had a significant impact on my life. There are many different ways I could mark my growth as a follower of Jesus Christ, but a major part of my growth as a Christian came when I started to attend Holy Week services. Attending worship on Thursday and Friday of Holy Week is a highlight of my year as a follower of Jesus. Attending these services has prepared me to celebrate – really celebrate – the news that Jesus Christ is risen.

As I have, by the grace of God, ascended the spiral staircase of the Christian calendar, I have discovered that Christians (myself absolutely included) have a lot of room to grow in discipline and self-denial. I have been surprised to find that Christians are often actually worse at celebration than they are at self-denial. Easter is not one Sunday, it is eight weeks. But I have yet to attend a church that has had the celebratory stamina to throw an eight-week party. I have been to some amazing Easter Sunday services, but I don’t remember a single worship service from the sixth Sunday of Easter.

It is here that Dr. Stookey would want to remind us all that every Sunday is a little Easter. Christians celebrate (but do we really celebrate?) the resurrection every single Sunday.

I urge you to do whatever you have to do to attend Holy Week services this week. We need to prepare to celebrate this Sunday. And God, in God’s graciousness, has given us an entire week to prepare to celebrate the best news the world has ever heard.

Dr. Stookey would, I think, also want me to tell you that you can’t get to the resurrection without the crucifixion. The cross of Christ is itself a potent means of grace. But our ability to celebrate the empty tomb will always be impoverished if we show up to hear the astounding news of an empty tomb, but have not heard all that happened so that death’s power could be broken from the inside.

No matter what your previous experience of Holy Week has been, there is room to enter more fully into the amazing grace of God. We can continue walking up the staircase, growing in holiness with each step.

By the grace of God, may we each experience a more meaningful Holy Week this week than we ever have. Amen.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Humility. Unity. Worship.

There I was, punching couch cushions, trying to keep my sudden, violent shouts muted so I wouldn’t wake up the kids.

If you watched the University of Kentucky vs. Notre Dame college basketball game Saturday night, you know what I’m talking about: a nail-biter, an epic battle. “This is why we love sports,” a headline blazed the following morning.

In the aftermath of the win (in Kentucky, a win really does leave an aftermath), a story popped up online showing an entirely different angle to the triumphant chest bumps and crazed leaps of players suddenly realizing they’re headed to the Final Four.

For a moment I thought I’d dozed off in front of my Facebook feed which, full of UK fans and friends in ministry, has been overflowing with a steady stream of Kentucky blue and Holy Week imagery punctuated with chipper pastors subtly posting service times in bold alongside inspiring photos on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

Men kneeling in front of others, washing their feet. The Pope? No, that’s not the Pope. Friend’s promotion for Maundy Thursday service? Religious icon?

Or a team of basketball players?

Kentucky residents would’ve seen this clip last August (there’s nothing about the Wildcats that goes uncovered in the Bluegrass).

“Well, no wonder they play so well together,” I thought after first seeing the video over the weekend. “They washed feet together. And shared humility always brings unity.”

This thought came unbidden as if it were an overfamiliar bumper sticker. What?

Shared humility always brings unity.

Pictures emerged from my mind: the close bond I’d built with fellow students on a mission trip where we, yes, served others.

Believers gathered in an upper room, praying, waiting together in humility for the Holy Spirit.

The Book of Acts: disciples beaten, thrown in jail together; as much as we dwell on the early conflicts of the early church, consider this: the thousands of miles of road traveled, the uncomfortable nights, the stressful circumstances. When’s the last time you traveled with someone else for months? Years? Travel brings out the hidden depths of the human soul like no other experience: hotel clerks recognize the despair in an exhausted parent’s eyes after driving for hours with small children. Peaceful partnerships descend into irrational, chaotic fights in which unfoldable maps are bandied like awkward paper weapons. “See how they love each other”? While traveling?

“Ah,” you counter, “but they had the Holy Spirit. They were anointed.

“Yes,” I would counter, “but they were also human beings, not the Incarnate Christ,” as several stories from Acts will bear me out.

Yes, they had the blessing of the Holy Spirit at work. But it would seem that one of the Holy Spirit’s favorite ways to work is by doing remarkable things through shared humility. And by birthing unity through Spirit-infused shared humility.

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he set them an example: this is who I am, this is what I do. Now, go and do likewise. What they couldn’t anticipate was the real-world result that washing feet together yields.

Have a conflict in your church? Don’t just schedule a service in which people on one side of the argument are “serendipitously” paired to wash the feet of the people on the other side (although I still recommend just that). Send them all out to wash feet together.

There’s another way that shared humility brings unity. Consider worship, and what it is. Whether you picture a church service or crowds gathered around a royal palace, note that first and foremost, before anything else is done, worship is shared humility. How can it not be? You’re gathered with your peers to publicly announce, through kneeling for prayers, or singing words, that you all depend on God alone; that God alone is worth worship, and that you are not. To worship is to humble yourself. To worship together is to humble yourselves together. Humbling yourselves together is shared humility. Shared humility brings unity.

As we move towards Maundy Thursday this Holy Week, let me ask: whose feet do you need to wash? Who has given you a headache recently, caused you pain? And with whom do you need to go and wash feet, sharing humility side by side?

Recently my family was invited into the home of some international students. They treated us like honored guests, cooking and serving because, as one of them said, “you take care of us, so it’s only right that we take care of you sometimes.” While there, one of them matter of factly commented on the habit of a couple locals who would deliberately rev their vehicles and buzz the students while they were mid-crosswalk, crossing the street.

The international black students.

One student had a bottle of urine thrown on them from a moving truck window.

I have never dealt with sexism with the grace that my black friends consistently deal with racism.

One pastor with whom I recently attended a conference led a peaceful march a couple of months ago. Some townspeople wore miniature white Klan masks and put fried chicken and watermelon in the middle of the road on which the marchers approached. What was the response of the marchers? To switch the focus onto the number of people who had offered lemonade or refreshment to the peaceful protesters.

What if the media were flooded by images of local police departments kneeling down, one by one, and washing citizens’ feet? What if the media were flooded by images of community leaders kneeling down, one by one, washing officers’ feet? What if the media were flooded by images of police departments and NAACP members traveling together to build concrete block houses for Proyecto Abrigo in Juarez, Mexico? What if the media were flooded by images of rival politicians walking into each others’ offices to wash each others’ feet?

Alright, I may get carried away a little.

Except I’m not carried away. Even DC politicians – of both parties – are not beyond the Spirit-charged grace that comes with shared humility. 

This is what the Gospel is: unlikely candidates for sainthood lined up to shock their bodies with a subservient physical posture. Unlikely candidates for sainthood lined up, minds paralyzed with the reality that someone is touching their feet.

“Do bad guys like to sing about Jesus?” This is the kind of question I field from my five-year-old son during bath time. I’d been singing a song from their “Little Blessings” choir to keep the music in the kiddos’ minds. As I got ready to wash my little boy’s feet, I told him about Saul, a bad guy who did not sing about Jesus, meeting Jesus on the road and loving to sing about Jesus afterwards – so much that his name changed and later when he was singing about Jesus a prison broke open.

Bad guys have been a theme for my little guy lately, who every night prays, “Dear God, thank you for everybody and everything except bad guys.” No matter how much we tell him bad guys need prayer, no matter how much we pray for bad guys, he has staunchly resisted.

Oh, little guy. Let’s wash the bad guys’ feet.

Who knows. Maybe someday Duke players will wash Kentucky players’ feet.

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Ken Loyer ~ The Forgotten Command of Jesus

Sometimes I wonder why foot washing is not practiced more widely in the church today.

Certainly, I understand concerns about it being a bit too personal and potentially awkward—touching someone else’s feet, or having someone else touch your own feet. Our feet tend not to be the most flattering parts of our bodies, in terms of aroma as well as overall aesthetics. Why would I want anyone else to touch my dirty, smelly feet, which hardly see the light of day? Yet not only is there strong historical precedent for this practice among God’s people, but, even more, it is also something that Jesus commands his followers to do. Is foot washing, by and large, the forgotten command of Jesus?

It is, in fact, a clear command of Jesus. After he washed his disciples’ feet, the Lord said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:12-17).

The times I’ve participated in worship services with foot washing, I have been blessed by the experience. They have been among the most meaningful worship experiences that I’ve ever had. Still, I can identify with Peter, who wanted to excuse himself from foot washing on the night of the Last Supper. He was reluctant to have Jesus wash his feet, and he would have been more comfortable not participating, that is, until he learned what it was truly about. On that fateful night, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe (thus revealing his true identity—his heart—as the Lord who serves and gives of himself for others), and tied a towel around himself. As St. John tells us, “Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’” (13:5-9)

The traditional time to observe foot washing in worship, Maundy Thursday, is coming up once again. Especially this time of year, pastors and lay people alike would do well to remember and heed the words of Jesus about this practice: “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Featured art is “Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples,” Tintoretto.