'Selah' Devotional - Holy Week 2020
By Derek Weber
Monday (April 6, 2020)
Psalm 36:5-11 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. 6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD. 7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. 10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart! 11 Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.
Suggested Spiritual:” All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”
Devotional: Fig Monday
First, we might as well admit that the timing of various events during Holy Week are problematic. For the purposes of this devotional, we’re going with the traditional names of the days and assigning events that seem to fit the names – Fig Monday, the cursing of the fig tree; Temple Tuesday, the cleansing of the temple. They both might have been on the same day; Matthew says so; so does Mark, but they put them in different order.
This walk through Holy Week is not designed to be a precise historical depiction of the events of the week. Instead, it is an opportunity to reflect on some of the themes that resonate as we walk with Jesus toward the cross and beyond.
So, Fig Monday. What was that about? Jesus was hungry. Matthew says he was hungry because he had just cleansed the temple. Mark says he was hungry because he was about to cleanse the temple. He was hungry. He saw a fig tree and thought a fig might be good. However, there weren’t any figs. Mark says it wasn’t the season for figs. Despite that, Jesus curses the tree. “May no fruit ever come from you again” (Matthew 21:19). The next day, the tree was “withered away to its roots.”
It’s hard not to feel sorry for the tree. It was doing what it always did. It seems a bit unfair on Jesus’ part, to expect a fig tree to produce fruit out of season. There are, of course, all sorts of ways we can interpret this story: as a sign of the human side of Jesus taking control; as some kind of prophetic symbolism that doesn’t have anything to do with fig trees and hunger; ss a test for the disciples, a warning to the Pharisees, a description of what he was about to do – or just did – in the temple. Any of these might be useful interpretations.
A key to understanding—at least from Matthew and Mark’s perspective—might be in a couple of obscure phrases. Mark 11:14, after Jesus pronounces the curse, Mark writes: “And his disciples heard it.” Matthew says the tree withered immediately, instead of the next day like Mark records. But Matthew writes, “When the disciples saw it, they were amazed.” They didn’t know what it meant either. But they heard him; they saw what he did. They were paying attention.
Maybe that’s the key; to pay attention even when you don’t know what’s going on; keep watching, keep following, keep believing in him. Matthew says that while Jesus didn’t explain about the fig tree, he did use the occasion to tell the disciples to continue believing. To believe that he does have the words of life. To stand with the psalmist and trust that this is the source of all good things, the abundance of life itself is found here.
It’s a word we need at the beginning of this journey. There’s no way to make it through the agony of Holy Week without clinging to belief, without laying claim to hope --the hope that this one is the one that we seek; trusting that this one is the one who will give us what we need. Give us shoes to walk in, a robe to be blessed in, wings to fly with, a home to be in. It is the hope of being one of God’s “chillun” always.
Tuesday (April 7)
Psalm 71:1-14 In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. 2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me. 3 Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. 4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. 5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. 6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you. 7 I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. 8 My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long. 9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent. 10 For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together. 11 They say, "Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver." 12 O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! 13 Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed; let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace. 14 But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.
Suggested Spiritual: “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”
Devotional: Temple Tuesday
Jesus of Montreal is a 1989 French-Canadian film that is a modern retelling of the Jesus story. A group of actors playing the roles of Jesus and his followers become the characters they played through the power of the story. It is a hauntingly powerful film. One memorable scene is the reconfiguring of the cleansing of the temple. One of the actresses has an audition for a commercial and steps out of her role as disciple to take the call. While there, the directors ask for more and more revealing poses and action. The actress is obviously uncomfortable with the treatment, but she also wants the job, so she begins to comply with their leering requests until Jesus shows up – or the actor playing Jesus. He tells her she doesn’t have to do this; that she is a precious child of God and needs to treat herself with more respect. The director and crew try to throw Jesus out, but he grabs some cables and makes a whip, turning over the tables and spilling expensive recording equipment everywhere. There is anger and shouting and chaos everywhere, as Jesus rescues his follower from the degradation of this job.
The scene in the temple the day Jesus strode in must have been equally chaotic, with lots of anger and shouting as cages of sacrificial animals broke open on the stone, and the temple coins rang and rolled into every corner and crevice. In the film and in the gospels, this seems to be the act that breaks the back of the opposition. They won’t take any more, and the plot to get rid of Jesus shifts into high gear. The threat is real, the punishment severe; the suffering is deep.
When we, like the psalmist, talk about refuge in God, we tend to think of a place of safety, of calm and quiet. And certainly that is something to be sought and treasured when it comes. But that is not the promise. We aren’t promised an easy life. We aren’t promised material success and sufficiency of goods. We are promised the presence of a loving creator. But the journey may be a difficult one.
I want Jesus to walk with me / I want Jesus to walk with me / All along my pilgrim journey / I want Jesus to walk with me.
The spiritual speaks profoundly about this journey, knowing that it isn’t about comfort and ease. Subsequent verses say, “when shades of life are falling” and “when my heart is aching” and “when life becomes a burden.” This isn’t a hymn to a comfortable life, safety, and refuge. It is an acknowledgement of the struggle and of the narrow way to which Jesus calls us.
The disciples must have panicked when Jesus decided to go to the temple that day. And their panic rose as they watched what happened as he cleansed the temple of the greed and oppression that had been allowed to take root and fester in that holy place. There must be easier ways, they probably thought, to stage a revolution, to turn the world right side up.
But there aren’t, not really. We want to find the easy way. But if we choose to walk with Jesus, then we might find ourselves turning over tables, upsetting the comfortable sin we’ve gotten used to in our lives and in our culture. We might find ourselves declaring that all of creation is God’s house and we ought to stop treating it like a den of thieves, like a trash heap. We might find ourselves declaring that all God’s children are worthy of the necessities of life. We might find ourselves proclaiming that the God in whom we take refuge calls us to provide refuge for those who have been cast aside.
Temple Tuesday is a reminder that walking with Jesus isn’t always a stroll through the garden. Sometimes it is a dangerous, strenuous road. This Holy Week, as we are preparing ourselves for the depths and heights of the journey with Jesus, from the table to the garden, from the lash to the cross, from the tomb to the glorious Resurrection into life and light, let us join with those who sing “I want Jesus to walk with me, all along this pilgrim journey, I want Jesus to walk with me.”
Wednesday (April 8)
Psalm 70:1-5 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O LORD, make haste to help me! 2 Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life. Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire to hurt me. 3 Let those who say, "Aha, Aha!" turn back because of their shame. 4 Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. Let those who love your salvation say evermore, "God is great!" 5 But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!
Suggested Spiritual: “Scandalize My Name”
Devotional: Spy Wednesday
There is a tradition that the Wednesday of Holy Week was the day that Judas met with the priests and made the arrangement to betray Jesus. Therefore, it was traditionally called “Spy Wednesday.” There aren’t any clear rituals to be performed on Spy Wednesday, so it appears to be a day of reflection and wonder. Part of what we wonder about is how Judas came to be the one who betrayed Jesus. Why was Jesus betrayed by a friend and not just condemned by enemies? What drove Judas to do such a thing?
The gospels are largely silent about motivations. There is a hint in John’s Gospel, however. All four gospels tell a story about a woman who washed Jesus’s feet with ointment from an alabaster flask and then dried them with her hair. But they all tell it a little differently. Matthew and Mark position the story right before the Passion and allow Jesus to say this was in preparation for his burial. Luke puts the story much earlier in Jesus’ ministry, and it becomes a lesson in the power of forgiveness and leaders who don’t think they need forgiveness. John gives us the story with a lot more detail, even though it was written even further after the events. In John’s version, the woman is named as Mary of Bethany, sister to Martha and Lazarus. In the three pre-Passion accounts, there is rumbling about the wastefulness of such an act, the very expensive ointment (Mark’s account says it could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, almost a year’s wages). Jesus shushes the complainers and commends the woman for her act of blessing and sacrifice. And he declared that what she has done will be remembered wherever the gospel is proclaimed.
John tells us the complainer is Judas and that his motive wasn’t philanthropic. No, he used to steal from the common purse, John says. The implication seems to be that he loved money rather than service, and it was Jesus’ attempt to justify such a wasteful extravagance that drove him over the edge. Matthew and Mark both tell us that it was after this incident that Judas went to the priests and offered to be Jesus’ betrayer. Was it really something as simple as greed that drove Judas to do what he did? Or was it the jealousy that Matthew and Mark seem to hint at? Or was it something more complex and beyond our comprehension?
But it really isn’t beyond our comprehension. We’d like to think that we would never betray a friend, that we’d never sell out, or give up on a dream. Except that we do, and we have, and we probably will again. We might even wonder if John was so specific about Judas’s state of mind in order to distance himself from the choices that Judas made. But we can’t distance ourselves, not if we’re honest. Compounding the issue is that it has happened to us from time to time, and we take great offense, carry deep wounds, and rightly so. Psalm 70 presents a life under siege and a strong desire for deliverance. “I met my brother the other day / And I gave him my right hand / As soon as ever my back was turned / He scandalized my name!”
“As soon as ever.” We’ve all been victims. Maybe Spy Wednesday is an opportunity for us to not dwell so much on the times we’ve been victimized, but on the times we’ve been the perpetrators, the times we’ve scandalized the names of friends or co-workers, maybe not maliciously; but it’s happened. We’ve repeated gossip; we’ve shared our disappointment; we’ve let our interests get in the way of relationships more often than we’d like to admit. “You call that a brother? / No, no / Scandalize my name!”
Our first task during this Holy Week is to contemplate Christ and the suffering he endured for our sake. In addition, we can be honest about our own sinfulness and how too often we stand with the status quo against the revolutionary kin-dom of God that Jesus came to reveal to us. Too often, our greed, our jealousy, our sense of self motivates us to betray that which we claim to love above all else. In the end, Spy Wednesday is less about Judas and more about us. Finding a scapegoat to blame for the ills of our society is a risky enterprise. All too often the finger points at us. “You call that religion? / No, no / Scandalize my name.”
Thursday (April 9)
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. … 12 What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me? 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, 14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. 15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones. 16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds. 17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD. 18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, 19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!
Suggested Spiritual: “Amen, Amen”
Devotional: Do Quickly What You Are Going to Do
John’s version of the Last Supper is different from the other three Gospels. There aren’t any words of institution for what became the sacrament. Instead, we have this washing of the feet. In the wordiest, most philosophical gospel, we have a silent action, defining this most significant of events, one that would come to shape the worship of the people of God for centuries. Yes, there was discussion about it afterward. There had to be. Jesus was dealing with folks who were slow to see what he was doing. So, he had to sit them down and explain it all. But it began with an action, not with words. The words came later.
You can almost imagine the scene played out in that upper room. Jesus, watching the interactions of the others, finally rises from his seat and moves toward the basin and pitcher by the entrance. He wraps a towel around his waist, pours the water into the basin, and turns to serve. When did they notice him? Were they distracted by their conversations? By their arguments over who did the most work in setting up the meal? By their accusations and irritations? Or was it the old jokes that they passed around the circle, the ones that always made them laugh? Did they retell the stories of the road, the things they had seen, the unexplainable moments that still raised their eyebrows, or the things that Jesus had done that still made them furrow their brows or shrug their shoulders? Did one of them see Jesus slip to the door and grab that towel? Thaddeus, standing at the back, spied Jesus heading to the basin. and his eyes grew wide. He elbowed the rest of them aside, and a silence fell over the room, as one by one they turned and watched what Jesus was doing.
Were they curious? Guilty? Confused? Who knows? But they sat in open-mouthed wonder at what Jesus was doing. As he moved around, the uncomfortable silence grew. Until Peter (always Peter, count on Peter to break the silence, to fill the void with words) protested. “No, Lord!” he exclaimed, “You’ll never wash my feet!” He drew his big, dirty feet up under himself, to keep them from Jesus. Jesus spoke, at last. It was quiet, and the disciples had to lean in to hear. “Unless,” Jesus said in a near whisper, “you’ll have no part of me.” It was a bomb dropped in the room. Naturally, Peter exploded. “Then wash me! My feet, my hands, my head, all of me!!” Jesus waves his hands as if swatting away a fly, “Your feet are enough.” And then he bent to the task.
Then Jesus explained what he was doing and why. Did they get it? I doubt it, but maybe something was slowly sinking in. The day we observe in Holy Week, called Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, has three components. Most prominent for most of us is the sacrament of Holy Communion, which is the center of the story in the other three gospels. John focused on this act of service, and many churches observe foot washing in some form or another. It was an uncomfortable moment for the disciples, because of who was doing it, not because of the foot washing itself. They were used to the practice; it was part of the culture. For us, it is just odd; we have nothing culturally similar. Yet, we can capture something of the significance when we attempt to humble ourselves in this ritual.
The third component of this day, the one that gives it its name, is in the explanation. A new commandment I give to you, Jesus said. Maundy is derived from the Latin mandatum, meaning commandment. “Love one another, as I have loved you”: That’s the commandment. It was given after the washing of feet, the bending before the other. This is the kind of love being described, being commanded.
“He has heard my voice,” says the psalmist, “and my supplications.” He has bent down to me, loved me, saved me, healed me. So, what can I do but love like that? What can I do but bend to those who are bowed under the weight of this world? That’s what it means to be a servant of the Lord. To stand and to act out of the awe of what has been done before us and to us.
“Amen, Amen” is a spiritual of partnership, standing in awe of what God has done: “See the little baby, born in a manger, come to save us, amen, amen.” Join in the witness by how we live and how we love. Amen, Amen.
Friday (April 10)
Psalm 22 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. 6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; 8 "Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver-- let him rescue the one in whom he delights!" 9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast. 10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; 17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. 19 But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! 20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! 21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. 22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. 28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. 29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, 31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
Suggested Spiritual: “Were You There?”
Devotional: It Causes Me to Tremble
There are some moments, some experiences that don’t lend themselves to words. If that is true for anything, it is true for Good Friday. “Were You there” lays a burden on all of us. Being there, being present to the suffering and pain, being present to the sacrifice and surrender is almost more than we can bear. If we add in the truth that somehow Jesus’ suffering is tied to our suffering, then we tremble even more.
Maybe it’s because there aren’t any words that in this moment Jesus turned to a psalm. Was it a psalm? Or did Jesus just utter words that spoke of the pain and the sense of abandonment? Or somehow both? Did the psalm Jesus learned as a boy give words to a moment beyond words? And if it was a moment of remembering, did he remember the whole psalm? Or the just the words he spoke through bruised and bloodied lips? Did he remember that Psalm 22 turns to praise at the end? Like so many of the psalms of lament, this one moves from despair to hope; this one begins in pain and moves to awe and wonder.
It seems too much. Too much for him; too much for us Though our suffering pales in light of his, we are uncomfortable with the move from brokenness to glory. It is too simple, too easy, too soon. We want to praise. We really do. Even when we don’t realize it, we do. There is something deep down inside us, something in the design of our very being that causes us to need to praise, to lift up our hearts to God. We just don’t think we are worthy of singing God’s praise. We don’t think God wants to hear our voice. We’re pretty sure that God would prefer praise sung only by those who have it all together.
Except that we’d be wrong, if that’s what we think. We’d be wrong.
“From you comes my praise.” Did you notice that? From you, from God comes the praise from my lips. God is not just the object of praise; God is the source of praise. It isn’t our goodness that allows us to praise, it is God’s. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” At some point in our lives, we will feel abandoned; we will feel cut off; we will feel like a worm, as the psalmist does in verse six. We’ll feel like our bones are all out of joint, like our hearts are melting like wax, as in verse fourteen. We will feel as if dogs are snapping at our heels, as if the sword is about to descend, as if our hands and feet aren’t working any more.
Psalm 22 is a tragic tale. But interwoven throughout the psalm, there is the call to praise, the call to faith, and the call to trust in the goodness of God. How do you trust in God when your bones are out of joint? How do you praise when your heart is melted like wax and your enemies are dividing your clothes like spoils of war?
Go home. That’s how. Home where you belong. It is where you are a part, where you pledged your faith, where you made your vow to belong. “From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him” (22:25). In the great congregation. we can find our voice again. And great doesn’t just mean big, it means important. It means the group that matters, the people of God, who have helped to shape you, who have made you who you are, who you couldn’t do without. From God comes the praise, comes the words that I need to sing, even through melty hearts and dislocated joints;, from God comes my praise in the midst of the great congregation – in the midst of the people who have decided to love me even though I’m not all that lovable; in the midst of the people who build me up when I am coming apart; in the midst of the people I have loved back to wholeness, as they have loved me back to wholeness From God comes my praise in the midst of the great congregation.
Thanks be to God! Take a look through Psalm 22. Where did it get better? It doesn’t say, “things were bad for a while but are better now.” The psalm says “God heard me,” which could mean healing has happened, or it could mean that the psalmist’s faith was shored up enough to believe that even though his bones were still dislocated and his heart was still in a puddle, God had not forsaken him after all. All this praise may be coming from a sick bed or a wooden cross. But if from a sick bed, it is a sick bed surrounded by the congregation, the great congregation of the people of God. There is hope in that presence, in that community. Praise rises from the gathered people of God.
Were you there?
Saturday (April 11)
Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. 2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. 3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake lead me and guide me, 4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. … My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. 16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
Suggested Spiritual: “Wayfaring Stranger”
Devotional: Holy Saturday
“Wayfaring Stranger” might not be a spiritual in the classic sense. It is more like a gospel song or even a folk tune. Yet, it speaks of a Holy Saturday kind of feeling. It is about wandering through a difficult world, but it has an echo of the promise, a hint of what might have been; yet the heaviness of life presses down. Holy Saturday seems a wayfaring kind of day.
The gospels are strangely silent about what happened on Holy Saturday. After the incredible detail of that Good Friday, there are no words left to describe Saturday, the Sabbath day in between. The Sabbath is the reason why there was a delay. The law prevented the work of tending to the dead, the preparing of the body for burial. There was a forced pause in the terrifying events of the past few days A cloud of fear and doubt surrounded them as they wondered what might be next.
Did they huddle together, taking comfort from their shared grief? Did they run to familiar places and reach out for hands that were curiously, painfully empty? Or did they avoid looking at the despair in one another’s eyes, afraid that alongside the grief and the pain would be accusation and disappointment; or were they simply afraid that seeing another who had given himself to Jesus would bring the hurt and memories rushing back and unleash another flood of tears, despite the feeling that there were no tears left?
The Sabbath belongs to God. That was what the law said; that was what their practice taught them. You can’t help but wonder, however, whether those who had lost their purpose for living even bothered to go through the motions. Did they sit in the pews while the familiar words bounced off their numb consciousness, barely aware of their own bodies as they stood and sat, as they knelt and repeated the words that were as familiar to them as their own names? Or did they discover a growing resentment building up inside them as they watched their fellow worshipers singing praise as though the world had not come to an end, as though this was just another day to acknowledge the goodness of God? Did they want to shout out, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in this foreign land?”
Or did they know, deep down, that their anger wasn’t at the blind worshipers, not at their neighbors and family members who were simply doing what they always had done without a second thought? Did they reach inside far enough to realize that their disappointment, their frustration, their anger was at God? Did they compose psalms in their minds that they didn’t dare bring to their lips? Now God, who had seemed so tantalizingly close whenever Jesus spoke, seemed so far away. God had let this beautiful vision of Someday slip through the divine fingers with careless abandon.
So maybe they hid, afraid of Roman power so excruciatingly evident on Friday, wary of Jewish authorities who, having tasted blood, just might be hungry for more. Maybe they felt let down by God, the one Jesus called Father, the one who had abandoned them with brutal indifference. Maybe that is why we don’t know any details of that Holy Saturday; no one had the strength to talk about what they did or thought or felt on that day. And each was painfully alone in a private hell.
We do know one detail of that day. We have one thread in the tapestry of Holy Saturday. It is not much to go on, I admit, but it may be enough to color the day with a little more light then we might have imagined at first glance.
Matthew’s Gospel says that on the day after Holy Saturday, the women went to see the tomb. Just see it, Matthew says. But Luke says something different. “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared” (Luke 24:1).
“Taking the spices they had prepared”: Whatever else happened on Holy Saturday, at some point, someone stopped and took the time to gather together the items they would need for the ritual task of caring for the dead. Maybe it was an attempt to stop thinking and slip into rote responses; maybe it was a way of focusing away from eternal implications and on to mundane responsibilities. Maybe it was just easier, taking inventory, setting aside cloth and spices, remembering the prayers over the dead that had to be spoken as each item was applied. Maybe it allowed them to return to a simpler time, as they remembered assisting their mothers when they cared for old Aunt Judith who had lived a long and happy life, with mother teaching them the how and the why and the blessing it was to be able to serve.
That’s the thread of hope I see in Holy Saturday. In the midst of despair and suffering, it was the call to service that rose up in them, or some of them anyway. It was service that got them to dry their tears enough to think outside themselves for a moment. It got some of them to get their feet moving again, to distract themselves from their grief by the busyness of their hands.
Maybe they remembered Jesus’ words, about giving yourself away to find yourself, about Samaritans who bind up wounds, about loving your neighbor. Maybe that is what sustained them through the darkness of Holy Saturday -- that thread of service born out of love. Maybe that was what gave them a sense of purpose when their hearts were broken. Maybe that was what gave them strength to put one foot in front of another on this interminable day.
The psalmist cries out for a place of refuge, about avoiding shame, deliverance through the righteousness of God’s holy name. Maybe such a refuge can be found, not as a hiding place, a place removed from the world, but rather as an investment in the world of need and brokenness. Maybe such a refuge is found elbow deep in the service of those who have been called the least of these. Maybe the way to seek the shining face of God is not in the solitude of a sanctuary, but in the grateful eyes of a hurting child.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.