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Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 26:30-35

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

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The Last Supper had just ended (verse 30).

Jesus had sent Judas away long before then and commemorated Passover with the remaining eleven apostles in instituting the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Passover supper concluded with a hymn, a sung Psalm. John MacArthur tells us:

After the main meal of the lamb, the bitter herbs, and the sauce, the unleavened bread, they would take a cup, then they would sing the hallēl, which would be the latter part of the hallēl, Psalm 115 to 118.  Then they would take the fourth and final cup, and then they would sing the final song, which was Psalm 136, called the great hallēl.  And every verse in Psalm 136 ends with the same line, “For His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever – for His mercy endureth forever” – every one of them.  So they would have sung that. 

Hallēl means ‘to praise’. Hallelujah is is the plural imperative of hallēl.

MacArthur describes the walk Jesus and the apostles took to the Mount of Olives. We often think they were alone in a quiet Jerusalem. However, as it was Passover, the streets were teeming with faithful Jews (emphases mine):

… the leaving was very significant.  It was nearly midnight.  They go out of this upper room, down the stairs, out into the street, and the city is alive as if it was midday.  It is alive because it is Passover time.  It is the time of the feast of unleavened bread, and there’s activity everywhere and people are hurrying around.  Some are in the midst of eating their Passover meal.  Remember, the Galileans and the Pharisees ate it late Thursday night.  Some are still eating it, so the lamps are burning in the houses.  Some are getting ready to have it the next day, the Judeans and the Sadducees, and so, they’re getting the preparations ready.

The temple gates will be thrown open at midnight for the special festival.  And so people are surging toward the temple wanting to get in that place.  Visitors are everywhere; people negotiating for a place to have the Passover the next day, who had come from out of town, animals being collected and carried all around to be sacrificed the next day.  It’s alive, even though it’s night, and so they’re pushing their way, no doubt, through this kind of crowd at night, down the eastern slope of the temple mount.  They’ve crossed the Kidron valley, where the little brook is running as full as it ever runs because of winter rain, and it’s even more full because of the blood of all the thousands of animals that have been slain, and the blood runs out the back of the temple, down the slope, into the stream to be carried away.  And so the disciples, eleven of them now, and Jesus cross that in the dark, and they ascend the Mount of Olives, headed for a very familiar place that they have gone to many times called the Garden of Gethsemane, which means “olive press;” Mount of Olives, many olive trees, and a place called olive press.

People in the city didn’t have gardens in the city.  There was no place for that.  They had gardens out on the slopes around the city, and they would cultivate those, and those would be the gardens that belonged to the people that lived in the city.  And Jesus went to a familiar place, and they were headed for that place, but it must have been up the slope a ways, and as they went up they needed to stop and rest – maybe in a similar place that they had stopped the night before when He gave them the great Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and 25 on His Second Coming. 

Jesus had something important to tell the apostles. He told them they would ‘all fall away’ because of Him that night (verse 31). Some older translations, such as the Bible Matthew Henry used, say ‘shall be offended’. In modern English, the connotation is ‘to desert’.

To illustrate His point, He cited Zechariah 13:7. I’m going to highlight that below and give you subsequent verses to better put it into context:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who stands next to me,”
declares the Lord of hosts.

Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
    I will turn my hand against the little ones.
In the whole land, declares the Lord,
    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
    and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
    and refine them as one refines silver,
    and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

MacArthur explains Zechariah in the prophet’s context then in Jesus’s. Note that MacArthur is using another version of the Bible, but the words will make sense in the same way:

In Zechariah 13, Zechariah is talking about some false prophets who will be wounded in their idol houses.  He’s talking about false prophets that God is going to come and wound in their idol houses.  In other words, God is going to judge false prophets.  And the prophet is speaking against those false prophets, who are worthy only of the judgment of God.  And then he comes right behind that in verse 7 and says, “I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.”  And it might seem at first that he’s referring here to a false shepherd, that God is going to come down and smite a false shepherd – makes sense – and scatter all of the followers of that false shepherd.  And we might think that, except for the clear interpretation of Christ, who says, “The smiting is Me, and the flock is you.”  And so the smitten shepherd of Zechariah 13:7 has to be the Messiah, and the scattered flock has to be His people.  And if you understand that, you understand the meaning of Zechariah 13:7, and it makes sense out of that passage, especially as you look a little closer to it.

Now, look at Zechariah 13:7 for just a moment, and I’ll show you some interesting things.  It says, “Awake, o sword,” and this is God, Jehovah God speaking, “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  Now, that tells you right away that it’s not a false prophet.  God is not slaying a false prophet whom He calls “My shepherd,” God’s personal representative.  God says, “My sword will slay My shepherd” – “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd.”  And then this most interesting phrase, “And against the man,” and he uses a Hebrew word here that is not the normal word, not the generic word, but means “mighty man” or “man of great strength.”  So first of all, the shepherd to be slain is called “the shepherd of God, My shepherd, a mighty shepherd.”  And then it says, “Who is My fellow.”  Literally, “the mighty man of My union,” or “the mighty man equal to Me.”  Marvelous statement, isn’t it?  Who is equal to God?  Christ.  Who was God’s shepherd?  Christ.  Who is the mighty shepherd?  Christ.

So clearly, Zechariah is turning a corner from the false, saying, “Yes, God will wound the false shepherd in the house of his idol, but God will also wound the true shepherd, and His sheep will be scattered as well.”  And the end of the verse, “And I’ll turn My hand on the little ones,” there will be a remnant – there will be a remnant.  What Zechariah was saying is the day is coming when God is going to smite His own shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sheep are going to be scattered.  Now, the sheep I believe Zechariah has in mind is the nation Israel.  Israel went into chaos after the death of their Messiah.  Seventy A.D., the city was destroyed, the temple and everything else, and they’re still in the same chaos resulting from the rejection of Messiah.  But the disciples being scattered were sort of the first phase of the chaos that hit the nation Israel.  So Zechariah sees God smiting the shepherd, the nation disintegrating, and the first phase of it the Lord applies to this group of His own disciples, who will be scattered.

Jesus then said that when He was raised, He would go before the apostles into Galilee (verse 32). He was not only telling them what would happen but also making sure they were not filled with despair. Matthew Henry explains the verse in light of Zechariah:

Though you will forsake me, I will not forsake you though you fall, I will take care you shall not fall finally: we shall have a meeting again in Galilee, I will go before you, as the shepherd before the sheep.” Some make the last words of that prophecy (Zechariah 13:7), a promise equivalent to this here and I will bring my hand again to the little ones. There is no bringing them back but by bringing his hand to them. Note, The captain of our salvation knows how to rally his troops, when, through their cowardice, they have been put into disorder.

Then Peter piped up with another grand pronouncement of his loyalty and fidelity (verse 33). He said his faith was so much deeper than everyone else’s that night. They might fall away but he would remain steadfast until the end.

But Jesus knew what was going to happen, and it was not as Peter imagined. Jesus told him that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny knowing Him three times (verse 34).

If you’re familiar with cockerels, they start crowing very early, between midnight and three in the morning, known to the ancient Jews as the rooster crow. Therefore, Peter’s denials would come in relatively quick succession that night.

Peter, however, was adamant in his loyalty. The other apostles also pledged their fidelity (verse 35).

The rest of the chapter — indeed, the rest of Matthew’s Gospel — is in the three-year Lectionary.

However, let’s remind ourselves of how events unfolded.

Jesus asked Peter, James and John to wait for Him while He went off alone to pray (verse 36):

39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

What unspeakably deep sorrow He must have experienced at that moment.

Yet, when He returned, Peter, James and John were asleep:

40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?

Jesus’s next words were — and continue to be — pivotal:

41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The flesh is always weak. That has been an enduring fact starting with Original Sin.

Satan is always on hand to prey on our weakness. He doesn’t sleep. This is why we need to be alert, on guard against temptation.

Jesus went off to pray a second time. Even after his admonition about being watchful:

43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

He went off a third time to pray. When He returned, the apostles were asleep.

Jesus told them to rest later (verse 45):

46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

This should have been enough to penetrate and concentrate their minds, but it wasn’t.

Jesus had not finished speaking when a crowd of high priests and scribes armed with swords and clubs appeared with Judas (verse 47):

48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”[f] Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

‘One of those’ with Jesus — Peter, as John 18:10 identifies him — drew his sword, but Jesus told him to put it away:

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

He said He does not need earthly defence; He has His Father in heaven and legions of angels (verse 53).

Matthew 26 ends with Peter’s three denials in the early hours of Good Friday morning:

Peter Denies Jesus

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Parallel verses for today’s reading are found in Mark 14:26-31.

Parallel verses for Matthew 26:34 are found in Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34 and John 13:38. Note that the links I have supplied are all from my Forbidden Bible Verses series. This means they do not appear in the three-year Lectionary. More’s the pity, because they teach us a valuable lesson as Christians.

It is hard not to be suspicious of churchgoers who boast of their faith. A few have commented on this site. They make themselves sound better than everyone else, just as Peter attempted to elevate himself above the other apostles. Matthew Henry has this observation:

Note, It argues a great degree of self-conceit and self-confidence, to think ourselves either safe from the temptations, or free from the corruptions, that are common to men. We should rather say, If it be possible that others may be offended, there is danger that I may be so. But it is common for those who think too well of themselves, easily to admit suspicions of others. See Galatians 6:1.

Peter was so puffed up with himself because he was in his comfort zone. No doubt boastful churchgoers are also in their own bubble. They live in a safe place. They have a roof over their heads. They feel no outside threat. They have food, family and friends. They have a church and a congregation they love. Their needs are met, which gives them a prideful, false confidence about their faith. Henry warns us:

Note, 1. There is a proneness in good men to be over-confident of their own strength and stability. We are ready to think ourselves able to grapple with the strongest temptations, to go through the hardest and most hazardous services, and to bear the greatest afflictions for Christ but it is because we do not know ourselves. 2. Those often fall soonest and foulest that are most confident of themselves. Those are least safe that are most secure. Satan is most active to seduce such they are most off their guard, and God leaves them to themselves, to humble them. See 1 Corinthians 10:12.

We need to be careful in Christian witness when we talk about ourselves!

Even John MacArthur grapples with human weakness, so we should all pay attention to what he says on the matter:

As much as we would like to think of ourselves as strong Christians, the fact of the matter is that, in and of ourselves, we are weak.  We would like to think that we could never be caught in a situation where we would deny the Lord, where we would deny His Word, where we would be ashamed to name His name or to be associated with Him.  But the truth of the matter is from time to time, we do just exactly that.  We are caught in an environment of unrighteousness, and we say nothing.  There is a time to speak of Christ, and we do not speak.  There is a time when someone would identify us as a Christian, and we shun such an identification for fear of social pressure or social ostracization.  There are times when we should be bold for the cause of Christ, and we are anything but bold.

I remember when I was young I used to think about how it would be when in the future I went to serve the Lord, and should He call me to a very difficult place, I was faced with death or denial of Christ.  I had read missionary stories about those people who affirmed their faith in Christ all the way to death, and I wondered whether I would do that, and I wanted so desperately to believe that I would.  I really wanted to be able to say, “I’d do that – I’d name Christ right down the wire, and if they were going to burn me at the stake, I’d keep naming the name of Christ.”  I wanted so much to be able to say that about myself, but I really had a lot of doubts.  And what gives me the doubts, and did then and still does, is that there are times when I don’t even say what I ought to say in a situation far less intimidating than death.  There are times when we just retreat from the identification with Christ that we should have.  There are times when as disciples, we desert, we go AWOL, we defect for shame’s sake.  We’d rather not be identified with Jesus Christ.  We just don’t want to step out and stand firm

How true.

America is the last bastion of Christianity, but the number of agnostics and atheists there is growing. It might become taboo one day to say one is a Christian, especially if one lives in a big city. It can affect the number of friends one has and even one’s employment.

There is a price to pay for Christianity, even when one lives in the West. I know. I have experienced it in the UK more often than not.

In closing, this is my final post on the Gospel of Matthew.

Let us recall how it ends. The Great Commission — which holds true for us — is Jesus’s command to the disciples after the Resurrection (Matthew 28:18-20). Note that He preceded them to Galilee (Matthew 28:16-17) as He said after the Last Supper (Matthew 26:32):

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

May God grant us His heavenly grace and may the Holy Spirit give us the fortitude to witness for the Gospel, through Jesus Christ our Lord, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

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Next week, I will begin a study of the Book of Acts. There we will see what happened to Peter and Paul in their respective ministries.

Next time: Acts 2:12-13

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in St Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany.

The Web Gallery of Art explains:

The crucified Christ is in the centre of the panel. His figure is repeated on the left side conquering an evil demon and death. In the background, a scene of the Expulsion from Eden reminds viewers of the presence of sin and the subsequent need for salvation. Immediately on the right of Christ, St John the Baptist points one of his fingers at the central figure and the index finger from his other hand to the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. Next to the Baptist stands Lucas Cranach the Elder. A stream of blood from Christ’s side flows directly upon his forehead, implying that no priest or saint is needed for intercession. On the far right, Luther points to a passage from his German translation of the Bible concerning Christ’s redemptive blood, which frees all believers from sin. In the background, the Old Testament tale of Moses and the Brazen Serpent and the New Testament story of the Annunciation to the Shepherds are depicted as examples of God’s grace.

Below is a back catalogue of posts I wrote about Good Friday, which readers might find useful:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Meditations on the Cross

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

We are in Year C of the three-year Lectionary. One of the epistle choices for Good Friday 2016 is Hebrews 10:16-25:

10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

10:17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

10:19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,

10:20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),

10:21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

10:22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

10:23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,

10:25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The Book of Hebrews is thought to have been written for Hellenistic (Greek) Jews, not those living in Palestine. Its authorship has been debated throughout Christian history. It was probably written after St Paul’s death in 65 AD but before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The Hebrew audience for these letters were converts to the Church. They had also been persecuted and the book contains a number of encouraging messages for them to focus on Christ and the life to come.

It’s a beautiful book, explaining why Mosaic Law and Jewish customs are no longer required as Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, was the ultimate, perfect, sufficient sacrifice for sin.

Hebrews is also a good book to use with atheists who continue to stubbornly insist that Christians follow Mosaic Law. It describes how the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant.

Hebrews 10 begins with an explanation of Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient, thereby ending the old requirement for ritual sacrifice (verses 12-14):

12 But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

The theme for our Good Friday reading is the full assurance of faith.

Verses 16 and 17 cite Jeremiah 31:33-34, which prophesy the New Covenant, the forgiveness of sin and the Church (emphases mine):

33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Therefore, as Christ gave Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, there is no longer any need for continuing animal sacrifices (verse 18).

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

… there shall be no more remembrance of sin against true believers, either to shame them now or to condemn them hereafter. This was much more than the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices could effect.

The author of Hebrews then discusses the temple and Jesus’s crucifixion (verses 19, 20). Through his sacrifice, He has opened the once forbidden Holy of Holies. As we know, after Jesus died, the curtain hiding the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem from the faithful was rent afterward. The author draws the comparison of Jesus’s pierced flesh to the torn temple curtain.

John MacArthur explains the staggering significance of this for a Jew — and those in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion:

… in the Old Testament, as we’ve been studying, there was a Tabernacle or a Temple, and inside of the totality of this outer courtyard there was what was called the holy places, the holy place, and inside, separated by a veil, was the Holy of Holies. And in the Holy of Holies, God dwelt. And no man could enter into that place except the high priest once a year to offer atonement for the sins of the nation Israel.

But now He is saying, “You all can enter into God’s presence. The veil has been torn down, and you can all enter in, and you can enter in boldly.” So we have this new entrance, you see, into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. And, of course, this is a fantastic statement to a Jew, because, to a Jew, entering into the holiest is absolutely forbidden. And if a Jew ever tried to do that under the old economy, he would’ve been instantly consumed in the flames of the fire of almighty wrath. And no Jew would ever conceive of going into the Holy of Holies.

In fact, it’s interesting. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll find out that there’s a certain area of the Temple ground where it is forbidden to Jews to ever walk there, because it may be the area where the Holy of Holies once stood, and no Jew would ever put his foot on the Holy of Holies. Therefore, there are big signs outside the gates of the Temple that say, “Orthodox Jews have been forbidden by the rabbi to enter in this place lest they step on the Holy of Holies.”

They have a fear, still today, the Orthodox Jews, of ever going into the presence of God. But because of the new covenant, He says we can have boldness. We don’t even go in sheepishly, saying, “God, I’m coming, don’t step on me,” see. We can enter in boldly. It’s a fantastic concept for the Jewish mind to understand.

The ‘great priest’ in verse 20 refers to Christ Jesus. Therefore, the Hebrew audience may approach the tabernacle with true hearts as well as the full assurance and knowledge that their sins are forgiven (verse 21). Their sins have been forgiven and they should consider themselves washed clean (verse 22). Water refers to Baptism as well as their former ritual cleansing, still a part of Jewish life today. However, Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross has abolished the need for it. Instead, His blood was (figuratively) sprinkled on their hearts, making them clean.

Henry takes this a step further:

Our bodies washed with pure water, that is, with the water of baptism (by which we are recorded among the disciples of Christ, members of his mystical body), or with the sanctifying virtue of the Holy Spirit, reforming and regulating our outward conversation as well as our inward frame, cleansing from the filthiness of the flesh as well as of the spirit. The priests under the law were to wash, before they went into the presence of the Lord to offer before him. There must be a due preparation for making our approaches to God.

Therefore, the author says, the Hebrews should remain hopeful and not waver, because our Lord is faithful (verse 23). The author did not want to see his people go back to the Jewish faith, which is the reason for the next two verses (24, 25). The people were to meet together regularly so that no one fell away and returned to his original beliefs.

Henry goes on to apply this in another sense. God’s constant faithfulness is infinitely greater than ours, therefore, we owe Him our full devotion:

God has made great and precious promises to believers, and he is a faithful God, true to his word there is no falseness nor fickleness with him, and there should be none with us. His faithfulness should excite and encourage us to be faithful, and we must depend more upon his promises to us than upon our promises to him, and we must plead with him the promise of grace sufficient.

The rest of Hebrews 10 explains the divine judgement and eternal condemnation — ‘a fury of fire’ (verse 27) — that would result from going back to Jewish belief. However, it ends on a hopeful note, with a reminder of how they bore their persecution and imprisonment because they were contemplating Christ.

We, too, should share that same confidence and assurance in and through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Good Friday is a time of sorrowful contemplation but also one for prayers of thanksgiving for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Last Supper Byzantine Museum San Giorgio Venice Byz-LastS-BR750 paradoxplace_comThose looking for resources on Maundy — Holy — Thursday and an explanation of Passover and the Last Supper might find the following posts useful:

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, mentions Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

(Image credit: Paradoxplace.com)

The Epistle for Maundy Thursday in Year C of the three-year Lectionary is 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,

11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

11:25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

John MacArthur tells us that 1 Corinthians existed before the gospels were written. That makes it:

the first statement of God, in print, regarding the Lord’s Table.  For a full understanding of all of it, you need to read the account in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but here is the earliest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and Paul says it was directly from the words of Jesus.  He Himself instituted it.

In the preceding verses, Paul took his converts to task for abusing Christ’s body and blood. MacArthur explains that:

they were coming to the Lord’s Supper drunk, gluttonous, that the rich were stuffing themselves in a gluttonous drunken manner and withholding from the poor so that they had nothing to eat in the love feast which proceeded the Lord’s Supper in that era.  That they came to the Lord’s Supper hating one another, with factions and divisions and bitternesses and unconfessed sin.  And the result of all of it is in verse 20.  Paul says, “When you come together therefore into one place,” and here’s the literal Greek, “it is impossible that you should eat the Lord’s Supper.”  You may be having something you think is the Lord’s Supper, but that’s an impossibility because of your attitude.  Some of you are drunk.  Some of you are deprived.  Some of you are gluttonous.  Some of you are hating one another.  There is bitterness, there is faction, there is division.  There are class divisions.  There are divisions over theological viewpoints.  There are divisions over every conceivable opinion within the church.  There is no real communion of the believers.  There is no real communion with Christ because of all the sinfulness.  You have debauched, desecrated the Lord’s Supper, and what you’re doing is not the Lord’s Supper.  Whatever you call it, it is not.

On that subject, 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 sound a warning against receiving Holy Communion unworthily, because doing so can be fatal:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g] 31 But if we judged[h] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[i] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

The verses in between — this year’s Maundy Thursday epistle — are Paul’s explanation of the importance of remembering and proclaiming the Last Supper until Christ Jesus comes again in glory.

He begins by making it clear that the bread and the cup are God-given, not manmade traditions (verse 23). MacArthur says:

In other words, here is a divine reality. 

Matthew Henry’s commentary reminds us that Paul was not among the apostles at the Last Supper, however:

He had the knowledge of this matter by revelation from Christ: and what he had received he communicated, without varying from the truth a tittle, without adding or diminishing.

Paul quoted Jesus’s words regarding His body and blood (verses 24,25). We hear our clergy recite them in the prayers of consecration used in Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches. Paul was putting Holy Communion into an historical context for the Corinthians — and us.

Paul wanted his converts and us to know that whenever we come together to partake of this most blessed Sacrament, we proclaim our Lord’s death until He comes again (verse 26).

As with John 13, from which we have the gospel readings for Spy Wednesday and Maundy Thursday, we find the same juxtaposition of historic events and divine love in the epistle of 1 Corinthians 11.

The Last Supper was Jesus’s and the apostles’ commemoration of Passover. Passover recalls God’s mercy and love in delivering His people from bondage in Egypt when each household sacrificed a lamb. Jesus showed His mercy and love by dying on the cross as the once-sufficient sacrifice for our sins, which is why we call Him the Lamb of God. The night before, even though He knew Judas would betray Him, He washed His apostles’ feet and asked them to follow His example in future. He then broke bread and drank wine with them, recalling Passover and transforming those elements into His body and blood.

MacArthur explains:

If you study the gospels with that in mind, you can pick out just about detail by detail what they’re doing at each point in the Lord’s Supper, the Passover.  Somewhere along the line, at the point of unleaven bread being broken before the meal, Jesus took that bread that symbolized the exodus, broke it and said, “This bread is My,” what?  “Body.”  After the meal He took that third cup, and we know it was after the meal because it says, “After He had supped,” or after He had had supper, it doesn’t mean after He had drunk it first, it means after supper.  He took that third cup and said, “This cup which to you has represented the blood of a lamb at the Passover is no longer representative of that; this cup is My blood which is shed for you.”  And by that, Jesus transformed the Passover into the Lord’s Supper.  And He said, “Now, when you want to remember, you don’t want to remember exodus, you don’t want to remember Egypt anymore, you don’t want to remember Passover when you think of Savior God, when you think of God as deliverer.  You want to remember My death.  The Passover was a great thing that got you out of Egypt and ultimately into Canaan.  My death is going to get you out of bondage to Satan and ultimately into heaven.  The Passover provided for you only a physical release.  My death will provide for you an eternal and spiritual release.”  And when you want a contact point for God as Savior, for God as deliverer, it isn’t going to be the Passover feast, it’s going to be the Lord’s Supper. 

Henry’s commentary tells us:

The things signified by these outward signs; they are Christ’s body and blood, his body broken, his blood shed, together with all the benefits which flow from his death and sacrifice: it is the New Testament in his blood. His blood is the seal and sanction of all the privileges of the new covenant; and worthy receivers take it as such, at this holy ordinance. They have the New Testament, and their own title to all the blessings of the new covenant, confirmed to them by his blood …

Our Saviour, having undertaken to make an offering of himself to God, and procure, by his death, the remission of sins, with all other gospel benefits, for true believers, did, at the institution, deliver his body and blood, with all the benefits procured by his death, to his disciples, and continues to do the same every time the ordinance is administered to the true believers. This is here exhibited, or set forth, as the food of souls. And as food, though ever so wholesome or rich, will yield no nourishment without being eaten, here the communicants are to take and eat, or to receive Christ and feed upon him, his grace and benefits, and by faith convert them into nourishment to their souls. They are to take him as their Lord and life, yield themselves up to him, and live upon him. He is our life, {cf11ul Col 3:4}.

Paul called upon the Corinthians — and us — to partake of the Sacrament frequently with all reverence. It is a remembrance which, as Henry wrote, confers divine grace and eternal life.

At the start of Holy Week, prior to Jesus’s crucifixion, He drove the money changers from the temple and the high priests plotted against Him.

Wednesday of Holy Week is sometimes referred to as Spy Wednesday as Judas comes into the picture:

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

(Image credit: whatshotn)

On March 15, 2016, I was appalled to read of two Anglicans — a bishop and an priest — coming forward to defend Judas. Even worse, on Good Friday morning — Good Friday, at 9 a.m., when children are watching! — BBC One will broadcast a programme about him: In the Footsteps of Judas.

The BBC should be broadcasting about Jesus’s suffering and dying so brutally for our sins — and how Judas fulfilled Old Testament prophecy in this regard.

The BBC, the programme makers and these two Anglicans are out of bounds.

The Telegraph has the full story. The Revd Kate Bottley says:

“This is not to say ‘Oh Judas, he’s all right really’, what we are saying is perhaps there is something else to this character than that kiss and that betrayal,” she said.

“I don’t think any of the other disciples were whiter than white – we just probably didn’t hear about it – because they were all human and we are all a bit messed up.”

The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds:

feels “a bit sorry” for Judas.

He said that the lost apostle, viewed by many Christians as a figure beyond redemption, has, he said had a “lousy press” for the last 2,000 years.

Apparently, clergy do not need to know the Bible anymore. Jesus knew early on that Judas would betray Him. He said that Judas was a devil (John 6:70-71, emphases mine):

70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

He said that after He fed the Five Thousand, long before the final week of His ministry.

I suppose the aforementioned clergy would simply say they would discount that as John might have just put that in there and that we have no way of knowing whether Jesus ever said that.

And there are many ‘Christians’ who say that John’s gospel is an allegory.

Here’s what John MacArthur has to say about Judas:

Hatred for Judas was so deep in the years following the closing of the New Testament that several incredible legends about him evolved. They describe bizarre occurrences, characterizing Judas as ugly, evil, and totally repugnant. One, in the apocryphal Coptic Narrative, said that Judas, having betrayed Christ, was infested with maggots. Consequently, his body became so bloated that on one occasion he was trying to ride on a cart through a gate, and being too large to fit through it, he hit the gate, his body exploded, and maggots spewed all over the wall. Obviously, that story is not true, but it shows the high level of contempt for Judas in the early centuries.

When I was in seminary, I wrote my dissertation on Judas Iscariot. During the year that I spent working on it, and since then, I have found it extremely difficult to write or speak on. Sin is never more grotesque than it is in the life of Judas. When we study Judas and his motivations, we are prying very close to the activity of Satan. But there are valuable reasons for examining Judas and his sin. For one thing, to understand Jesus’ love in its fullness, it helps to look at the life of Judas, because despite the awfulness of Judas’ sin, Jesus reached out to him in love.

My links at the top of this post discuss Judas’s life in more detail. He was a bad man. A tragic, sin-filled human being. Look at the image at the top of the post. Jesus said it would have been good for Judas not to have been born.

How anyone — especially a bishop and a priest — can have sympathy for him is astounding. If I were the Archbishop of Canterbury I’d want to meet with each separately to discuss their future in the Church.

The gospel reading for Spy Wednesday in Year C of the three-year Lectionary is John 13:21-32:

13:21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

13:22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.

13:23 One of his disciples–the one whom Jesus loved–was reclining next to him;

13:24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.

13:25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

13:26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

13:27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

13:28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.

13:29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor.

13:30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

13:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

What Jesus had just said before becoming troubled in spirit (verse 21) was (John 13:18-20):

18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled,[d] ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

When He announced that one of the apostles would betray Him, all (but one) were stunned to the point where Peter asked John to enquire of Jesus who it was (verses 22 – 24). John was the logical apostle to ask, because he was close to Jesus’s heart and was reclining next to Him at the Last Supper. People stretched out on the floor to eat in ancient times.

John duly whispered the question to our Lord, who whispered back that they would know when He gave one apostle a morsel of moistened bread (verses 25, 26). With that, he handed it to Judas.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis of what could have been going through Judas’s mind at that moment and Jesus’s continuing generosity:

[1.] That Christ sometimes gives sops to traitors worldly riches, honours, and pleasures are sops (if I may so speak), which Providence sometimes gives into the hands of wicked men. Judas perhaps thought himself a favourite because he had the sop, like Benjamin at Joseph’s table, a mess by himself thus the prosperity of fools, like a stupifying sop, helps to destroy them. [2.] That we must not be outrageous against those whom we know to be very malicious against us. Christ carved to Judas as kindly as to any at the table, though he knew he was then plotting his death. If thine enemy hunger, feed him this is to do as Christ does.

Once Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him (verse 27). In light of John 6:70, Henry explains:

now Satan gained a more full possession of him, had a more abundant entrance into him. His purpose to betray his Master was now ripened into a fixed resolution now he returned with seven other spirits more wicked than himself, Luke 11:26. Note, [1.] Though the devil is in every wicked man that does his works (Ephesians 2:2), yet sometimes he enters more manifestly and more powerfully than at other times, when he puts them upon some enormous wickedness, which humanity and natural conscience startle at. [2.] Betrayers of Christ have much of the devil in them. Christ speaks of the sin of Judas as greater than that of any of his persecutors.

Please, never think that Judas was a sympathetic character or that he deserves a hearing. If Jesus considered His betrayal worse than His persecution, Judas’s heart and soul were rotten.

Jesus dismissed Judas from the Last Supper (verse 28), but in a way that the apostles did not understand (verse 29).

Christ hereupon dismissed him, and delivered him up to his own heart’s lusts: Then said Jesus unto him, What thou doest, do quickly. This is not to be understood as either advising him to his wickedness or warranting him in it but either, (1.) As abandoning him to the conduct and power of Satan. Christ knew that Satan had entered into him, and had peaceable possession and now he gives him up as hopeless. The various methods Christ had used for his conviction were ineffectual and therefore, “What thou doest thou wilt do quickly if thou art resolved to ruin thyself, go on, and take what comes.” Note, When the evil spirit is willingly admitted, the good Spirit justly withdraws. Or, (2.) As challenging him to do his worst: “Thou art plotting against me, put thy plot in execution and welcome, the sooner the better, I do not fear thee, I am ready for thee.” Note, our Lord Jesus was very forward to suffer and die for us, and was impatient of delay in the perfecting of his undertaking.

Henry wrote that the apostles were too guileless to see the very worst sin was about to be committed:

Note, It is an excusable dulness in the disciples of Christ not to be quick-sighted in their censures. Most are ready enough to say, when they hear harsh things spoken in general, Now such a one is meant, and now such a one but Christ’s disciples were so well taught to love one another that they could not easily learn to suspect one another charity thinks no evil.

Judas left in the night (verse 30). Henry explains:

[1.] Though it was night, an unseasonable time for business, yet, Satan having entered into him, he made no difficulty of the coldness and darkness of the night. This should shame us out of our slothfulness and cowardice in the service of Christ, that the devil’s servants are so earnest and venturous in his service. [2.] Because it was night, and this gave him advantage of privacy and concealment. He was not willing to be seen treating with the chief priests, and therefore chose the dark night as the fittest time for such works of darkness. Those whose deeds are evil love darkness rather than light. See Job 24:13, &c.

After Judas left, Jesus announced that He was now glorified (verse 31), indicating His crucifixion to come:

The presence of wicked people is often a hindrance to good discourse. When Judas was gone out, Christ said, now is the Son of man glorified now that Judas is discovered and discarded, who was a spot in their love-feast and a scandal to their family, now is the Son of man glorified. Note, Christ is glorified by the purifying of Christian societies: corruptions in his church are a reproach to him the purging out of those corruptions rolls away the reproach. Or, rather, now Judas was gone to set the wheels a-going, in order to his being put to death, and the thing was likely to be effected shortly: Now is the Son of man glorified, meaning, Now he is crucified.

MacArthur explains that Jesus purposely chose Judas:

He chose Judas because Judas was necessary to bring about His death, which was necessary to bring about the redemption of the world.

Prophecy was clear that Christ would be betrayed by a close friend. Why did Jesus choose Judas, then? He chose him to fulfill prophecy–not only the prophecy specifically about Judas, but also the prophecies of His own death. Somebody had to bring it to pass, and Judas was more than willing. God used the wrath of Judas to praise Him, and through the deed that Judas did, He brought salvation. Judas meant it for evil, but God used it for good (cf. Genesis 50:20).

You see, Judas fit right into the divine master plan. Judas’ betrayal was predicted in detail in the Old Testament. Psalm 41:9 says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”

The picture of David and Ahithophel in Psalm 41 is fulfilled in a greater sense in Jesus and Judas. The phrase “lifted up his heel” portrays brutal violence, the lifting of a heel and driving the heel into the neck of the victim. That is the picture of Judas. Having wounded his enemy, who is lying on the ground, he takes the giant heel and crushes his neck.

Psalm 55 contains another clear prophecy of Judas and his betrayal. Imagine Jesus speaking these words:

For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me.  Then I could hide myself from him.  But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend.  We who had sweet fellowship together, walked in the house of God in the throng.

He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace with him; he has violated his covenant. His speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords. (vv. 12-14; 20-21).

And finally:

Zechariah contains a prophecy about the betrayal of Christ by Judas in even more detail. It gives the exact price he was paid for his treachery, just as it is recorded in the New Testament. Zechariah 11:12-13 prophetically gives the words of Judas, talking to the Jewish leaders:

I said to them, “If it is good in your sight, give me my wages; but if not, never mind!”  So they weighed out thirty shekels of silver as my wages.  Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.”  So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord.

That describes to the letter what Judas did after the death of Jesus Christ. He took the thirty pieces right back to the house of the Lord and threw them down. Matthew 27 says that the thirty pieces were picked up and used to buy a potter’s field, exactly fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 11.

It is important for children and those new to the faith to understand Judas’s story and his betrayal of Christ. Knowing that all was prophesied in the Old Testament will help them to understand why Jesus had to choose him as an apostle.

Now, wouldn’t such an explanation have made a much better television programme? Clearly, to borrow Martin Luther’s words to Zwingli — ‘another spirit’ — moves through Judas’s defenders.

Bartolomeo Montagna - Saint Paul - Google Art Project.jpgThe Epistle for Tuesday of Holy Week in Year C of the three-year Lectionary is 1 Corinthians 1:18-31:

1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,

1:23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1:25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1:26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

1:28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,

1:29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

1:30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

1:31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

——————————————————————————————-

St Paul’s words are just as relevant today as they were at the time he penned them.

A growing number of people in the West find Christianity and its adherents low-information and stupid.

The ancient Greeks also considered it silly. How could Jesus’s death on the cross redeem mankind? It was antithetical to them, a people steeped in philosophy.

Paul cites Isaiah 29:14, which prophesied that God would thwart notional human wisdom and manmade discernment. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

They laughed at the story of a crucified Saviour, and despised the apostles’ way of telling it. They sought for wisdom. They were men of wit and reading, men that had cultivated arts and sciences, and had, for some ages, been in a manner the very mint of knowledge and learning. There was nothing in the plain doctrine of the cross to suit their taste, nor humour their vanity, nor gratify a curious and wrangling temper: they entertained it therefore with scorn and contempt. What, hope to be saved by one that could not save himself! And trust in one who was condemned and crucified as a malefactor, a man of mean birth and poor condition in life, and cut off by so vile and opprobrious a death! This was what the pride of human reason and learning could not relish. The Greeks thought it little better than stupidity to receive such a doctrine, and pay this high regard to such a person: and thus were they justly left to perish in their pride and obstinacy. It is just with God to leave those to themselves who pour such proud contempt on divine wisdom and grace.

When Paul was in Corinth, it wasn’t only the Greeks who found the significance of the Crucifixion incomprehensible. Jews also wanted further proof that Jesus was the Messiah.

Even Greeks and Jews who became Christians still carried remnants of the thought processes and views they had learned in their childhood. Greeks were searching for the intellectualism in their new faith and Jews were struggling to discard the idea that the Messiah would bring them a temporal kingdom.

This is why Paul wrote that the cross is a stumbling block to them, yet, the Crucifixion brought about salvation for both Jew and Greek. And what looked weak to them has divine, everlasting power behind it that man cannot comprehend (verse 25).

God took humiliating events and humble people to accomplish His divine purpose through Christ our Lord.

Jesus did not call effete elitists to become disciples. He called fishermen and a tax collector. He asked nobodies to spread the Good News.

To reinforce his message, Paul reminded his converts of their own humble beginnings (verse 26).

God’s ways are not man’s ways. He despises men who boast of their own abilities and learning:

The gospel is fitted to bring down the pride of both Jews and Greeks, to shame the boasted science and learning of the Greeks, and to take down that constitution on which the Jews valued themselves and despised all the world besides, that no flesh should glory in his presence ({cf 1Co 1:29}), that there might be no pretence for boasting.

God in His infinite love and mercy manifested divine wisdom and power in Christ Jesus, whose one and sufficient sacrifice delivers us from sin and brings us to life eternal.

Therefore, if we are going to boast, may we, as Paul wrote, boast in the Lord. Paul cited Jeremiah 9:23-24 to reinforce his point:

23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

Henry’s commentary reminds us:

We are foolishness, ignorant and blind in the things of God, with all our boasted knowledge; and he is made wisdom to us. We are guilty, obnoxious to justice; and he is made righteousness, our great atonement and sacrifice. We are depraved and corrupt; and he is made sanctification, the spring of our spiritual life; from him, the head, it is communicated to all the members of his mystical body by his Holy Spirit. We are in bonds, and he is made redemption to us, our Saviour and deliverer. Observe, Where Christ is made righteousness to any soul, he is also made sanctification. He never discharges from the guilt of sin, without delivering from the power of it; and he is made righteousness and sanctification, that he may in the end be made complete redemption, may free the soul from the very being of sin, and loose the body from the bonds of the grave: and what is designed in all is that all flesh may glory in the Lord, {cf11ul 1Co 1:31}. Observe, It is the will of God that all our glorifying should be in the Lord: and, our salvation being only through Christ, it is thereby effectually provided that it should be so. Man is humbled, and God glorified and exalted, by the whole scheme.

Over the past few years, a socio-political trend has taken root whereby so-called educated and wealthy people complain about fellow citizens whom they label as poor, low-information people.

Similar verbiage appears in arguments between supposed wise, reason-driven atheists and ‘ignorant’, ‘stupid’ Christians.

Pride is a sin. May we never boast of our own power, wealth or abilities. May we boast, as the Bible says, only in the Lord.

We can use Holy Week as a time to pray for the unchurched and the unbelievers that they come to faith through divine grace.

jesus-laid-in-a-tomb-f54625165718d606On Holy Saturday we make the transition from Lent to Easter.

Psalm 118 — read in certain years on Palm Sunday — helps us to understand the rejection of our Lord, His excruciating death for us and the promise of eternal life through His resurrection. As Matthew Henry wrote in the late 17th century:

The more our hearts are impressed with a sense of God’s goodness the more they will be enlarged in all manner of obedience.

The Vigil Mass, held in Catholic and some High Anglican churches on the evening of Holy Saturday, heightens the anticipation of Easter Sunday. The priest lights the new Paschal candle to be lit for the next 40 days recalling Christ as light of the world, and, in some churches, those who have been instructed in the faith are baptised.

Earlier in the day, Catholics from Eastern European countries and backgrounds will have taken their food to be blessed by their parish priest.

Those who have fasted and/or abstained from certain foods end this Lenten discipline after 6 p.m. or after they attend Easter Vigil service.

Traditional Eastern European Easter menus include eggs, lamb, cakes or butter shaped into lambs, ham, sausage and horseradish. As the post explains, each has its own religious symbolism.

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

Good Friday is the most sorrowful day in the Church calendar as we recall our Lord’s crucifixion for our sins.

The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in St Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany.

This post explains the symbolism and significance of this painting to Good Friday. Please note that the link included no longer works.

Martin Luther tells us how to contemplate Christ’s sufferings:

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

The following posts also help us to better understand and reflect on what happened on this day:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

The Triduum begins on the evening of Maundy Thursday.

At that point we enter the most solemn, sorrowful period in the Church calendar followed by the greatest, most joyous of feast days, Easter.

The following posts explain more about the Last Supper:

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

St John’s Gospel has the fullest account of our Lord’s discourse at the Last Supper. What follows are selected passages accompanied by commentary:

John 13:16-20 – why the footwashing is necessary

John 13:36-38 – the promise of afterlife and foretelling Peter’s denial

John 14 – Jesus’s words of comfort

John 16:1-4 – a warning about persecution

John 16:16-24 sorrow will turn into joy

John 16:25-33 overcoming the world

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

thirty-pieces-of-silver-3cf58ff031d96b76Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday in traditionalist Catholic circles.

The name is fitting as the chief priests close their deal with Judas, eager to betray our Lord for a few months’ wages.

These posts explain this fateful day and a bit about Judas himself:

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

St Mark’s Gospel has these accounts, with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur:

Mark 14:1-2 – what the Sanhedrin were thinking

Mark 14:10-11 – Judas volunteers to betray our Lord

On another subject relevant to Holy Week, some churches will be holding Tenebrae services. This post explains more about them.

palm-sundayPalm Sunday falls on March 29 this year and marks the beginning of Holy Week.

Readers might be interested in the following posts in recalling our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an occasion of elation which would not last the week.

The day before Palm Sunday is known in some Catholic quarters and by the Eastern Orthodox as Lazarus Saturday, when Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother from the dead (John 11:1-45).

Palm Sunday remembers the juxtaposition of the joy of the crowds and the plotting by the Jewish hierarchy to get rid of Jesus.

Palm Sunday donkey landysadventures_comJesus entered the city not held aloft by the Apostles nor sitting upon a horse — which symbolised power and battle — but on a humble donkey. This explanation gives us more information.

Another post explains why we receive palms. If you receive palm fronds instead of a palm cross, here are ideas for plaiting them as soon as possible so that they will last for another year.

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