April – We anticipate Easter
5 April – Palm Sunday, Matthew 21:1-11
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week is packed with symbolism. Despite having made the coming confrontation and death explicit to the disciples (and readers), the key question here is still, “who do you say that Jesus is?” Is he another prophet, a political agitator seeking power, a healer, or something more? He seems to deliberately play with symbols of power and prestige, mixing them with signs of being an outsider. As a consequence of these colliding symbols, the whole city is in turmoil, uncertain of what to do with this man.
What do you expect from Jesus during Easter? Will this week produce praise or habit or turmoil in you?
9 April – Maundy Thursday, John 13:1-17, 31b-35
John’s timeline of Holy Week is quite different from the other gospels. Here it is not yet the Passover feast, so there is no break broken and wine shared. Yet as Jesus prepares for the end, they share a different meal, and in place of the bread and wine is this intimate scene of foot washing.
Foreshadowing the manner in which the shame of the cross will prove the moment of Jesus’ glory and Kingship; so here he takes on the act of a slave (foot washing) as one of his last earthly acts as their Teacher and Lord. The contrast of service and leadership, shame and glory, is key to exploring the power of the cross for John. Can we recognise the love of God in service and in the midst of our suffering? Can we sit within the presence of God, even in the shadow of death?
10 April – Good Friday, John 18:1 – 19:42, Psalm 22
John’s gospel presents a lengthy and powerful narration of the crucifixion. Jesus is portrayed as serene and almost above the urgency and drama surrounding him. For John, there is importance is showing that everything is unfolding as Jesus had expected, that the divine plan is faithful and in control. The arrest, torture and crucifixion of Jesus may be an action of the authorities fearful of their power, but it is also the moment of Jesus’ glory. Jesus’ calmness, the many fulfilments of scripture, and the repeated reference to testimony to truth (18:23, 37, 19:35), all stand in contrast to the seeming defeat and horror of the story.
We may know that the story does not end here, but the challenge for the Church is to stay in our confusion and in the contradictions of the story. More often than not, I find myself reflected in the chaos of the disciples, the women, and the religious authorities. My fears and failures resonate loudly with them. And yet even then, especially then, I find myself transfixed by the person of Jesus, the presence of God amidst the wreckage of death.
11 April – Holy Saturday, Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24
Easter is powerful, hope driven, and a celebration of life and God’s love. It is also a moment when we can feel the weight of loss and grief. Shadows drawn sharper by the strength of the light. For some of us, this will be a time when the wounds inflicted upon us over the last year (or even longer) may bite in unexpected ways. The loss of loved ones, life’s unwanted surprises, and even the fear of what may yet come.
Holy Saturday is a moment to sit in between. To acknowledge the pain of our lives and not to be rushed away into solutions and quick fixes. While we lose the acrostic poetry of the Hebrew, we can sit within Lamentations 3 as we see our wounds, feel our loss, and yet somehow still recognise God who is present.
12 April – Easter Sunday, John 20:1-18
There are many ways in which we can approach the wonder of Easter Sunday. Sometimes in our rush to resolution, we can miss the nuances that John provides us with. Consider Mary’s experience. She seeks to provide honour and dignity for Jesus in his death (v1), however even this is denied to her as she confronts the shock of the empty tomb. While the other two disciples come and go in a whirlwind, Mary is rooted to the spot in grief (v11). Her exclamation in v13 mirrors the grief that many who have lost their initial faith feel, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
It is only through this experience of loss and grief – Jesus is not who I thought he was – that Mary, and indeed many of us, can come to see the Risen Christ among us. Perhaps Easter can be approached as faith in Jesus that emerges out of our fears and doubts rather than pretending they no longer matter.
19 April – Easter 2, John 20:19-31
I have always found this to be one of the most terrifying and yet inspiring texts in the whole of scripture. In the midst of the disciples’ fear for their own fate and their confusion at Mary’s testimony, the Risen One appears to them. As the Risen One, Jesus still bears the scars of his crucifixion, the marks of his death. Here Jesus offers them his peace, and his mandate, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” (v21). This peace that bears scars and this sending that will not avoid the cross, is now ours.
The resurrection has changed everything and death itself is overcome. But we are not removed from the contest, nor are we promised the avoidance of suffering. Jesus is shown to truly be the Word of God (chapter 1), and he will lead us ever deeper into life rather than away from it.
26 April – Easter 3, Luke 24:13-35
The road to Emmaus is one of our best-loved passages. It resonates with our own sense of holding doubts and yet still being met by Christ on the road, to be renewed and recalled into faith. The story acts as a recapitulation of Jesus’ place within the larger story of Israel and God’s promises. As such it prepares the ground for the renewing and recasting of the story in Acts away from an Israel-only focus.
For us, it provides wonderful images of Jesus, the Risen One, who meet us on the road (not only in set-aside religious moments); who meets us in our doubts; and whom we find again in the breaking of bread together (v30).
“You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Saint Augustine.
These reflections were prepared by Rev. Andrew Johnson