Lenten Audio Conversations
Transcript of First Four Days of Holy Week Conversation
M = Maureen McCann Waldron
M: Hi and welcome to another conversation about Lent. Today we are talking about the first four days of Holy Week.
A: We’re talking about the first four days, because Wednesday of this week is the last day of Lent. Thursday we officially begin the Triduum: those sacred three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And we begin with the Passion, and move to the Passion on Friday. We begin with the Passion, as we begin with the story of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. And so on Sunday, we have, in most of our parish communities, a blessing of palms at the beginning of Mass, in some places processions around the church with the palms, and we like the people of Jerusalem, get a sense of our welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem into our lives. Singing hosanna, the song that Isaiah the prophet experienced in his vision when he was called, that the angels sang.
M: There are two gospels on Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, the one right there at the entrance that recreates the entrance into Jerusalem with the palms, and everyone praising “Hosanna, Jesus is here”, and he comes in on the back of a donkey. And then later in the mass, we read the passion. But really they are so connected, because the entrance with the palms celebrates his return to Jerusalem, his entrance into Jerusalem to face his passion; to face the crucifixion ahead, and that’s what we get later in the Gospel with the passion.
A: One of the real important ways to prepare to enter into this week is to read that passion, this year from Luke’s Gospel, to read it reverently, reflectively, before we go to Sunday and hear it read. Even though it’s a very familiar story, and we know it, we always get inside it more completely personally when we sit down and read it.
M: What always strikes me about Palm Sunday and the readings is that I am one of the people waving the palms saying “Hosanna, Jesus, there he is, there’s our savior”, and then a short time later in the mass, I am also one of the people saying “crucify him”. This is the mass where we take parts; we have the spoken parts to it, and me, in the crowd, I’m saying “crucify him”. And I think there’s that conflict in all of us about saying “yes, of course you’re my savior, please not now. Don’t be in my life now”.
A: No, that’s really important to remember and experience it as I go through it, and particularly to tell children what we’re doing. This is not just play acting; this is not just a drama like a school play. This is our reenactment of the story, so we remember it, you know. On birthdays we like to ask our mothers to tell us the story of when we were born, or if we have special people in our family that have died, tell us the story of his death. And this is the story that is our story, the story of our salvation. And we do it with some participation that takes us inside of it. And it’s easiest to prepare if we’ve read it beforehand. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday take us a little bit closer to that passion in something of real time, so that on Monday, we find ourselves back in Bethany, with Mary and Martha, and Lazarus, who has now been brought to life again, and they’re having a party with Jesus.
M: But it’s not just a party, you know. You feel the tension of it. You know, by the end of this Gospel, when they’re talking about this party for Lazarus, who has been brought back to life, that the Pharisees are plotting to kill Lazarus too, along with Jesus, because he too, is a symbol of Jesus’s ability; he brought him to life again, and we have to kill Lazarus because too many people are starting to follow Jesus.
A: And what’s going on in the beginning of the story with the anointing?
M: The anointing, Mary takes the nard, which is what you use to prepare a body for burial, and she’s anointing Jesus feet and she wipes them and she dries them with her hair. It is a sign of great reverence, but what it really symbolizes is he’s taking those feet and he’s going to walk to Jerusalem, and he’s going to be crucified. His death is approaching, and you really feel that there’s a solemnity to this week, especially these first four days, that starts when we read the passion on Sunday, and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, this is a different feel to the week before we get to the triduum. It’s a quieter week, a more somber week.
A: And there’s a discordant note in this story, because the person who objects to this expensive perfumed ointment being used on Jesus’s feet is Judas, and we are told in this story that it wasn’t for any special care of the poor that he wanted to save the money, but he was the person who kept the purse of the group of the 12, and it says he was a thief. So we have that note of fear that starts to enter the story, and prepares us well for the next two days. Both in Matthew’s version of the story at the Last Supper and then John’s version, we see Jesus, who knows his betrayer.
M: And all three days, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we have the suffering servant psalm from Isaiah. We have a picture of Jesus as God’s chosen one, “this is my servant, my chosen one”, and in Monday’s it says “to open the eyes of the blind and bring prisoners from confinement and from the dungeon those who live in darkness”. It really echoes the teaching of Jesus in the temple.
A: And it seems to me that the early church, after all this was over and they had the gift of the spirit, they must have read those psalms in the prophet Isaiah and immediately recognized Jesus, immediately understood word for word a preparation for him as a suffering servant. And so reading these readings right up against the story in Holy Week, in real time, is very powerful. And the other part of it is, as Maureen said earlier, slowing down can be wonderful for us.
M: We might be travelling toward the end of the week, or we might be busy preparing for an Easter dinner for the family or friends. So earlier in the week, if we’re not in church at night, we might be working to get ready.
A: And it’s so good to just slow down enough, before Holy Thursday or Good Friday, to reflect on the days this week. The story on Tuesday is the story of the Last supper, where Jesus is telling them the last time, what is going to happen. And he identifies his betrayer.
M: His betrayers, because he identifies both Judas and Peter as people who will betray him. There’s something very sad about this Gospel. There’s a somber note to it. But he says “Judas, one of you will betray me, one of my closest friends will betray me”. And there’s this wonderful intimate scene there where Peter, who is such a three dimensional character in these Gospels, leans over to John and says, “Find out who he meant”, and so John leans back against Jesus’s chest and says to him “Master, who is it?”, I mean they are kind of laying on the floor, you know, at the table, and he says “Who, who are you talking about?”, and Jesus said “The one whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it”. And so he took the morsel and he hands it to Judas. And after he took the morsel, Satan entered him, and Jesus says “What you’re going to do, do quickly”. It’s almost as Jesus is missioning him, in some way. There’s some odd moment in John where we really see this betrayal. He knows it’s inevitable; this has to happen if this whole evening is going to take place. And there’s something in all of this, and at the end of that paragraph, Jesus took the morsel and left at once, and John writes, “And it was night”. John, who is always about the light and the darkness, right now, it is night.
A: And Simon-Peter there, says “Master, where are you going?”, and Jesus says “Where I am going, you cannot follow, though you will follow me later”. Peter said to him, “Master, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you”. And Jesus answered, “Will you lay your life down for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times”. I’m sure he just simply couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying, and we read in the Passion, in John’s Gospel, which we’ll hear on Good Friday, that he denied him three times that Thursday in the late hours of the evening, when the have the nighttime trial. And then when peter hears the rooster crow in the morning, at sunrise, he realizes that Jesus predicted he would deny him three times.
M: You know, these are the kinds of readings, there’s that question saying, Jesus asking Peter, “Will you follow me? Will you lay your life down for me”? You know, that’s a question we can ask ourselves, how much are we willing to lay down our life, and yet, really, this week is not for me to become self-absorbed. This is a week for me to be with Jesus. The focus of our prayer this week is not me. The focus of my prayer is Jesus, and following him in his story.
A: And compassion for him. This person is doing this for me, and the deep gratitude to realize the story and its retelling. Wednesday used to be called spy Wednesday, because it’s the story of Judas treachery, the deal he makes with the Chief Priests and Pharisees to turn him over, to turn Jesus over. He’s been meeting privately with his disciples, and praying, so they make a deal. Thursday night after supper, he’s going to go to the garden, and I’ll point out who he is.
M: And I’ll give him a kiss, that’s how you’ll know who it is. And these are days that really prepare us to enter into Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in a whole different way. We have one more suffering servant from Isaiah. And then, this Gospel, this is the only Gospel this week that’s not from John during Holy Week, and this is from Matthew, and it’s Matthew’s version of that. And you really get this picture of Judas going out, and selling him for 30 pieces of silver.
A: The second half of Holy Week is the story of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, that terribly alone day, Holy Saturday, and then the Resurrection. And we just urge everybody, whatever we can do, if you’ve never been to those celebrations before, make plans to attend them.
M: They are remarkable, some of the most powerful liturgies of the entire year.
A: And we’ll talk about that in our next conversation.
M: God bless.