Meditation: Holy Week

When I teach the events of Holy Week to children, I generally skip from Palm Sunday to Judas receiving thirty pieces of silver for agreeing to betray Jesus. Partly this is because I use a set of objects hidden in plastic Easter Eggs to tell the story (my homemade version of the commercial available Resurrection Eggs). We start with the donkey to represent Palm Sunday, and remember that Jesus is our Messiah and King.

Then I jump to a bag containing thirty pieces of “silver” (I glued aluminum foil to both sides of a piece of cardboard and cut out circles with a hole-punch) to talk about Judas’ betrayal. The rest of the objects are a piece of bread and a cup of wine, both made from clay and painted; a rooster; a circle of thorns; a nail; a cross made from toothpicks; dice; a small roll of gauze; a stone to represent the boulder at the tomb; and *nothing* – to represent the empty tomb.

I’ve thought sometimes of getting a larger egg carton (some stores sell cartons of 18) and adding some more objects. I looked a long time (unsuccessfully) for a miniature basin, to put with a scrap of towel, for Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet. I could get some spices for the women to take to the tomb. I’m not sure about the cleansing of the temple – where would I find a small table and doves? (Money wouldn’t work – it would get mixed up with Judas’ bag of silver.)

My younger son likes to play with the eggs, even when it’s not Easter, and practice telling the story – which of course I encourage. But I realized today just how much of the story – as the different Gospels tell it – is left out in my abbreviated version. I want my son – and other kids I may teach at church – to know the basics, and I don’t want the focus on the important events of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday to be lost by trying to include too many other details.

I remembered the cursing of the fig tree, and Jesus teaching in the Temple. But I had forgotten just how many chapters it takes to relate all that teaching. I knew there were the end-times prophecies – but I tend not to spend much time on them because, after all the speculation about signs and seasons, the bottom line is Jesus statement in Matthew 24:42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

I had forgotten that the story of the widow’s mites is from this context. (It’s usually taught in the context of stewardship, not Holy Week.) Similarly, I know well enough the parable of the two sons (one said he would obey but did not, the other said he would not be did), the question about paying taxes to Caesar, and other parables and wise answers Jesus gave to questions intended to trick him. But I don’t associate them with Holy Week. I suppose most preachers, like me teaching my son, find there is only enough time during the services leading up to Easter to hit the high points.

The Gospels give a lot of space to all this teaching. Were these lessons more memorable because of the events that followed? Did Jesus perhaps intensify his teaching sessions, knowing how little time was left? Did more people hear and remember his teaching, here in the Temple in Jerusalem, than in the villages and hills of Galilee? Many of those who were converted on Pentecost had probably listened to him teach in the Temple before his death, and could refresh one another’s memories of what he had said.

Of all these stories, I wonder if there is one that I should especially try to add to my own mental retelling of Holy Week. The widow’s mite, perhaps? She gave everything she had – as Jesus did a few days later. It reminds me also of Jesus’ comments in John 12, after the Triumphal Entry, when some Greeks asked to see him. (Most preachers I have heard speak on this say that he did not agree to speak with them, but one book I read recently said that of course Jesus would have graciously welcomed and spoken with them.)

Unless  a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

I don’t greatly mind the idea of dying someday, and I think even if I learned it would be soon that I could deal with it, trusting in God that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” But going on living, yet dying to self, seems much harder. I don’t mind serving others – but I generally get to choose whom I serve and in what ways. So I’m not sure how much dying to self goes on there. I’ve learned not to try to get other people to notice things I have done well – but now and then they do tell me they notice and that they appreciate what I do.

I’ve read, many times, that humility isn’t so much not thinking highly of oneself as simply not thinking of oneself much at all. The same, I would think, would be true of dying to self. It may involve suffering, or it may not – and in either case one would be content with all the blessings that come daily from God. As Paul said, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have,” whether in want or plenty. I think for the most part I am content more than discontented, but perhaps my idea of “content” is weak, as it falls pretty fall short of “joy.”

Somehow I hadn’t expected thinking about Holy Week to lead to musings about contentment and joy. But perhaps that’s where I need to spend more thought, and prayer.

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