The Practice of Keeping Vigil During Holy Week

Scripture for Good Friday (April 18, 2014): Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

“Who can stay awake in this night of God? Who will not be as if paralyzed by it? Christ’s struggle was with God. This was his real agony. He overcame it through his self-surrender. That was his victory, and our hope.”  –Jurgen Moltmann

It is a custom of our Christian tradition to keep vigil with Christ at different times and in different ways during Holy Week. One of the places from which we draw this custom is Jesus’ request to his disciples to keep watch while he prayed and agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane. Of course, they were unable to fulfill Jesus’ request because they kept falling asleep; however, even though they struggled to stay awake to the pain of Jesus’ agony, the invitation was there for them, as it is for us today.

We also know that there were those few— including Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ mother Mary, and the apostle John— who stayed near the cross and kept watch as Jesus suffered and died. Despite the horror of what was taking place, those most intimate with Jesus stayed with him to the end.

Each Holy Week we have the opportunity to keep vigil with Christ during his last hours. Let us enter prayerfully into these holy days, watching and waiting with Christ so that together we can celebrate the joy of the Resurrection.

Lord Jesus Christ, prepare our hearts to walk with you the rest of the way this Holy Week.

Help us  find ourselves in this part of your story and not run from the pain and the unanswerable questions contained within it.

Draw us to sit with you at the Last Supper where you shared your heart so tenderly with your friends and also faced your betrayer honestly and without malice.

Help us to stay awake in the Garden of that Dark Night, wrestling with the death and dying that must take place in order for your will to come forth.

Give us the wisdom to know, as you did, when it is time to lay down our life so that some day we can take it up again.

Give us the grace to endure the pain of witnessing your humiliation and rejection so that we can more gracefully endure our own.

Help us to be as gut-wrenchingly honest as you were when you cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Grant us the courage to let go when it is time. Grant us the patience to wait with you in the silence of death until you call forth the resurrection.


©Ruth Haley Barton. 2014. Not to be reproduced without permission. 

Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center. A teacher, spiritual director, and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Pursuing God’s Will Together, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, and Longing for More.

What is Jesus teaching you as you walk with him this Lenten season? How do you plan to keep vigil through the events of Holy Week?

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Ruth Haley Barton

Ruth (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is Founder and Chief Essence Officer of the Transforming Center. A teacher, seasoned spiritual director (Shalem Institute), and retreat leader, Ruth is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, Life Together in Christ, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Invitation to Retreat, and Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest (Oct 2022).
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My Mom used to sign up for Easter vigil at our church for years. I understand now what she modeled for me. One time she said” can’t I watch for even one hour for our Lord”? That really struck me deeply. She would take the 4:00 am or 5:00am…thank you for this beautiful reminder…

Wow. That is a powerful prayer — the kind you have to feel really brave to even pray…

So true…

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