Holy Week: An Invitation to Walk with Christ

Guidance on using the lectionary.
Lectionary readings for the Liturgy of the Palms: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-20; Luke 19:28-40 Lectionary readings for the Liturgy of the Passion: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

“Could you not stay awake with me one hour?” Matthew 26:40

Holy Week is a bizarre juxtaposition of two kinds of passion. In the early part of the week we witness the passion of a hyped-up crowd screaming their affirmation that Jesus is king as he rides humbly into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. Later in the week we witness Jesus’ own passion (suffering) as he walks resolutely into the final stages of God’s plan for our redemption.

Many churches that worship liturgically and follow the lectionary live both passions on the sixth Sunday of Lent—they stage a processional with palm branches early in the service (Liturgy of the Palms) and then read the Liturgy of the Passion in its entirety later on in the service.

Conflicting Emotions

In the church where I worship, the whole congregation participates in the Liturgy of the Passion by reading the parts spoken by the fickle crowd. It is very sobering to move from crying out in loud voices, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” to shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” It is a true beginning to the intense and conflicting emotions of this week in which we seek ways to walk with Christ and participate in his passion.

Holy Week is the week in which we as Christians give ourselves most fully and completely to worship. Every year at this time we have the opportunity to choose as best as we can to deepen our friendship with Christ by staying with him and learning from him as we take this particular journey—from the triumph of Palm Sunday through the darkness and death of the crucifixion to the victory of the Resurrection.

As we seek ways to share the events of this week with Jesus, we respond to his deep and consistent desire to be with those he loves, those whom he has chosen.

A Challenging Invitation

Make no mistake—the invitation to walk with Christ through the events of Holy Week is a challenging one. It is an invitation to learn how to be like Christ—not just during the triumphs of Palm Sunday when everything is as we hoped it would be—but also how to be like Christ in the midst of betrayal, violence, pain, struggle, and death. If we’re honest, we might admit that we would prefer to skip right to the Resurrection! As Barbara Brown Taylor once commented, “I want to stop about a day short of following Jesus all the way.”

As challenging as it is, walking with Christ during Holy Week is part of our discipleship. It is an act of love and friendship with Christ, a gift of staying present with him during the hardest and most unnerving part of his journey. We do this because he has asked us to remain near him, awake and alert. It is the gift of ourselves, which is the truest gift we have to give.

So let us pray together as we enter this Holy Week . . .

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

©Ruth Haley Barton. 2016. Not to be reproduced without permission. This is adapted from Lent: A Season of Returning, Transforming Resources, 2015. Prayer adapted from Book of Common Prayer.

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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These words spoke to me today as my wife and I are in the midst of some major life disruptions; ending a conflicted ministry, moving, wrestling with God, humanities brokenness… And our brokenness. Yet I’m still so drawn to Jesus and his passion… Such a mystery and comfort at the deepest level. Thanks for lifting my eyes from my own tough week back to the One who suffered and died so that I could have hope in a resurrected life now and in the future.

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