Staying Awake During Holy Week

Lectionary readings and guidance on using the lectionary
Good Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

“Stay together, friends, don’t scatter and sleep. Our friendship is made of being awake.” Rumi

In her book Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris comments that in a monastery, Holy Week is “a total surrender to worship.” This surrender allows for a greater focus on the events leading up to and moving us through Resurrection Sunday—Jesus’ gathering with his friends the night before his death to share a last meal, his teaching and ministry to his disciples on that night, his arrest, trial, execution and finally his Resurrection. Such a surrender to worship allows those who participate an opportunity to walk with Christ through the culminating events of his life here on earth and to be alert and awake to what he has to teach them along the way.

Just a Closer Walk with Thee

Walking with Christ is a central metaphor for the spiritual life; there are things that we learn by staying alert and walking with Jesus during Holy Week that we cannot learn in any other way. Some of the harder lessons and mysteries of our faith are lived out right in front of our eyes during these days and the lessons to be learned are best taught in the intimacy of our relationship with Christ as we walk the path together.

To stay awake to his passion during Holy Week is a challenging invitation, to be sure. It is one thing to learn how to be like Christ during the triumphs of the Palm Sunday experience when everything is as we hoped it would be. It is easy to follow Christ then— to enjoy the pomp and circumstance, the good will and limelight. It is quite another to learn how to be like Christ in the midst of betrayal, violence, pain, struggle, and death. As Barbara Brown Taylor commented, “I want to stop about a day short of following Jesus all the way!”

Isn’t it Ironic?

Jesus’ dark night began, ironically, with the kiss of a friend. The irony had to do with the fact that Jesus had given such priority to cultivating relationships with his disciples during his brief time on earth and now he was experiencing the betrayal of his deep longing within that most intimate circle. Just when he needed them most, his closest friends kept leaving in one way or another—either by falling asleep, misunderstanding the situation, betraying him, or denying him.

Some of Jesus’ most human moments had to do with his poignant expressions of longing for companionship.    From the very first moment of his life in ministry he invited “those whom he wanted…to be with him,” the Scriptures say in Mark 3. He accepted his ultimate aloneness as we all must, but his longing for intimacy and friendship with those he loved expressed itself consistently and in different ways throughout his life. When his teaching became too challenging and many chose to leave, Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “Will you leave me also?”

As their relationships deepened, Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.” And one of the crowning achievements of his life was that he loved his own until the end. (John 13:1)

The Gift of Being There

Perhaps the most compelling expression of Christ’s longing for companionship was his request for his disciples to accompany him to the Garden of Gethsemane and to pray with him through the dark night of his betrayal and death. (Matthew 26: 36-37) There was something about knowing that his friends were nearby that provided strength and comfort.

Jesus invited Peter, James and John, whom he had come to trust the most, to come farther than the others. And as he began to grieve more openly and to struggle with what was before him, he asked them specifically to stay awake with him. He seemed to have an awareness of how hard it is to stay awake and present to someone else’s pain but he asked them anyway. He knew the human tendency to “check out” when the human struggle becomes too much to bear. Only those who are closest stay through the end.

As we walk along this way, perhaps Jesus has something to say to us regarding those moments when we, too, feel ourselves abandoned by those who were closest to us. Is there a comfort in being with Jesus in this moment?

Keeping Vigil as an Act of Friendship

Every year at this time, we have the opportunity to “go all the way” in reliving the events of Jesus’ last days here on this earth. Like the first disciples we have the opportunity to choose, as best we can, to deepen our friendship with Christ by communing with him and learning from him as we walk each step of the way. At the beginning of this week we might ask, How will I be intentional about staying awake with Christ through all the events of this week? In the midst of leading others through Holy Week, where is that very private place where I can be present to Christ’s suffering, learning the very personal lessons he has for me?

As we are intentional about seeking ways to walk with Christ through the events of this week, we are responding to his deep and consistent desire to be with those he loved—particularly during the time of his agony. Keeping vigil is an act of love and friendship with Christ. It is the gift of being present during the hardest and most unnerving part of his journey; we do it because he asks those he loves to remain near him and to stay with him, awake and alert. This is the gift of ourselves, which is the truest gift we have to give.

Praying Our Way Through Holy Week

Lord Jesus Christ, prepare our hearts to walk with you the rest of the way. Help us to 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 faced your betrayer honestly and without malice.

Help us to stay awake in the Garden of that Dark Night, as you wrestle with the death and dying that must take place in order for God’s 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.

And give us the patience to wait with you in the silence of death until you call forth resurrection.


Join others from around the world as we keep vigil with Christ on Good Friday.

We are offering a special podcast episode featuring  our Stations of the Cross Prayer Service. Pray along with us.

Access the recording

©Ruth Haley Barton, 2018. This article is not to be reproduced without written permission from the author or The Transforming Center.

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).
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

You know, I almost didn’t read this – not because I didn’t believe it would be great; I knew it would be – but because I have just about reached my limit of input.

I’m very tired on every level over the past month from striving so hard to reach out to others with help or hope that Holy Week found me worn out physically, emotionally and spiritually. And everything I was reading and seeing pointed to despair. So my capacity for input is at its limit.

So I put this post aside for a while and didn’t come back to it until this morning. And while I missed much of the benefit of it, it came at just the right moment for me. Of course it did.

Because the story finds Jesus with extreme pressure on His shoulders – wouldn’t you know it? – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Like way way way more than me. Way way way more.

So this was a centering gift to me this morning to get out of my own head and get myself back into the story I want to point people to in the first place.

And to rest easier because I know how this turns out.

Love you Ruth!

You are so dear to write so honestly, Rick! I think you speak for many leaders when you describe this particular type of exhaustion that has to do with being called to try and bring help and hope to others in the midst of such difficult circumstances. Its almost like we’ve upped the ante on leadership and what is expected from us all. Everything we’ve always done plus more. I love your phrase “Get out of my own head and get myself back into the story I want to point people to in the first place.” Amen, brother! I’m right there with you!

How very humbling and exhilarating it is to be invited by Jesus into His life. He needs my companionship and I need His. Ever the Rabbi Jesus and me ever the student teach me the deeper lessons out of your passion that I might be a person of passion in our distracted world. Awaken me Jesus to the desires of your heart for friendship! Awaken me to the need of people to be friends with God!

Ruth, thank you for these words. I was introduced to your work a few years ago starting with your podcast. I met the Lord thru Young Life when I was a teen, 38 years ago. So I’ve been a Christian a long time. was drawn to your story from the get go. I think your Silence and Solitude book on audible has been the most revolutionary piece of work in my adult life. I’m not even in a formal leadership role anymore as I was years ago but more recently found myself in a long season where I was face to face with grief of losing my father, and chronic pain, to name a couple. A lot of shifts were happening in my relationship with God. A lot of things no longer felt like they “worked” or I just became so apathetic. Your work, over time, Sacred Rhythms too, gave me a new perspective. For the first time in my life I felt like God was most interested in my interior spiritual landscape more than anything else. It’s been a beautiful journey and I am not the same. I saw this comment box so I just thought, what the heck, I’ll just use this space to thank you. So thank you! You are so brave and it has made me brave. And your kinda badass which I liked from the beginning. Happy Easter

Well, this is the first time I have been called a bad*%@–privately or publicly! I feel like I have reached some new pinnacle in my ministry life so thank you!–for that and for everything else you said. 🙂

Thank you, Ruth, for making it clear to me that Jesus our Lord desires our companionship. I assess a need to let go of all the white noise in my life and be more present to His freely flowing grace so I can give Him the gift of myself and deepen my intimacy with Him. Being conscious of His ever present grace is vital so I can host Him and not my ego when faced with challenging situations and people.

You are welcome, all! May we love much and learn much as we walk through these days together–with Jesus and with each other!

Thank you Ruth for offering your gift of writing to the Lord so that others may find meaning. Your reflection is deeply significant at this time.


Thank you, Ruth, for this powerful reminder of Jesus’ humanity and vulnerability, especially as they are revealed in the events of Holy Week. Filled with His Spirit, may we have courage and strength to bear witness to His faithful love in the midst of terrible suffering and joyful triumph alike. And may we carry more of His HESED (faithful lovingkindness) into our relationships and callings going forward.

Lovely, thank you so much for this.

This is so beautiful and so helpful! You say what I have been trying to say and it validates my feelings of staying awake and walking this week with Jesus. There has been so much pain in my life past and I can in a small way relate to the suffering of Jesus–His betrayal, His abandonment, His heart wrenching pain…I want to stay awake and walk this walk with Him…to sit in the Garden with Him, and to be at the foot of the cross as He is dying. Thank you for the call to stay awake and be with Him.

Join thousands of pastors and spiritual leaders

Receive Beyond Words®, reflections on the soul of leadership. Written by Ruth Haley Barton, each reflection provides spiritual guidance and encouragement for those seeking to be in God for the world.