Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Mystery of Holy Week

What we might call “odds and ends” for your consideration as you prepare for Holy Week.
(from the files of the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton)

1) For Maundy Thursday:

 “Fill up your life with love”

On March 20, 2000, PEOPLE magazine ran a story about Bennett Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Center, Texas. One day the pastor’s wife was praying and asking God “Why is my life so empty?”  Soon thereafter she and her husband began taking the state classes to be foster parents, and soon the idea spread throughout the church. Bennett Chapel is a tiny church, made up of working class people making a living as loggers or down at the chicken plant or at the hardwood flooring company.  They didn’t have much to start with. But they decided to use what they had to make a difference in the lives of hurt, abused and unwanted children.  As of the year 2000, 17 families in the church had become foster parents to 43 children in just two years.

As I think about that story, I am always struck by two things:  1) These were just ordinary people, with ordinary incomes and ordinary lives who basically did not need another child around to feed and clothe and worry about. Yet, in response to the tug of God’s will, they laid aside their own wants and needs for the sake of another. 2) A quote from the Social worker: They don’t view themselves as a blessing for the child. They view the child as their blessing.”


2) For Good Friday: A “Holy Exchange”

French writer Henri Barbusse wrote a novelistic memoir of his experiences in WWI called “Under Fire.” He wrote of one day when the regiment had attacked the German lines and were driven back under a barrage of heavy gunfire.

Collapsing into the momentary safety of a muddy trench, the narrator found himself up to his knees in mud, pressed against the trench wall while German machine guns laid down heavy fire just inches above his head.

He looked to his left and saw a man horribly wounded, his face disfigured, obviously dying. The wounded man reached over and grabbed a companion by his side and pulled him close to his face and began to speak, really to shout loudly, loud enough for Barbusse to hear. The wounded man said, “Dominic, you have been a good friend to me.  You probably don’t know that I know that you are a criminal, that you joined the army to escape the police. I do not know what you did.  I do not care; like I said, you have been a good friend to me.  When the war is over the police will arrest you and send you to jail to pay for your crimes.  They know where you are – they are just waiting to see if you make it out alive. Now is your chance.  Give me your identification, your wallet and your papers.  I will give you mine.  When I die, your crimes will die with me.  You will have a new name and a new life.” And so, with tears running down his face, Dominic exchanged identities with his friend and then held his friend in his arms as he died. He left that ditch a new man with a new life.

Luther called what happened on the cross a “holy exchange.”  There Christ traded his holiness for our sin, there our sin died with Jesus and a new life, an eternal life was born in us.


3) Holy Week: Remembering the Mystery

Several years ago, an American, a Lutheran, was vacationing in a small fishing village in Denmark. On Sunday, he attended services in the ancient village church, which dated back almost a thousand years. He went early so as to see everything. Though he did not understand the language, the service was understandable to him in its outline and its actions. The flow of the service, the standing and kneeling, etc, were consistent with his church back home. Except for one thing. At the beginning of the service, everyone who came in stopped halfway down the aisle and turning to the right, bowed in the direction of the blank wall. Everybody, no exceptions. When the choir and the pastor came in, they too stopped and bowed to the blank wall. After the service, the visitor stood outside and talked to a few folks who knew English and eventually he asked them about the practice of bowing to the blank wall. And they all said, “We don’t know, we’ve always done that.’’ he asked the pastor, who said, “I don’t know. They were doing that when I came and I saw no reason to stop them.” The pastor did promise to find out and write the visitor.

A few months later he received a letter from the Danish pastor. When the church was built, around the year 1150 AD, there had been a mural of the Madonna and Child painted on that spot on the wall. At the time of the Reformation, when the Danish church went from Catholic to Lutheran, the mural had been painted over and the people were instructed to stop bowing to the Wall. HAH! Good Luck on that one Pastor! The people had ignored a long line of Ministers telling them to stop bowing to the wall, until the clergy had given up, and eventually the people and the pastors all bowed to wall and all forgot why.

Could it be that we modern Christians are a lot like the good people of the Danish village. The image of the Real Jesus has been obscured by time and cultural shifts and preacherly reinterpretation. Over the years we’ve been told Jesus is this, Jesus is that, Jesus is the other thing, until the Real Jesus is hard to see and impossible to know. And yet we still come, we still worship, we still bow in front of that which we only barely comprehend. That is a miracle of faith. Sometimes we’re not sure who this Jesus really is, but there is something about his life and teaching and witness and death and promise of life again that keeps drawing us back to the wall of worship, back to the place where we bow and pray and hope and look hard to see God in our lives.

That’s what Holy Week is all about. It is a time to look for Jesus. To look for Jesus in the Scriptures, to look for Jesus in the events of the last week of his life, to look and see what he was all about. It is a time to look for Jesus in Prayer. To meditate upon his call to follow him, to pray with him His Upper room Prayer for love and unity among all God’s people. It is a time to look for Jesus in worship, to join the community on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, to receive again His command that we love one another, to witness once again his death upon the cross.

Most of all, Holy Week is a time for us to look for Jesus in our lives. To see the Real Jesus, Luther said, we must look to the Cross. For there, Jesus died for us. There Jesus revealed what God is really like. There we discover the God who suffers and dies for a sinful but beloved humanity. There on the Cross, Christ calls us to follow. Calls us to take up our cross and serve and suffer for the world,
calls us to trust God’s love now and forever.

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