I know the Passion narrative well—really well. I can tell you in great detail about the final week of Jesus’ life leading to his crucifixion because I’ve spent my whole life in church and reading the Bible. It is the subject countless works of art and a seemingly infinite number of sermons. And yet each Holy Week we are called to reengage with the story of Jesus’ betrayal and death again.
This is not a season for fine tuning our atonement theologies or nit picking at Gospel timelines. The invitation of Holy Week is to enter the story of Jesus as fully as we can—heart, mind, body, and soul—and the most valuable instruction in this practice I have found comes from St. Ignatius of Loyola. While convalescing in a hospital St. Ignatius experienced a dramatic conversion, becoming a passionate follower of Jesus and leader of a new monastic order. Though he was unable to leave his bed, he developed a practice of engaging the the story of Jesus in an intensely personal way by imaginatively placing himself in a boat on the Sea of Galilee or in a crowd in Jerusalem, identifying with a single person in the story with whom he felt a special kinship. This practice opened him to respond to Jesus in a less intellectual and more emotional, embodied way.
This week I encourage you to set aside a little time each day this Holy Week for imaginative contemplation of the Passion story. I’ve include the Gospel passages from the Lectionary as a guide for the days of Holy Week.
On Wednesday, can you place yourself at the table as Jesus shares a final meal with his disciples and then discloses that one of them with betray him? (Matthew 26:1-5,14-25)
On Maundy Thursday, how will you respond as Jesus serves his disciples by washing their feet? (John 13:1-15)
On Good Friday, which person do you identify with as Jesus is brought to trial, beaten, mocked, and crucified? Do not look away from the pain of this day because Jesus is inviting you to meet him in it. (John 19:1-37)
On Holy Saturday, how do you mourn as Jesus body is prepared and laid in the tomb. (John 19:38-42).
Read one of these passages each day this week, not to learn something new but to meet Jesus in the story. As you read ask the Holy Spirit to inspire and help you create a picture in your mind, maybe of the disciples around the table or the followers of Jesus coming to claim his body from the cross. Quiet yourself and allow your mind to dwell on the details the Gospel writers have recorded for us.
- Which images or people stand out to you?
- Where is Jesus? What is he doing?
- What stirs your emotions?
- Who do you identify with in the story?
- What do you hear? See? Smell? Taste? Feel?
As you end your time meditating on the Gospel, ask how you can respond to the way Jesus has met you in his story. As we engage his story with our whole person, he responds to us with a deeper call to follow him. This week we eat with Jesus. We watch and pray with Jesus. We lay down our lives and carry our crosses with Jesus in the hope they we will be raised with him.