Can you imagine what it was like for Peter, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, and all of Jesus’ other close friends on the day after he died? It was the Sabbath, so they couldn’t do anything to keep busy. Was that a blessing or a curse? Like all observant Jews, their work for the Sabbath day was to rest and pray. How did they spend that time? Who was together, and who was alone? How did others relate to Peter, who must have been dying of shame? What were the other apostles thinking and feeling the day after they ran away from Jesus? How did they look after Mary, who had just seen her son killed?
Maybe you have the experience of living a “first day” after a loved one died. Maybe you understand the shock they were all going through. What helped you get through those first hours? Maybe you couldn’t see it then, but can you see now how God cared for you that day and the days after?
For Reflection: If you are grieving the death of a loved one, let yourself rest and pray. Don’t try to do any work on this holy Saturday. If you aren’t grieving today, can you offer your presence or a thoughtful gift today to someone else who might be struggling?
To Pray: Oh, Jesus, in times of grief, may we find others to share in our sadness. May we be for others a comforting presence when they grieve.
He said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. —John 19:30
Stephen Jenkinson teaches in hospitals, medical schools, and palliative care settings that our culture often puts people on a “not allowed to die” list. The medical community tries to stave off death through months and years of treatment, often resulting in “more dying” rather than “more living.” He tells the story of a three-year-old girl whose parents finally asked the doctors to stop the ineffective treatments and allow her to die naturally, in her own time. It was a heart-wrenching decision, but it brought relief to all of them.
Reading or hearing the story of Jesus’ last hours will bring pain, and it will bring memories of our loved ones who have died. Today is a day to let yourself be solemn. By staying with your sadness, you are staying with Jesus and those who stayed with him on his last day: his mother, Mary Magdalene, the beloved disciple, Simon of Cyrene, and the women of Jerusalem. Give yourself time to be with them and them with you.
For reflection: When you have experienced a personal passion, who stood by you? To whom might God be calling you to stand alongside now?
To Pray: God of life and God of death, be with us in our fear and sadness.
One of my favorite liturgies of the year is the Holy Thursday Mass at my parish, when all are invited forward to get their feet washed and wash the feet of another person. I know not all churches invite everyone in the pews to do this, and I’m convinced they miss out on a powerful ritual.
We were strictly a Sunday Mass attending family when I was growing up, so I never attended a Holy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Vigil service until after college. The first time I went to a Triduum liturgy, I thought, “I missed out all those years,” so ever since then, I’ve been a cheerleader encouraging people to give them a try. Last year, our church still wasn’t open for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday services. None were open at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, so this Holy Week will be a chance for especially holy re-gatherings.
In her book, The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker argues that when we gathered before the pandemic—for birthday parties, staff meetings, Friday evening drinks, potlucks, and, dare I say it, even church services—we had mostly fallen into rote routines. We didn’t give much thought to “how” we came together, much less “why” we were gathering. Catholics are often guilty of this since Mass is so ritualized, but the Triduum services are a far cry from routine. So the question is, can we re-gather physically with more purpose and presence this Holy Week? Are you willing to get our feet washed tonight? (Try it if you haven’t before!). Are you willing to take time out of your day Friday to go to a somber service that very well may evoke tears? Can you consider giving up your Saturday evening to attend the Easter Vigil service? I guarantee you won’t be disappointed if you do. The readings, sights, sounds, smells, and rituals of these next few days are so rich. You’ll live through much in your heart if you open yourself to what happened on Jesus’ last days on earth.
For Action: Find out the time of the services at your parish over the next few days and plan which you can attend. If you can’t get to a daytime service tomorrow at your own parish, attend a closer parish.
To Pray: Lord, draw closer me closer to you over these next few days.
When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” —Matthew 26:20-21
I escaped being the victim of a major betrayal until I was 29 years old when one of my closest friends and housemates inexplicably turned on me, ending our friendship and spreading false accusations against me to some common friends. I was so surprised and confused that I don’t know which was stronger, the hurt or the anger I felt toward her. To be honest, I was pretty shocked at how much rage there was within me. My trusted spiritual director suggested that I look through the Psalms and pray with those that mirrored my emotions. Let me just say that the verses about bashing the teeth of my enemies had never spoken to me before then. He also suggested I pray with the passages about Judas betraying Jesus, including the one we hear in the Gospel reading today. Until that experience, I hadn’t given much thought to Judas’ actions; I was more affected by Peter’s denial.
Obviously, what happened to me when I was 29 wasn’t on the level of what Judas did to Jesus, but it gave me a glimmer of insight into the confusion and hurt Jesus must have felt when his friend betrayed him. What about you? Have you been the victim of a betrayal? Or have you been the perpetrator of a betrayal? What does this part of Jesus’ story evoke in you today?
For Prayer: Do you still need healing from a betrayal that happened to you? Or do you need healing and forgiveness for a hurt you caused? Read Matthew 26:14-25 and talk to Jesus about what is on your heart now, asking him to heal what you can’t.
To Pray: Lord Jesus, you experienced the worst of what humans can do to each other. Bring healing now to all who have been betrayed.
I will sing of your salvation. —Psalm 71:15
During Lent last year, our church offered a variety of small groups as we tried to take concrete actions of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. There were groups focused on reducing clutter (“making space for grace”), fasting from technology, fasting from Amazon shopping, reading and journaling with a daily devotional, daily poem writing, walking and picking up litter, etc. I joined a group committed to singing out loud each day—wherever we found ourselves when the inspiration struck. The invitation was to use our voices as instruments of praise, lament, or petition—to sing out to God whatever we were thinking and feeling. I have never sung in a choir before, and I’m not the type to break into song when showering, driving, or cleaning the house, but I have always enjoyed singing in church. It gives me the sense that “to sing is To Pray twice.” So I signed up, despite my self-consciousness and my question, “How will I know what to sing each day?”
I didn’t remember to sing out loud every single day of Lent, but I did more often than not. I was pleasantly surprised at how lifting my voice lifted my spirits. Instead of listening to the news on the car radio as I usually do, I listened to music and sang along. I went through an old playlist and fondly remembered singing certain songs with college friends many years ago, which prompted me To Pray for them. I sang along to songs that my husband had introduced me to when we were first dating—and subsequently felt closer to him. Sometimes I sang the songs from church the previous Sunday (making that prayer count four times, right?), and sometimes it was radio favorites from my childhood. Singing out loud had a cumulative effect over those six weeks that felt like praise and thanksgiving. There’s something to be said for singing of God’s salvation rather than talking of God’s salvation.
For Action: Pick a song—any song—that has a flavor of praise to it, and sing it out loud today.
To Pray: Gracious God, too often I forget to praise and thank you. Receive my thanksgiving and praise for you now.