Saturday, April 16, 2011

resources for holy week

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, a day that marks the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem and, ultimately, his death by crucifixion. My liturgical practice has been to work with musicians in the creation of a service that begins in celebration and ends in a very different place: Palm Sunday is not Good Friday, but by the end of the service my hope is that our thoughts are at least being guided in that direction.

Over time, I find myself being drawn to a few resources, over and over again, and I share them with you here. For the individual Christian, these might be sources of spiritual renewal and reflection. For the preacher, these might also stir your heart and mind to plan for these significant services in a new way.

So, a few resources for Holy Week:

1. The Gospels. It is worth noting that there is an extraordinary amount of detail about the events of Holy Week in the gospels. For example, the Gospel of John picks up Jesus' entry into Jerusalem in chapter twelve----therefore, almost forty percent of this book focuses on the events of Holy Week.

2. Raymond Brown, Introduction to the Gospel of John (Anchor Bible, two volumes). The late professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York City was at work on a revision of this classic when he died in 1998. The attention to detail, balance and spiritual depth is amazing, and for Holy Week, particularly Jesus' washing of the disciples feet in John 13 and the women's discovery of the empty tomb in John 20, there is really no parallel.

3. The Hymns of Charles Wesley. I find myself returning, again and again, to "O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done" and "Christ the Lord is Risen Today". The most profound Wesleyan theology of the atonement is found in the former hymn, and the most expansive Christian reflection on the resurrection is expressed in the latter.

4. Parker Palmer, "On Staying At The Table". Subtitled "A spirituality of community", I have found this brief essay to be the most relevant contemporary statement about the last supper and what it means for followers of Jesus today. Why did Jesus stay at the table with Judas? And what does that mean for our own experiences of disappointment and betrayal?

5. Parker Palmer, The Promise of Paradox. One chapter within this book is a reflection of the "stations of the cross" as contradictions within our own spiritual lives.

6. Wendell Berry, The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. A compelling poem by one of our most profoundly prophetic voices, ending with the injunction, "practice resurrection."

7. Kennon Callahan. I met Ken years ago at his annual continuing education seminar on church planning, and I discovered that his work was grounded in a theology of hope. His affirmation, "we are the easter people, we are the people of hope" can be found on his website (twelve keys) and in his books.

8. I will have two reflections in Christian Century's Living by the Word column this week, one on Easter Sunday and another on the Sunday following. You can access these beginning Monday via their website if you do not already subscribe.

9. Interfaith Reflection on Holy Week. Given the history of Jewish-Christian relations, it is imperative that preachers and worship leaders reflect on need to avoid anti-semitism in the liturgy and in commentary on biblical texts during the services of this week. Negatively, passion plays have been linked historically to anti-Jewish mob violence; positively, Christians can learn a great deal about our own tradition from the Jewish observance of Passover.

10. Fasting and Silence. In consultation with your physician you may wish to fast on Good Friday, as a spiritual discipline. And as a means of detachment from our media-driven culture, you may also wish to observe a period of silence (one hour to three hours). During this latter period you might read in some of the materials listed above (Raymond Brown or Parker Palmer, or the last twelve chapters of John's Gospel, for example).

11. In full candor, I will also confess that I find myself returning to the sermons and reflections of the following as I approach Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter: Peter Gomes, Will Willimon, Kathleen Norris, William Sloane Coffin and N.T. Wright. I also continue to benefit from Richard Hays' commentary on I Corinthians 15 (in the Interpretation Series) and Gail O' Day's commentary on John in the New Interpreter's Bible Series.


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