Messiah News

Holy Week Day by Day

Mark is my favorite Gospel. It's energetic, approachable, clear, and, and, and - but that's just me.

Fortunately for me, though, this year has been the "Year of Mark" for us in worship. Our style of worship rotates through three years, one each telling the story of Jesus through the eyes of Matthew, Mark and Luke respectively. The Gospel of John doesn't get it's own year because it doesn't really tell a chronological story of Jesus like the other three. So, we sprinkle in a little John here and there every year just so he doesn't feel unloved. (But I digress.) My point is that this has been the year of Mark.

Mark is especially clear about the last week of Jesus' life, what we call Holy Week. This Sunday, March 24, we begin the Holy Week journey. As we read the story, though, we discover that each writer seems to emphasizes something different in their witness. Here's what Mark shares:

palm sunday

Palm Sunday

Mark 11:1-11 This is Mark's account of Jesus' Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. You know the story. Jesus rides in on a donkey while people shout "Hosanna!" and wave palms at his passing. Jesus enters the city, checks out the temple, and then heads out to Bethany for the night. That's all. Perhaps he spends the  evening with his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. (Because that's where they live.) Palm Sunday for Mark seems to be more about Jesus getting a bead on the temple than his triumphal entry. Mark is simple and straight forward.

monday holy week


Monday is confrontation day. Read Mark 11:12-19.The day starts out bad and confusing as Jesus curses a fig tree because it has no fruit. (And Mark points out it wasn't even the season for figs, so . . .) Then Jesus returns to the temple (after yesterday's perusal) dumping over tables and yelling at merchants about making God's house a den of thieves. Religious leaders are now looking for a way to kill Jesus, but the crowds are "spellbound." Game on!

tuesday holy week


Tuesday gets a lot of coverage. Mark 11:20-13:37 is a long reading. The fig tree is now dead. Jesus tells his disciples to pray and not doubt anything, and then he goes to war with the Scribes and Pharisees. You name it and they argue about it - taxes, the resurrection of the dead, who the true messiah is, etc. Yet, in the midst of all of this is one Pharisee who says he appreciates Jesus' teaching, and one old widow who Jesus thinks is pretty cool. There are always some who give us hope!

wednesday holy week


Read Mark 14:1-11. Jesus is done with the Scribes and Pharisees, but they certainly aren't done with him. There are plans within plans and schemes within schemes. The religious leaders are hatching a plot. As for Jesus he may just be taking a day off. He's back in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper. An unnamed woman comes and anoints Jesus' head with an oil valued at about a year's wages. (Which is a coronation practice, although Jesus interprets it as preparation for his burial.) People complain about the waste, but Jesus seems to think she's the only one who understands anything. This is the last straw for Judas though, and he sneaks out the back door.

maundy thursday

Maundy Thursday

It's now the first day of Unleavened Bread when the Passover Lamb in sacrificed. See Mark 14:12-72. Passover, of course, is why everybody is in town. Jesus celebrates the Passover with his 12 disciples saying, "This is my Body," and "This is my Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." Then they sing the traditional Passover songs, take a late night stroll in the garden, and Jesus is arrested. As things go from bad to worse Peter denies knowing Jesus and then the cock crows. It's a long, long, dark night of the soul!

good friday

Good Friday

As we read Mark 15:1-47 we see that it is now morning. Government buildings have opened for the day. The chief priest in cahoots with the Scribes and elders deliver Jesus up to Rome saying he deserves to die. Jesus has nothing to say in his own defense and the Roman governor Pilate is pretty amazed. Pilate know he's in the middle of a fight he doesn't want to be in, so chooses to give in to political pressure. Jesus is strung up on a cross by 9 AM and at noon the world goes dark. Jesus yells out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!" and by 3 PM he's dead. One Roman solider sees the error of this ways. The curtain in the temple tears itself in two, top to bottom, and the women who loved and followed Jesus just watch the whole mess unfold. Finally, one Jewish leader of courage asks Pilate for the body and then lays Jesus in a tomb. However, there's been no time to anoint the body or give Jesus a respectful burial before sunset, and the Sabbath must be respected.

holy week finale

Each of the four Gospels tells the story of Jesus' last week somewhat differently. In almost every case one Gospel or another will have a detail here or there that is missing from Mark and, in all honesty, from the other Gospels as well. They're just different. Mark always offers the shortest and most concise witness. 

Sometimes we are tempted to put all the Gospels together to make one story - like the seven last words of Christ for example. (No one Gospel has them all.) Let me warn you, though. The pieces won't always fit. Better, I think, is to listen to what each Gospel writer says individually. In Mark's telling Jesus utters only one word from the cross - "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!?" If you only read Mark that makes total sense. The story has been fast, chaotic and confusing. Now everything just seems to collapse in upon itself.

If you want you might read just the Palm Sunday portion of Mark's Gospel (linked above) Sunday the 24th, and then use the other parts I've broken out for you each on its appropriate day.  Maybe you'd like to jot down a few words around what each day's part of the story raises up in you. Don't look ahead. Just live that day - like Jesus and his followers did. Mark seems to invite this.

The Sabbath, for Jesus and his Jewish compatriots, would have started at sunset Friday evening. Everything grinds to a halt at that point. Mark says nothing. The Gospel of John simply skips a day and starts a new chapter. Luke says the women who had followed Jesus down from Galilee prepared spices and ointments for the tomb before sunset but, of course, rested after that because of the Sabbath. Everybody did - nothing. That's the point. It's God's day! 

Well, I guess that's only true if you're an observant Jew. You and I will likely be hiding Easter Eggs and fixing a ham on Saturday. That's okay because we're not Jewish. Matthew, however, says the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate asking that a military guard be set up to secure the tomb. This happened "The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation . . ." It seems to me that's a convoluted way to say this happened on the Sabbath without actually saying it. (How shameful!!) I suspect this was not the first, nor the last time political fears have run roughshod over the commitments of faith. It's always sad to see, though.

March 31 is Easter Sunday. I have the privilege of preaching that day and we'll finish out Mark's Gospel. Just a head's up though. It may not be what you're used to!


Pastor Dave Brauer-Rieke

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