John 18:1 – 19:42
Our efforts cultivating the fruit of the earth were modest at best, because growing up in Brooklyn meant not have having much gardening space. In our backyard, we had a few small rectangles of soil in which to plant our hopes for fresh vegetables and herbs. We experimented with everything from eggplants to pumpkins, but what I remember most is the tomato plants tended by my father and grandfather, taller than me at the time and filled with beautiful ripe tomatoes. That such a prodigious crop could come from so tiny a handful of seeds never ceased to amaze me. And after we had planted the seeds for next season, I waited with a mixture of hope and awe for what seemed like a miracle, new tomato plants rising from the ground in which the seeds were buried.
Nowadays, many of us who live in cities don’t consider anything about our food very miraculous, and we probably aren’t familiar with placing all our faith in a seed. But the lives of our ancestors, certainly in Jesus’ time, were intimately woven with nature’s cycles of death and new life. The fruit of each plant gives its life for the rich potential of its seeds, and each seed itself must die so to bring forth new growth.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Some years ago I had the privilege of taking a course with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian who was then on the faculty of the Divinity School at Duke University. Dr. Hauerwas, the son of a bricklayer, was a straight-shooting, no-nonsense kind of guy who believed that living as true disciples of Jesus in the world would necessarily put us in conflict with the culture in which we live. I remember being surprised to hear him say that participating in the Eucharist was one of the most radical actions any Christian could undertake. Tonight we will understand why this is true.
Tonight we watch in wonder as the only-begotten Son of God, the Eternal Word who was “in the beginning with God” and through whom “all things came into being” (Jn 1:1-3), stoops to wash the dirty feet of his disciples. Tonight we behold the Incarnate Son of God, the “King of kings” and the “Lord of lords,” tying a towel around himself, pouring water into a basin, and assuming the role of a servant. The King kneels before his subjects; the Master washes the feet of his disciples.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”
This one phrase from John’s Gospel encapsulates the essential sprit of what we call the Paschal Mystery – Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection to New Life. On this Tuesday evening in Holy Week, these words are also something like a “preview of coming attractions,” awakening our hopes and grounding our intentions as we prepare for the single, liturgical arc of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Great Vigil of Easter.
We believe that our sincere and wholehearted participation in this liturgical drama is one of the central means by which we participate in the saving work of Christ. This is the unfolding drama of how, in his own particular life and flesh, Jesus underwent the human experiences of suffering and death and was, in defiance of all expectation, raised from death by the One he called Father. As a liturgical tradition, we do not simply re-enact or reminisce about very significant events that happened long ago in ancient Palestine. No. To see what we are doing as pious commemoration would be to keep the Crucified at a safe distance in the historical past, separate from ourselves. Rather, the unboundaried space opened to us as the assembled body of Christ invites us truly to enter the sacred, inner dynamic of the events by which we have been claimed and marked as His own forever. On a personal level, this week invites us into a more intimate, transformative encounter with the mystery of our own suffering, death, and resurrection. Each of us has undergone, and will yet undergo, countless passions, deaths, and resurrections – in churches, yes, but also in hospitals and office buildings, by bedsides and firesides, under the open sky and around kitchen tables. Though these experiences are potential fountainheads of meaning through our union with Christ, many of them go unnamed as such and so their graces remain unrealized. In the chapter from our own Rule entitled “Holy Death,” we receive this reminder: “Week by week, we are to accept every experience which requires us to let go as an opportunity for Christ to bring us through death into life.” This is the paschal mystery writ small, in lowercase letters, across the individual history of every child of God. The small mystery enclosed within one’s own skin is grounded afresh in the Great Mystery of Christ’s Body by reading our small print alongside the bold, capital letters of this week’s unitive liturgical action.
It is hard to believe that a week from tomorrow marks one year since my brothers Curtis, John, Luke, and I embarked on a journey to the Holy Land to lead a pilgrimage. Each of us brothers prepared two reflections to give at designated sites during our two week journey. I was assigned to give my first meditation at ‘The Shepherd’s Field,’ in the countryside just outside of Bethlehem where tradition says the shepherds would have encountered the great angelic hosts proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth. My second meditation I gave at the teardrop-shaped church on the Mount of Olives called ‘Dominus Flevit,’ which is Latin for “The Lord wept.” It was here that I could begin to piece together in my mind the scene we celebrated at the beginning of this morning’s liturgy.
Experience Holy Week as a journey into the heart of God through prayer.
In Lent 2013, the Brothers offered a video series on “Praying Our Lives,” exploring the gifts and modes of prayer. Click on each video below for inspiration on how to pray this day of Holy Week.
For a resource page on prayer, including select videos from “Praying Our Lives,” click here.
To view the full “Praying Our Lives” series, click here.
"The Exsultet, our Easter hymn of ecstatic gratitude, proclaims what God has done for us, as kairos, the eternal now, breaks into chronos, the old world’s passing away. We make anamnesis, remembrance, renewing the promises and vows of Holy Baptism and feeding anew on the Body and Blood of the Risen One. The Exsultet becomes the joyful angel calling us from the tomb, proclaiming our share in Christ’s glorious resurrection, and singing of the light kindled in us, which shall never be extinguished." – Br. Jonathan Maury
The Great Vigil of Easter is the most solemn and ancient liturgy of the entire year. It is the culmination of Lent and Holy Week, and the Triduum.
Ring the bells! Worshippers at the Great Vigil of Easter ring handbells as we sing God’s Paschal Lamb at the beginning of the first Eucharist of Easter and during the singing of Jesus Christ is Risen Today. The tradition of silencing church bells on Maundy Thursday and ringing them again on Easter Day likely reflects an even more ancient custom of keeping silence before a spring equinox or a winter solstice, then celebrating it with a joyous celebration of light and sound announcing that the darkness has fled and that new life is coming back into the world. We know that this is true on Easter Day.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
- The Exsultet
- Easter Acclamation and Paschal Hymn
- Psalm 33:1-11
- Psalm 46
- The Song of Moses
- Psalm 122
- The First Song of Isaiah
- Psalm 42:1-7
- Psalm 30
- Psalm 98
- The Litany
- Jesus Christ is Risen Today
- "Bestowing Life" – Br. James Koester
In the midst of an Easter that feels unlike any we have known, Br. James Koester celebrates the truth that remains: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
- "Resurrection Knowing" – Br. Keith Nelson
On Easter morning, Br. Keith Nelson evokes the power of resurrection knowing, which implausibly, illogically, mysteriously, tangibly, palpably, materially, personally, lovingly, victoriously prepares us to sing into the mouth of the grave, "Alleluia."
- "Prisoners of Hope" – Br. James Koester
Br. James Koester celebrates how the life and love of God, through the resurrection of Jesus, can shatter our chains, and set us free.
- "Calling by Name" – Br. Luke Ditewig
God comes to us when we are face-first with death. On Easter Sunday, Br. Luke Ditewig encourages us to look back to remember, look up to give thanks, and look forward in hope, to claim Jesus' resurrection power over all that is killing us in this life.
- "Ring Your Bells!" – Br. James Koester
We experience Holy Week, not just with our minds but in our bodies. Br. James Koester invites us to recognize not just the aches and pains and grip of fear that Holy Week can evoke, but also the resurrection of Jesus, surging like an electric flash in our bodies.
- "Experience the Resurrection" – Br. Curtis Almquist
Claim the hope in Jesus’ resurrection for you in the here-and-now.
- "Love Reborn" – Br. James Koester
We should all be standing on a street corner today throwing our hats, or gloves, or coats or even our surplices into the air, because hope and forgiveness and love are reborn, and we want the world to know. Alleluia.
- "Those Five Words" – Br. James Koester
Those five words turned the world upside down. They renewed love. They restored hope. They rekindled courage. “I have seen the Lord."
- "From Still Days to Dawn" – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
We stand with the women at the empty tomb, at the dawn of universe, at the threshold of Life.
- "A Cause For Great Joy" – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
On Easter, we celebrate that Jesus has called us brothers, as he rolls the stone away from our hearts.
- "Joy Comes in the Morning" – Br. David Vryhof
The evidence for the Resurrection lies not in the empty tomb, but in the encounters of the first disciples with the Risen Lord.
- "The Power of God" – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
The power of God, which raised Jesus to life, which is more powerful than anything else in all creation, is the power of love.
- "Shekinah" – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
We need all the help we can get to keep us awakened to the wonder and significance of Easter: that “because he lives, we live also.”
"Here we kneel at the tomb once more, watching, waiting, remembering love received then and now. Love shown to you, to me. Love nailed to the tree, and Love laid in the tomb. Now we linger with this mystery." – Br. Luke Ditewig
Holy Saturday is a day of waiting, anticipation, and preparation for Easter. We know that Jesus is in the Tomb.
An ancient homily for Holy Saturday, which you can listen to below, meditates on the mystery of this day: "Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep."
You might pray today with stillness, silence.
What parts of you are dying? What parts of you are waiting for new life?
Consider what in your life is giving you life right now – and give thanks. Consider what is draining or destroying life in you right now. As we await the glory of Easter, ponder what God’s invitation to ‘new life’ might look like in your present circumstances.
Liturgy of the Word, an ancient lyrical homily
"The Love of God endures the worst imaginable suffering. Through this, not in spite of this, as a ray of light pierces the darkest storm cloud, God’s glory is made manifest. We read this truth in the flesh of Jesus Christ: beaten, bleeding, broken, dying…drawing all people to himself." – Br. Keith Nelson
Good Friday marks the second day of the Triduum (from the Latin for ‘three days’), the day on which we commemorate the Lord’s crucifixion and death.
The worship offered at the Monastery is in fact a continuation of the liturgy begun last night and it will not ‘end’ until the Great Vigil of Easter. The vesture of the sacred ministers is deep red, accented with black, recalling the solemnity and sobriety of the day, and the Gospel according to John is chanted to an ancient tone, which you can hear below.
The liturgy crests as a cross is carried in and venerated by the gathered congregation. All depart in silence to the awkward waiting of Holy Saturday and the restrained anticipation of the Great Vigil of Easter.
How will you stand beside Jesus in his hour of greatest need?
- The Passion Gospel According to John, sung on an ancient tone
- The Solemn Collects
- Psalm 40
- “Christ became obedient”
- Plainsong Anthems sung by the Schola (We glory in your cross; We adore you, O Christ; O Savior of the world)
- A collection of Hymns sung by the Schola (Jesus keep me near the cross; When Jesus came to Golgotha; When Jesus wept; Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow)
- Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle
- And now, O Father, mindful of the love
- Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
- Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat
- My Faith Looks up to Thee
- Were you there when they crucified the Lord?
- "Finding the Goodness in Good Friday" – Br. Jim Woodrum
During a Holy Week when there is so much to mourn, Br. Jim Woodrum explores what is "good" about Good Friday.
- "Faith in a Seed" – Br. Nicholas Bartoli
On Good Friday, Br. Nicholas Bartoli invites us to enter into the paschal mystery as it unfolds for us now, letting our fear be buried with Jesus, to rise with him in new life.
- "Look at Love" – Br. Luke Ditewig
Would you rather turn away from the Cross? Br. Luke encourages us, "Admit your fear or grief or confusion, your guilt and shame." And look at love on the Cross.
- "Life out of Death" – Br. Curtis Almquist
We are not spared the experience of the cross, we are shared the experience. And the only way to survive the many deaths of this life is to surrender to Christ, taking him at his word: that life comes out of death.
- "Love Upon a Cross" – Br. David Vryhof
We have been captured by this love, smitten and overwhelmed by this love, changed and transformed by this love. And how could it not be?
- "Life By His Death" – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Our greatest hope in Jesus is that however dark the day, even as dark as Good Friday, we can look in confidence and trust to the cross. “For he hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.”
"The love to which Jesus points us is more than polite behavior or kind acts or nice words. It does not rely on positive feelings or warm thoughts. Nor does it depend on personal attraction. The love to which Jesus points us requires an openness, a receptivity, a posture of self-giving towards the other; the kind of openness with which we choose to receive into our hands the feet of another person, regardless of whose feet they are or where they have been, and recognize how much those feet look like our own." – Br. David Vryhof
Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the holiest three days in an already holy week. The liturgy commemorates the humility of the Lord in his willingness to do the most lowly of tasks.
The word maundy is an English corruption of the Latin mandatum, from the ‘new commandment’ that Jesus gives his disciples after washing their feet, an event we reenact and remember in the liturgy. At the conclusion of our Eucharist, we are invited, as were the first disciples, to watch and pray with the Lord on the night before his crucifixion and death. We keep watch through the night, here at the moment of Jesus' greatest need. On Maundy Thursday, as you are fed by God's body and blood, pray for your deepest need. As your feet are washed, ask God to bring healing to what is broken in you.
Where is your deepest need right now?
- Anthems sung by the Schola
- “Now my tongue the mystery telling”
- “Stay with me”
- Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love
- Ubi Caritas
- Go to dark Gethsemane
- "And It Was Night" – Br. James Koester
This fear-filled Holy Week, Br. James Koester encourages us to see that, as the world is plunged into darkness, Jesus stands among us, inviting us not to fear, but to love.
- "A Radical Act" – Br. David Vryhof
By washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus does not diminish his authority. Rather, he shows them a new way of exercising authority, a new way of being with others that is characterized by humility, compassion and loving service. Br. David Vryhof invites us, and the Church, to follow in these radical footsteps.
- "Joining the Dance" – Br. Nicholas Bartoli
The foot washing ritual of Maundy Thursday invites us, as sacraments do, to be emptied of everything except the truth of our identity in Christ.
- "Feet First" – Br. Luke Ditewig
The foot washing reminds us that love is always vulnerable: emotionally exposing, risky and essential for living well.
- "Maundy Thursday Remembrance" – Br. Curtis Almquist
Take what is cut off, broken, lost, detached from your own life, and allow it on this holy night to be reattached, reconnected, remembered.
- "Love Is His Meaning" – Br. James Koester
Everywhere we look, everything we taste, everything we feel, everything we hear, everything we smell tonight is a reminder that God loves us.
- "The Scandal of Service" – Br. James Koester
When we are prepared to fall on our knees before another in acts of humility and service, we too have the opportunity to change the world.
- "Called to Serve" – Br. David Vryhof
As Jesus reveals his true vocation, we learn that we are all called to serve.