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How to Pray Through Holy Week

Embracing days filled with both dread and joy.

How to pray through Holy Week
Credit: Getty Images
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Holy Week is coming up or might have arrived by the time you read this. I must admit I look to it with a combination of dread and joy. Dread because there is so much sadness in the story of Christ’s Crucifixion and betrayal—betrayal by His own beloved followers. Joy because on the other side of it is Easter and the Resurrection.             

With the onset of quarantine, Holy Week sure was different last year. But it will again be different this year, as more people get vaccinated and as we look to the promise of things opening up. I need God as my companion as much as Jesus desperately needed Him in Gethsemane. Let’s pray through Holy Week.

Find the joy. Palm Sunday can be baffling, all that outburst when it’s the beginning of a week of unaccountable sorrow. A little like having a party before a death.

And yet, wasn’t there indeed cause for celebration? A triumphal march into Jerusalem, a sign that this Messiah has really come, and all those who lay their palms before Him are filled with hope. What they don’t know yet is just what kind of King He will be, how His leadership is far greater than they could have known.

Wave your palms, even if you’re doing it at a Zoom service. Sing out with joy even if you’re singing by yourself (like singing in the shower). Your voice is not alone. Thousands of other believers are with you.

Celebrate the mystery. If I picture myself with the disciples at the Last Supper, I can identify with their cluelessness. What does Jesus mean when He says someone is going to betray Him, someone in our very midst? Why would He tell Peter, of all people, that he would deny Him? Wasn’t Peter the Rock? Steadfast, devoted. What does Jesus mean about the bread and wine being His body and blood?

Faith can be a mystery. It involves trusting in things greater than we can ever fully understand. Following God when you don’t know where He’s leading. Sitting at the table of a Last Supper.

Get yourself alone. You’d think during this awful period of social distancing, it would be easier to be by yourself. Not necessarily. Somedays I feel myself overloaded with Zoom meetings—Zoom church meetings—and endless emails and texts. 

What did Jesus do on the night before He died on the cross? He went away, knowing—sadly—that His own disciples would abandon Him. If Jesus, who could have talked to God at any time, needed to be by Himself for prayer, don’t we?

Stick with the pain. Who stuck around to watch the Crucifixion? Who was there till the bitter end? The women. They might have been watching from a distant hill but they didn’t run away from the awfulness of it.

And guess what? They would be the first to see the promise of it. The first to glimpse that empty tomb. I would rather run away from sorrow and pain, but I’ve seen how spiritual growth often comes when we face it head-on.

Pray for acceptance. The most powerful prayer that any of us can say—it’s right there in the Lord’s Prayer—the words Jesus uttered in the garden, “Thy will be done.” In this week that we sometimes call The Passion of the Christ, Jesus had to remain passive. He could have thrown off the shackles, run away, destroyed His crucifiers. He didn’t. Instead, He prayed.

Can we do any less?

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