Celebrating Holy Week around the Home Altar

This Easter will be different. No doubt about it. With isolation measures in place, we won’t be able to gather around the Lord’s Altar to celebrate the fruit of the Cross – the Body and Blood of Jesus – as a community until this health marathon is over. But as Luther once wrote, “God is not stingy with His grace”! And this is most certainly true! The same mercy, grace, and forgiveness are give to us in the Word, in the Forgiveness (Absolution) pronounced by the Pastors of the Church, in our Baptism as a garment which covers the whole of our lives in the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, and in what Luther called ‘the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren’ – or put a different way, in the way in which we encourage one another in the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

This is not to diminish the importance of the Lord’s Supper in any way. The Lord’s Supper is the pinnacle of that new relationship (covenant or testament) which both frames our lives in Christ as well as sustains us within it. It is where the Church becomes visible as we gather as His people around the Altar to confess the Name of our Saviour Jesus before both one another and the world. We will get back to that – of that I am certain. In the meantime, however, we continue on as Church around our Family Altars – and here are a few suggestions about ways to observe this upcoming week.

Palm Sunday – is a jubilant festival as Jesus entered into Jerusalem in humility. The Gospel reading is from John 12:12-19. If you have palm branches, do add them to your home altar space. Scatter them around your house. If you don’t have actual branches, make some from paper supplies that you have available – or alternately, bring your coats and place them on the ground before your altar as you offer your prayers. For families with young children, don’t hesitate to join in leading them in a processional round the house – even outside – before coming back to give thanks for Jesus who went joyfully to the cross to carry our sins and with that open door to heaven for us.

Monday in Holy Week – continues our journey with Jesus. Read from John 12:1-11. Bring an offering of ‘perfume’ to the altar as you light a candle and offering your prayers. The perfume described in this Gospel reading was used to anoint and embalm the bodies of the dead. Martha’s gift was a preparation for Jesus’ crucifixion. Ponder the question ‘what gifts do I bring?’ realizing that the only gifts Jesus asks from us are our sins so that He can put them to death on the cross. Pray Psalm 36:5-10 together with your family.

Tuesday in Holy Week – continues with our reading from John 12:23-36. Consider what it means for Jesus to be the ‘light of the world’ and why He is important for our lives today. Jesus uses the image of a seed dying (in the earth) to produce life and a fruitful harvest. Plant some seeds into a pot – it could be Marigolds, or vegetables, or anything really – but use this as a way to reflect on Jesus death for us in order to produce that newness of life and renewal of hope within us. Pray Psalm 71:1-14 together.

Wednesday in Holy Week – follows through John chapter 13. Washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus’ prediction of Judas’ betrayal, even Jesus words to Peter telling of how he would betray Him in advance. How did Jesus know? Jesus knows of our weaknesses and betrayals too – and still, He goes to the cross willingly to redeem us from those sins. Families might want to wash each others’ feet as a way to re-enact this passage – pondering God’s humility in Christ that God would wash our feet out of love. Pray Psalm 70 together as a family.

Maundy Thursday – marks the beginning of the Passover celebrations. From the Old Testament, this festival looked back at how God rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. In Jesus’ fulfillment of this passage, we see Him giving us Himself – as the sacrificial lamb – to free us from slavery to sin, death, and the devil. Read Mark 14:12-26 as a part of a meal and then tell the story of the Passover from Exodus 12:1-42. Why is this meal (the Lord’s Supper so different from all others? Use this as a chance to consider the great gift that Jesus is giving. Use Psalm 116 as your prayer together. Strip away the ‘extras’ from your altar space (your palm branches or coat, your perfume, etc.) leaving only a cross, your Bible, a candle, and your planted seeds.

Good Friday – is a day for quiet meditation. Like Mary who sat at Jesus feet just to listen, it is a day for us to sit back and consider the depth of the mystery that is presented to us here. This is God Himself in the second person of the Holy Trinity who breathes His last to win forgiveness for us. The whole Gospel reading for the day is John 18-19, but for families with younger children, it may be worth focusing on 19:17-30. Allow yourselves (and your children) to be absorbed into the events of that day – remembering that through Baptism, we are joined with Jesus in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-7). Ponder the gift and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in prayers of confession and thanksgiving. Frame your day and your prayers with Psalms 22 and 31. Don’t forget to water your seeds – as a remembrance of your baptism – but likewise of Jesus’ death for us to give us life. Drape a black cloth over the cross.

Holy Saturday – takes us to Matthew 27:57-66. As you read through these verses together, you can ask your children to go lock up the doors and then consider what all of this means for Jesus’ Body in the tomb. Why would Pilate ask his soldiers to do that? What does it mean to rest? To rest in death? What does it mean for our brokenness and sins to be resting there? You might even want to wrap your cross and/or Bible in a white linen cloth. Pray Psalm 16 while considering how God has made Jesus your place of refuge through the waters of your Baptism so that we too now rest in peace in Christ.

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