Easter Vigil

The darkness of Holy Saturday is the kind of creative darkness in which God made the world (Genesis 1:1-2:4a). In keeping with this theme the Vigil recollects creation alongside moments of deliverance from chaos, including the Flood (Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13), the redemption of Isaac when Abraham nearly sacrificed him (Genesis 22:1-18), and the Passover (Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21; 15:1b-13, 17-18, or Exodus 15:1-6, 11-13, 17-18). That pattern of readings to explore the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection exemplifies typology, an ancient principle of interpretation in which the church saw in the experience of Israel foreshadowings (or “types”) of the salvation from death itself that is implicit in Jesus’ victory over the grave.

Prophecy also anticipates salvation, and the words of Isaiah (55:1-11; 12:2-6) and Zephaniah (3:14-20) are presented, not only with their immediate meaning at the time they were spoken, but as anticipating what becomes possible with the Resurrection. What was once a collective and metaphorical promise articulated by Ezekiel (36:34-28; 37:1-14) is understood to be fulfilled during the night prior to Easter. Wisdom derived from God also anticipates redemption, as is exemplified in today‘s reading from the book of Proverbs (8:1-18, 19-21, 9:4b-6). Baruch, a work from the Apocrypha, skillfully combines the motifs of Prophecy and of Wisdom (Baruch 3:9-15; 3:32-4:4).

The Vigil celebrates the connections between past redeeming acts and what Jesus has given by means of his resurrection, using appropriate psalms to mark past deliverance and its connection to Christ. Today’s psalm readings convey not only ancient praise of God but also celebrations of victory in a new idiom (Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26; 46:1-11; 19:1-14; 98:1-9; 114:1-8). Yet it is notable that, just as psalms earlier in the week acknowledged God’s help in the midst of suffering, so during the Vigil the vulnerability of those who celebrate, and the setting of the Resurrection in the context of suffering, is acknowledged by means of today’s psalms (Psalm 16:1-11; 42:1-11; 43:1-5; 143:1-12). Eucharistic readings convey those connections by linking the baptism of each believer to Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-11), to the celebration of Passover (Psalm 114), and to the announcement to Mary Magdalene and her companions that Jesus had been raised from the dead (Mark 16:1-8).

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
The Seven Days of Creation

This reading from the beginning of the book of Genesis depicts God’s creation of the world out of chaos. Creation is our first indication of God’s love for and intimate connection with the world, a connection typified in God’s subsequent acts of redemption, culminating during the Easter Vigil in Jesus’ redemption from death.

When God began to create the sky and the earth, the earth was formless and void, with darkness on the face of the deep, and a wind from God was sweeping over the face of the water. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness God called “night.” And there was evening, then morning, a first day.

God said, “Let there be a dry expanse in the midst of the water, and it will separate the water above from the water below.” So God made the dry expanse, and it separated the water that was below the expanse from the water above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the dry expanse “sky.” And there was evening, then morning, a second day.

God said, “Let the water below the sky be gathered into a single place so that the dry land will appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land “earth,” and the gathered water God called “seas.” And God saw that this was good. God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation: plants that produce seed, trees bearing fruit that produces fruit of its same kind, the seed of which is in it, upon the earth.” And it was so. The earth sprouted vegetation: plants that produce seed of their same kind, and trees that bear fruit the seed of which is in it, of its same kind. And God saw that this was good. And there was evening, then morning, a third day.

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the dry expanse of the sky, to divide the day and the night, and they shall be tokens of the progression of time, of seasons, of days, and of years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky, to illuminate the earth.” And it was so. God created the two great lights, the great light to rule over the day and the small light to rule over the night, and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the sky, to illuminate the earth, and to rule by day and by night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that this was good. And there was evening, then morning, a fourth day.

Then God said, “Let the water teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth, upon the face of the dry expanse of the sky.” So God created the great sea-monsters and every living creature that moves with which the water teems, according to its kind, and every winged bird, according to its kind. And God saw that this was good. Then God pronounced a blessing over them: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water of the seas, and may the birds multiply upon the earth.” And there was evening, then morning, a fifth day.

Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kind, cattle and creeping things, and the animals of the earth according to their kind.” And it was so. God made the animals of the earth according to their kind, the cattle according to their kind, and all that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that this was good.

Now God said, “Let us make humankind, in our image and after our likeness. And humankind shall have dominion over the fish in the sea, and the birds of the sky, and the cattle, and all the living creatures of the earth, and all the creeping things that move on the earth.” So God created the human being in God’s image and after God’s likeness; in the image of God, God created the human being. Male and female God created them. Then God pronounced a blessing over them. God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living creature that creeps on the earth.”

And God said, “I am giving you all of the vegetation that produces seed that is on the face of the entire earth as well as every tree that has fruit that produces seed. This shall be yours as food. And to all living creatures of the earth, and all the birds of the sky, and everything that creeps upon the earth in which there is the breath of life, all the green vegetation is food.” And it was so. Then God saw all that God had done, that it was exceedingly good. And there was evening, then morning, a sixth day.

Thus were completed the sky and the earth and all of their component parts. For on the seventh day, God brought to closure the work God had done. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, for on it God rested from all of the work of creation that God did. This is the history of the sky and earth when they were created.

Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26
The Great Hallel: God’s Acts of Love Never End

Psalm 136 calls on us to thank God for the steadfast love reflected in God’s creation of the world and his constant presence as a redeeming force in our lives. The Lectionary omits the psalm’s middle verses. These lines reflect on God’s concern for the people of Israel in particular, who experienced God’s presence in the events surrounding the Exodus from Egypt and in their receiving the land of Israel as an everlasting heritage.

  • 1. Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 2. Give thanks to the God of gods;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 3. Give thanks to the Lord of lords;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 4. To the one who alone does great wonders;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 5. Who in understanding created the heavens;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 6. Who spread out the earth upon the water;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 7. Who made the great heavenly lights;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 8. The sun for dominion over the day;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 9. And the moon and the stars for dominion over the night;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 23. For in our low state God remembered us;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 24. And God rescued us from our enemies;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 25. God gives bread to all flesh;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.
  • 26. Give thanks to God of the heavens;
    God’s steadfast love is eternal.

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13
Noah and the Ark

The story of the Flood presents an example—similar to that of creation—of God’s delivering the world from a watery chaos. The certainty of God’s saving even a world defined by sin emerges as a pattern that, in the Christian tradition, reaches its apex in Jesus’ salvation from death.

And the Lord said to Noah, “Come, you and your entire household, into the ark, for you I have recognized as righteous before me in this generation. From each kind of clean animal, take seven pairs—the male and his mate; and from the animals that are not clean, take two—the male and his mate. Also from the birds of the sky, seven pairs—male and female—to keep their seed alive on the face of the earth. For in seven days, I shall bring rain upon the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I shall wipe out all that exists that I created on the face of the earth.” So Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

In the six hundredth year of the life of Noah, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that exact day the fountains of the great deep burst open and the sluices of the heaven opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On that very day Noah and Shem, Ham, and Japheth—Noah’s sons—and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, came into the ark. They and every wild animal according to its kind and every domestic animal according to its kind and all the creeping creatures that crawl on the earth according to their kind and all the flying creatures according to their kind, every bird, every winged thing. They came to Noah, to the ark, two by two, of all flesh in which there is the breath of life. And those that came, male and female of all flesh they came, as God commanded him. Then the Lord shut him in. The flood continued forty days upon the earth, so that the water increased and lifted the ark, and it was high above the earth. The water abounded and greatly increased upon the earth so that the ark drifted upon the face of the water.

After forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark he had built. He sent out a raven, which went out and back until the water had dried from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the face of the ground. But the dove found no resting place for its foot, and it returned to him, to the ark, since there was still water on the face of all the earth. So Noah extended his hand and took it and brought it back to himself, into the ark.

When another seven days had passed, he again sent the dove out from the ark. The dove returned to him in the evening with a plucked off olive branch in its mouth. So Noah knew that the waters had abated from the earth. He waited an additional seven days and sent out the dove, and it did not again return to him. Then, in Noah’s six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters dried up from the face of the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and saw that the face of the earth had dried out. And in the second month, on the twenty seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.

And God said to Noah: “Leave the ark, you and your wife and your sons, and your sons’ wives together with you. And all the living things that are with you of all flesh, the birds and animals and all the creeping things that crawl on the earth—bring them out with you so that they might teem upon the earth and be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.” So Noah went out, with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him.

God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your progeny after you, and with every living creature with you—birds, domesticated animals, all the wild animals of the earth that are with you—all of those that came out of the ark, all of the creatures of the earth. Thus I shall establish my covenant with you, so that all flesh will never again be cut off by the waters of a flood, and there will never again be a flood that will destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and all the living things that are with you for all future generations: My bow I have placed in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

Psalm 46
God, Our Refuge and Strength

Psalm 46 reflects on God’s saving power, here evidenced in God’s supremacy over nature as much as over nations. In the context of the Easter Vigil, the psalm’s conclusion, which depicts God as humbling armies and bringing an end to war, celebrates the new age that is inaugurated by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

To the director, a psalm of the Korahites, for the voice of young women, a song.

  • 1. God is our refuge and strength,
    a help in distress, well proved.
  • 2. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth changes,
    though the mountains topple into the heart of the sea.
  • 3. Let its waters roar and foam;
    let mountains quake at the sea’s swelling!
  • 4. There is a river whose streams bring gladness to the city of God,
    the holiest of the habitations of the Most High.
  • 5. God is in its midst; it will not be toppled.
    God will help it as morning dawns.
  • 6. Nations are in a commotion; kingdoms shake;
    God puts forth his voice; the earth dissolves.
  • 7. The Lord of armies is with us.
    The God of Jacob is our fortress.
  • 8. Come see the works of the Lord,
    who produces desolation upon the earth.
  • 9. God stops wars to the ends of the earth.
    God breaks the bow and cuts in two the spear;
    chariots God burns with fire.
  • 10. Be still and know that I am God;
    I am exalted among the nations,
    exalted on the earth.
  • 11. The Lord of armies is with us.
    The God of Jacob is our fortress.

Genesis 22:1-18
The Binding of Isaac

Willing even to offer his beloved son as a sacrifice to God, Abraham models a man of unwavering devotion. Jewish tradition sees here as well the perfect faith of Isaac, who accepted God’s demand that he give up his life. In the Easter Vigil, these actions prefigure Jesus’ self-sacrifice. Through the mediation of the ram that was sacrificed instead, God delivered Isaac from death, and in the same way the world is redeemed through the death of Jesus, an offering of God’s own son for the purpose of the salvation of humankind.

Following those events, God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham, Abraham!” and he answered, “Here I am!” God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall instruct you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his ass and took two of his lads with him along with Isaac, his son. He split wood for the burnt offering and departed for the place that God told him.

On the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place a distance away. Abraham said to his lads, “Wait here with the ass while I and the lad continue over there. We will worship and then return to you.” So Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the flame and the knife, and they went, the two of them together. But Isaac said to Abraham his father, “Father!” And he replied, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Here are the flame and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “God will see to the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked along together.

Now, they came to the place that God had instructed him, and Abraham built there the altar, and he set out the wood and bound Isaac his son and placed him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand and took the knife in order to slaughter his son. But a messenger of the Lord called out to him from the sky, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am!” And the messenger said, “Do not put forth your hand against the lad; do nothing to him! For now I know that you revere God, even to the point of not holding back your son, your only son, from me.”

Abraham lifted his eyes and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the brambles. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. So Abraham called that place, “The Lord Will See,” as it is said still today, “On the mountain, the Lord will be seen.”

Now the messenger of the Lord called a second time to Abraham from the sky and said, “On myself I have sworn—a declaration of the Lord: since you did this and did not hold back your son, your only son, therefore I shall surely bless you and greatly increase your seed like the stars of the sky and the sand that is on the shore of the sea. Your seed shall inherit the gate of their enemy. All the nations of the earth shall be blessed by virtue of your seed, since you heeded my voice.”

Psalm 16
We Are Confident of God’s Help

The reading today of Psalm 16 exposes the reality of human vulnerability even in the face of God’s protecting presence. This theme speaks powerfully of the suffering of Jesus in the context of his crucifixion but also, more generally, of the suffering we all continue to experience in the imperfectly redeemed world in which we still live.

A Mikhtam of David.

  • 1. Protect me, God, for I have taken shelter in you.
  • 2. I said, “Lord! You are my lord.
    Is my welfare not dependent on you?”
  • 3. As for the supposedly sacred ones that are in the land
    and the powerful ones—the false gods—
    my only desire for them is that
  • 4. the pain of those who follow other gods will increase.
    I will not pour out their drink-offerings of blood,
    nor will I lift their names upon my lips.
  • 5. The Lord is the portion of my lot and my cup;
    you cast my lot.
  • 6. A good portion has been measured out to me;
    indeed, my inheritance is pleasing to me.
  • 7. I will declare the Lord blessed, who gives me counsel;
    even at night my heart corrects me.
  • 8. I have kept the Lord continually before me,
    for with God at my right hand, I will not swerve.
  • 9. Therefore my heart is happy and my liver rejoices!
    Indeed my flesh abides securely.
  • 10. For you will not abandon me to Sheol;
    You will not allow your faithful one to see the Pit.
  • 11. You make known to me the path of life;
    a satisfying abundance is found in your presence;
    pleasures are eternally in your right hand.

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21
Israel Is Saved at the Sea

Through Exodus 14-15, we reflect on the power of God’s deliverance in moments of the greatest darkness and need. The redemption of the people of Israel through God’s splitting of the sea following their Exodus from Egypt is paradigmatic of God’s power to save. In the perspective of the church, this deliverance foreshadows Jesus’ victory over the grave.

Pharaoh’s army approached, and the people of Israel lifted their eyes and saw the Egyptians streaming after them. In great fear the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not what we told you in Egypt: Leave us be so that we might serve the Egyptians, since it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s deliverance, which God will carry out for you today. For even though you see the Egyptians today, you shall never again see them. The Lord will wage war on your behalf. You just be silent!”

The Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Speak to the people of Israel that they might move forward. But you, lift your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea, splitting it, so that the people of Israel can enter into the sea on dry ground. I am going to harden the Egyptians’ heart so that they will enter the sea after them, so that I will be glorified through Pharaoh and his entire army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Thus the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I am glorified through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

So the divine messenger of God who went before the camp of Israel moved behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and stood behind them.

It came between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. Thus the cloud and the darkness were there, and it lit up the night. Neither camp approached the other all night. Then Moses extended his hand over the water, and the Lord moved the sea with a strong east wind all that night, which turned the sea into dry land, splitting the sea. And the people of Israel entered into the sea on the dry land, as the water formed walls on their right and left.

But the Egyptians pursued, and every one of Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen entered after them into the sea. At the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the Egyptian camp from the pillar of fire and smoke, and God threw the Egyptian camp into confusion. Then God removed the wheels of Pharaoh’s chariots so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “We’d better flee from Israel, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

The Lord said to Moses, “Stretch your hand across the sea so that the water will return upon the Egyptians, upon Pharaoh’s chariots and his horsemen.” So Moses stretched his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its usual flow. Now as the Egyptians were fleeing before it, the Lord shook the Egyptians into the sea. And the water returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all of Pharaoh’s army that had followed them into the sea. There did not remain of them even one. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea, as the water formed walls on their right and left. Thus on that day the Lord delivered Israel from Egypt, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. And Israel saw the great hand that the Lord lifted against Egypt, so that the people stood in awe of the Lord and had faith in the Lord and in Moses, God’s servant.

Then Miriam the prophet, the sister of Aaron, took up the timbrel in her hand, and all of the women went out following her with timbrels and dancing. And Miriam sang to them:

Sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed majestically;
horse and rider God has thrown into the sea.

Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18
The Song at the Sea

The Song at the Sea is a victory poem, recited by the people of Israel after their release from Egyptian bondage and following God’s victory over the pursuing army of Pharaoh. It testifies to God’s power to save those in greatest need, no matter the severity of their situation or the depth of their desperation. The presentation of this passage in the Lectionary omits verses 14-16, which describe how God wiped out or silenced all other nations so that God’s chosen Israel could pass.

  • 1. I shall sing to the Lord, for God has triumphed majestically;
    horse and rider God has thrown into the sea.
  • 2. Yah is my strength and my song and has been my salvation.
    This is my God whom I shall adorn with praise,
    the God of my ancestors whom I shall exalt.
  • 3. The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is God’s name.
  • 4. Pharaoh’s chariots and army God cast into the sea;
    the best of his officers were drowned in the Sea of Reeds.
  • 5. The depths covered them;
    they went down in the deep like a rock.
  • 6. Your right hand, Lord, glorious in power;
    your right hand, Lord, shatters the enemy.
  • 7. In your great majesty you destroyed those who arose against you;
    you sent forth your anger, devouring them like stubble.
  • 8. Through the breath of your nostrils the water was heaped up;
    the flow stood upright like a heap of water,
    the depths congealed in the heart of the sea.
  • 9. The enemy said, “I’ll give chase, I’ll catch them;
    I’ll split up the spoil, my appetite will be filled with them;
    I’ll draw my sword, my hand will dispossess them.”
  • 10. You blew with your breath, the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in mighty water.
  • 11. Who is comparable to you among the gods, Lord;
    who is comparable to you, mighty in holiness,
    inspiring awesome praises,
    doing wonders?
  • 12. You stretched out your right hand,
    the earth swallowed them.
  • 13. In your loving-kindness you led this people whom you redeemed.
    You guided them with your might to the habitation of your holiness.
  • 17. You led them and planted them on the mountain that is your own possession,
    your fixed resting place;
    you created it, Lord—
    the sanctuary of the Lord, that your hands established.
  • 18. The Lord will reign for ever and ever.

Isaiah 55:1-11
God’s Word Will Be Fulfilled

Isaiah’s prophecy anticipates the salvation that Israelites experienced in 539-538 BCE, when Cyrus of Persia took control of the Babylonian empire and allowed the Israelite exiles there to return to their homeland. Read today, the passage reflects not only the immediate setting of when Isaiah’s words were spoken but also anticipates the salvation of all believers that becomes possible with the Resurrection.

  • 1. Ah! All who thirst, come to water!
    And those who have no money, come, purchase, and eat.
    Come and purchase without money and without price wine and milk.
  • 2. Why do you spend money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
    Sincerely heed me and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food!
  • 3. Extend your ear and come to me;
    heed me and you will live;
    and I shall establish for you an everlasting covenant,
    the unfailing steadfast love shown to David.
  • 4. Look! I have made him a witness to the people,
    a leader and commander of the peoples.
  • 5. Look! Nations you do not know, you will summon;
    and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
    on account of the Lord, your God and the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.
  • 6. Seek the Lord when God can be found,
    call upon God when God is close.
  • 7. Let the wicked abandon their ways,
    and transgressors their thoughts.
    Let them return to the Lord, who will show them mercy,
    to our God, who abundantly forgives.
  • 8. For my thoughts are not your thoughts;
    and your ways are not my ways—a declaration of the Lord.
  • 9. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways,
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
  • 10. For just as the rain and snow fall from the sky and do not return there without watering the earth,
    causing it to bring forth and sprout and provide seed for the sower and bread to one who eats,
  • 11. so my word that goes forth from my mouth will not return to me unfulfilled.
    Rather it will accomplish what I desire and succeed at that for which I sent it.

Isaiah 12:2-6
Joyfully Make Known God’s Works

This reading reflects on salvation, not only in the immediate time in which the prophet’s words were spoken, but also anticipating what becomes possible with the Resurrection.

  • 2. Behold, God is my rescue!
    I will trust and not fear.
    For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my song and has been my rescue.
  • 3. In joy you will draw water from the wells of deliverance.
  • 4. And you will say on that day,
    Give thanks to the Lord;
    call upon God’s name;
    announce among the peoples God’s actions;
    make known that God’s name is exalted!
  • 5. Praise the Lord with music, for God has acted majestically;
    this is known in all the land.
  • 6. Shout and sing out in joy, inhabitant of Zion!
    For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4
Wisdom is the Inheritance of God’s Commandments

This reading from the book of Baruch anticipates salvation through an invitation to the wisdom of God as observed in the distinct heritage of Israel—a heritage that for the church foreshadows salvation from death itself, and thereby functions as an affirmation of hope during the Vigil.

Hear, Israel, the commandments of life. Pay close attention in order to gain insight. How has this happened, Israel, that you are in enemies’ land, that you grew old in a foreign land, that you became defiled with the dead, that you were counted among those in the grave? You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom. If you had gone in the way of God, then you would have dwelt in peace forever. Learn where to find wisdom, where to find strength, where to find an understanding so that you will know also where to find longevity and life, where the light of the eyes and peace is. Who found wisdom’s place? Who entered into her treasures?

But he who knows all things knows her, and he found her with his understanding. He who prepared the earth everlasting filled it with four-footed animals. The one who sends the light, and it goes, calls it, and it obeys him in trembling. The stars shined in their watches and rejoiced. He called to them, and they answered, “Here we are.” They shined with gladness upon the one who made them. This is our God, no other can be compared to him. He discovered every way of knowledge and gave it to Jacob his servant and Israel, the one whom he loves. After this, he was seen upon the earth, and he lived among people. This is the book of the commandments of God and the law of the one who lives forever. All of those who keep it will live, but those who forsake it will die. Turn back, Jacob, and take hold of it. Travel through toward the light in the presence of its light. Do not give your glory to another nor your profitable things to foreign nations. We are blessed, Israel, because the things that please God are known to us.

Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6
The Value of Wisdom

This reading from the book of Proverbs reflects on God’s salvation from a new perspective. God reveals the divine will through wisdom, which leads us down paths of righteousness and justice towards God’s blessings.

  • 1. Will Wisdom not call out, nor Understanding raise her voice?
  • 2. At the top of the heights, the side of the path, at the crossroads, she is stationed.
  • 3. Next to gates, in front of the town, at the entranceways, she cries out:
  • 4. To you, people, I call;
    my voice to humankind.
  • 5. Learn, simple ones, prudence;
    dullards, learn knowledge![1]
  • 6. Hear! For princely things I shall speak,
    and from my open lips, that which is right.
  • 7. For my mouth will utter truth,
    while wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
  • 8. All the utterances of my mouth are said in righteousness;
    they contain nothing twisted nor crooked.
  • 19. My fruit is better than gold and refined gold;
    my produce, than choice silver.
  • 20. In the way of righteousness I walk,
    in the midst of the paths of justice,
  • 21. to bequeath wealth to those who love me,
    and their treasuries I will fill.
  • 4b. To those who lack intelligence, Wisdom says:
  • 5. Come, eat my bread,
    and drink the wine I have poured.
  • 6. Abandon foolishness and live!
    Walk straight on the path of understanding.

Psalm 19
God Is Revealed in Creation and Law

This reading depicts the entire universe’s praise of God. Such praise is the only appropriate response to the perfection of all creation and the splendor of God’s revealed truths.

To the director, a psalm of David.

  • 1. The sky recounts God’s glory;
    the heavens declare the work of God’s hand.
  • 2. Day to day they pour forth speech;
    night to night they declare knowledge.
  • 3. There is no speech, and there are no words,
    unless their voice is heard.
  • 4. Throughout the land their call went out;
    at the edge of the world, their words.
    God made for the sun a tent in the sky,
  • 5. and it, like a bridegroom, emerges from its wedding canopy,
    exultant as a strong man to run his course.
  • 6. The edge of the sky is its rising place,
    and its circuit to the sky’s end,
    so that nothing is hidden from its heat.
  • 7. The Lord’s Torah is perfect,
    restoring one’s inner being.
    The Lord’s testimony is confirmed,
    making wise the simple.
  • 8. The Lord’s precepts are right,
    gladdening the heart.
    The Lord’s commandment is clear,
    enlightening the eyes.
  • 9. Awe of the Lord is pure,
    enduring eternally.
    The Lord’s ordinances are truth,
    altogether just.
  • 10. They are more desirable than gold
    and than much refined gold.
    They are sweeter than honey,
    than what flows from the comb.
  • 11. Indeed, your servant is instructed by them;
    in observing them is great gain.
  • 12. Who can discern errors?
    From my hidden ones, cleanse me!
  • 13. Also from presumptuous sins restrain your servant;
    may they not have dominion over me!
    Then I shall be blameless and cleansed of great transgression.
  • 14. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before you, Lord, my rock and my deliverer.

Ezekiel 36:24-28
A Prophecy of Israel’s Restoration

The collective promise regarding God’s ingathering of Israelite exiles to their Promised Land that the prophet articulated is understood to be specifically fulfilled during the night prior to Easter.

  • 24. I will take you from the nations,
    and gather you from all of the countries,
    and bring you to your land.
  • 25. And I will sprinkle on you pure water
    so that you will be cleansed of all of your uncleannesses;
    from all of your idols I will cleanse you.
  • 26. I will give you a new heart,
    and a new spirit I will place within you.
    I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh
    and will give you a heart of flesh.
  • 27. My spirit I will place within you,
    and I will act so that you will follow my law,
    and my ordinances you will carefully observe.
  • 28. You will dwell in the land that I gave to your ancestors,
    and you will be my people,
    and I will be your God.

Psalm 42 and 43
We Yearn for God’s Presence in a Time of Despair

Psalms 42 and 43, a single poetic passage numbered as two separate psalms, set the Resurrection in the context of suffering. This reading leads us to acknowledge in our still imperfect world the continued vulnerability even of those who celebrate Jesus’ victory over death.

Psalm 42

To the director, a maskil of the Korahites.

  • 1. As a ram longs for streams of water,
    so my innermost being longs for you, God.
  • 2. My being thirsts for God,
    the living God;
    when will I come and appear before God?
  • 3. My tears have been my bread day and night,
    as people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
  • 4. These things I remember and pour out my soul,
    how I used to pass along in the throng,
    leading the procession to the house of God,
    with sounds of joyful praise and thanksgiving,
    a multitude celebrating the festival!
  • 5. Why do you despair, my being,
    and murmur within me?
    Hope in God, for I will yet praise God,
    for God’s saving actions.
  • 6. My God, my being despairs within me.
    For this reason I call you to mind,
    from the land of Jordan and the Hermons,
    from Mount Mizar.
  • 7. Deep calls to deep,
    at the sound of your water-spouts;
    all of your breakers and waves crash over me.
  • 8. By day, the Lord will assure God’s steadfast love;
    by night, God’s song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
  • 9. I will say to God, my protecting cliff,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
    Why do I go mourning in response to the oppression of the enemy?”
  • 10. Like a shattering of my bones, my enemies reproach me,
    as they continually say, “Where is your God?”
  • 11. Why do you despair, my being,
    and why do you murmur within me?
    Hope in God, for I will yet praise God,
    my own help and my God.

Psalm 43

  • 1. Vindicate me, God,
    and defend my cause
    against an impious people;
    from the deceitful and unjust, protect me!
  • 2. For you are my God, my refuge.
    Why have you spurned me?
    Why do I go in mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
  • 3. Send forth your light and your truth;
    they will guide me.
    They will bring me to your holy mountain,
    to your dwelling place.
  • 4. Then may I come to the altar of God,
    to God, the joy of my gladness.
    I will praise you with the harp,
    God, my God.
  • 5. Why do you despair, my being,
    and why do you murmur within me?
    Hope in God, for I will yet praise God,
    My own help and my God.

Ezekiel 37:1-14
The Metaphor of the Dry Bones: The People of Israel Renewed

In the context of this Vigil, the story of the Valley of the Dry Bones, the prophet’s metaphor for God’s rejuvenation of the people of Israel, is understood to refer to the events of Easter and Jesus’ victory over death.

The hand of the Lord came upon me. It took me out by the spirit of the Lord, and it placed me in the valley, which was full of bones. And God passed me over them, all around: there were very many bones lying in the valley and they were extremely dry.

God said to me, “Mortal! Can these bones be returned to life?” And I responded, “My Lord, God, only you know!”

Now God said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them: Dry bones! Heed the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord, God, to these bones: I will bring upon you breath and you will live! For I shall place upon you sinews, and will cause flesh to rise upon you, and will spread over you skin, and will place in you breath, and you will come alive, and you will know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I was commanded, and, as I prophesied, there was a sound, then a noise, and the bones came together, bone to bone. And I looked and, indeed, there was on them sinew, and flesh arose, and they were covered with skin, but there was no breath in them.

Then God said to me, “Prophesy to the breath! Prophesy, Mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord, God: From the four winds, come, breath! Blow into these slain ones so that they will come alive.” So I prophesied as God commanded me, and breath came into them, and they came alive and stood on their legs, an exceedingly great multitude.

Now God said to me, “Mortal! These bones represent the entire house of Israel. They say: Our bones have dried up, our hope is lost, we are entirely cut off. Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord, God: I am opening your graves, and I will raise you from your graves, my people. And I will bring you to the land of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people. And I will place my breath in you and you will live, and I will settle you on your land, and you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and acted”—the word of the Lord.

Psalm 143
Save Me from Those Who Wish Me Harm

Psalm 143 acknowledges God’s help of those who suffer, who are pursued by enemies who seek their harm. The passage has heightened meaning during the Easter Vigil, in which it is seen as a reflection on Jesus’ suffering in the context of his crucifixion.

A psalm of David.

  • 1. Lord, hear my prayer;
    in your faithfulness listen to my supplication;
    in your righteousness answer me.
  • 2. Do not enter into judgment with your servant,
    for no mortal can be found righteous before you.
  • 3. My enemy pursued me,
    crushing my life to the ground,
    making me dwell in dark places, like the long dead.
  • 4. Thus my breath grows faint within me;
    within me, my heart is dismayed.
  • 5. I remember the days of old;
    I consider all of your deeds;
    on the work of your hands I meditate.
  • 6. I spread out my hands to you;
    my inner being, like parched land, thirsts for You.
  • 7. Quickly, answer me, Lord!
    My breath is at its end.
    Do not hide your face from me,
    so that I would become like those who go down to the Pit.
  • 8. Make me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
    for in you have I trusted.
    Instruct me in the path I should follow,
    for to you I lift my very being.
  • 9. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord;
    in you I have sought shelter.
  • 10. Teach me to perform your will,
    for you are my God.
    Let your good spirit lead me
    on level land.
  • 11. For the sake of your name, Lord, preserve me in life;
    in your righteousness, remove me from trouble.
  • 12. In your steadfast love destroy my enemies,
    and bring an end to all of my adversaries,
    for I am your servant.

Zephaniah 3:14-20
The Joy of Israel’s Restoration

Zephaniah 3:14-20 directs to the people of Israel at the beginning of the seventh century BCE an oracle of restoration and ingathering to their home. In the context of the Easter Vigil, it is read as anticipating God’s assurance of Jesus’ victory over death.

  • 14. Sing out, daughter of Zion,
    Raise a cry, Israel!
    Rejoice and exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!
  • 15. The Lord has overturned your judgment;
    God has turned aside your enemies.
    The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you need not fear evil any longer.
  • 16. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, Zion!
    Let your hands not sink in despair!
  • 17. The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
    a saving warrior.
    God will rejoice over you in happiness;
    God will renew you[2] in God’s love.
    God will rejoice over you with a ringing cry.
  • 18. Those who suffered[3] from the appointed time—[when] I punished you—
    were an expiation tax[4] on Jerusalem, a reproach.
  • 19. At that time, I will act against all who humble you,
    and I will rescue he who stumbles,
    and he who was driven away I will gather.
    And I will make them an object of praise and a name in all the land in which they were shamed.
  • 20. At that time, I will bring you,
    and at the time I will gather you:
    then I will make you a name and an object of praise among all the peoples of the earth,
    when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.

Psalm 98
Let the Entire Earth Celebrate God’s Victory

Psalm 98 is a hymn of praise for the victory instigated by God in days of old. It corresponds to and sheds new light on the divine victory God has wrought in connection with Christ.

A psalm.

  • 1. Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for God has performed extraordinary acts;
    God’s right hand brought God victory,
    along with God’s holy arm.
  • 2. The Lord has made that victory known;
    in the sight of the nations God revealed God’s righteousness.
  • 3. God recalled God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to the House of Israel;
    the ends of the earth saw our God’s victory.
  • 4. Let all the earth raise a shout to the Lord;
    let them burst forth in a joyous shout, give a ringing cry, and sing in praise.
  • 5. Let them sing praise to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and sound of melody.
  • 6. With trumpets and the sound of the shofar,
    let them raise a shout before the Lord, the King.
  • 7. Let the sea roar, and all that it contains,
    the earth, and those that dwell on it.
  • 8. Let the rivers clap hands;
    together let the mountains give out a ringing cry
  • 9. before the Lord,
    for God is coming to judge the land.
    God will judge the earth with righteousness
    and the peoples evenhandedly.

Romans 6:3-11
Baptism Brings Entry into Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

Easter emerged as the natural occasion for converts to Christianity to begin their new life of faith by means of baptism. Since the time of Pentecost, immersion in water had been understood by Jesus’ followers to signal how God’s spirit rushed over them when they were baptized in the name of Jesus. Here Paul extends the significance of the ritual by relating the believer’s immersion in water to the experience of death, so that arising from baptism joined the believer to Jesus’ resurrection.

Can you not understand that as many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? We were buried with him through that baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the Father’s glory, so we also might walk in newness of life. Having been united in likeness to his death, so shall we be in likeness to the Resurrection. We already know that our timeworn humanity has been crucified with him, so that the body of sin ceases, and we no longer serve sin; after all, one who has died is cleared of sin. If we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, knowing that Christ—raised from the dead—no longer dies; death no longer governs him. Dead, he died to sin once and for all; alive, he lives with God. You, too: consider yourselves dead to sin and living with God in Jesus Christ.

Psalm 114
In the Exodus and Conquest of the Land, Nature Recognized God’s Power

Psalm 114 reflects on God’s divine power and the victories it facilitates in times of the greatest need. In the Easter Vigil, this past victory is connected to the one celebrated today, when God, in the body of Jesus, conquers even death.

  • 1. When the people of Israel left Egypt,
    the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
  • 2. the territory of Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    the territory of Israel, God’s realm.
  • 3. The sea saw and fled;
    the Jordan River reversed course.
  • 4. The mountains skipped like rams;
    the hills, like sheep.
  • 5. Why is it, sea, that you fled?
    Jordan, that you reversed course?
  • 6. Mountains, that you skipped like rams?
    Hills, like sheep?
  • 7. Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord,
    at the presence of the God of Jacob,
  • 8. who turned the rock into a pool of water,
    flint into a fountain of water.

Mark 16:1-8
The Female Disciples’ Visit to Jesus’ Tomb

This is the original ending of the Gospel according to Mark. Because it is abrupt, closing with the silence of Mary Magdalene and her companions rather than their announcement of the Resurrection, longer endings were added by copyists over time. But Mark’s Gospel is designed for a community of believers under persecution in Rome, and silence was for them a wise policy. The women do not see Jesus himself, but receive the command to direct the disciples and Peter to Galilee, where they are to see him. The Gospel deliberately ends with the promise of that vision.

And when Sabbath elapsed, Mary Magdalene and Mary of James and Salome purchased spices so they could go anoint him. And very early on first of the week they came upon the memorial when the sun dawned. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll the stone away from the opening of the memorial for us?” They looked up and discerned that the stone had been rolled off (because it was exceedingly big). They went towards the memorial and saw a young man sitting on the right appareled in a white robe, and they were bewildered. But he said to them:

Do not be bewildered. You seek Jesus the crucified Nazarene. He is raised; he is not here. See—the place where they laid him. But depart, tell his students and Peter that he goes before you to Galilee; you will see him there, just as he said to you.

They went out and fled from the memorial, because trembling and frenzy had them. And they said nothing to any one; they were afraid, because—


  1. Lit., heart; understood in the ancient world to be the source of insight.
  2. So the Septuagint and others. Hebrew: “will be silent.”
  3. Hebrew text is difficult and perhaps corrupt. This translation follows Marvin Sweeny (Hermenaia), based in part on the Septuagint and Syriac.
  4. So Sweeny.

Good Friday

The significance of Jesus’ death is enriched by the remembrance of previous suffering for the cause of God, classically represented in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. In the book of Isaiah, the servant of God is described as ill and disfigured, representing the people of Israel during the time of their exile in Babylonia after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Recovery from that seemingly mortal wound becomes a classic symbol of how God can save when human resources are spent.

Psalm 22 also speaks of a comeback from apparently inevitable death, but its voice is of an individual rather than the collective represented in Isaiah. Jesus cites the psalm from the cross in the Gospel for Palm Sunday. In his case, actual death as well as suffering frames the situation addressed. The Epistle to the Hebrews 10:16-25 and 4:14-16; 5:7-9 make the significance of Jesus’ dying as well as his suffering explicit. Dying, in fact, is integral to Jesus’ victory in the presentation of Hebrews. His blood enables him to enter into the heavenly sanctuaries, where he alone serves as the true High Priest; in comparison with his sacrifice, the ceremonies in the Temple are only pale representations. John 18:1-19:42 simultaneously brings out both the dread and agony of the death and Jesus’ entrance into glory by means of the Crucifixion, a key theme in John’s Gospel. A stylized presentation contrasts Jesus’ confidence and certainty with the awkward hesitation of those who arrest him, the ambivalence of Simon—Peter—by both engaging in violence and retreating from the admission of being a disciple, and the indecision of Pontius Pilate. Those contrasts all serve to emphasize the necessity of the action unfolding as it does.

The First Reading
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
God’s Servant, Israel, Suffers for Others’ Sins

In this reading, Isaiah describes the servant of God as ill and disfigured, representing the people of Israel during their exile in Babylonia after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 BCE. The significance of the death of Jesus is enriched by remembrance of this previous suffering for the cause of God. Israel’s recovery from its seemingly mortal wound becomes a classic symbol of how God can save when human resources are spent.

  • 13. Take note!
    My servant shall prosper,
    shall be lifted and raised up and exalted exceedingly!
  • 14. Just as many were appalled by you—
    so disfigured was my servant’s appearance from that of a person,
    and his form from that of a human being—
  • 15. so he shall startle many nations;
    before him, kings will shut their mouths.
    For what was not told to them they shall see,
    and that which they have not heard, they shall discern.
  • 1. Who believed what we have heard?
    The arm of the Lord—to whom has it been revealed?
  • 2. My servant grew before God like a sapling, like a root out of parched earth.
    We saw him, but his was no appearance that we would be drawn to him.
  • 3. Despised and rejected by people, a man of pain, who knows sickness, as one from whom people hide their faces;
    despised, and we held him of no account.
  • 4. Though it was our sicknesses my servant bore,
    our pains that he carried,
    we considered him stricken,
    struck down by God and afflicted.
  • 5. Yet he was wounded because of our transgressions, crushed because of our sins.
    The chastisement that reconciled us was upon him,
    and, through the blows he received, we were healed.
  • 6. We all, like sheep, have strayed.
    We have each turned our own way,
    and the Lord has struck him with the sin of all of us.
  • 7. My servant was treated harshly and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth.
    Like a lamb led to slaughter
    and like a ewe before its shearer is silent,
    so my servant did not open his mouth.
  • 8. As a result of coercion and judgment he was taken, and who considered his fate?
    For he was cut from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people, he was himself stricken.
  • 9. My servant’s grave was placed with the wicked,
    his funeral mound[1] with evil-doers,[2]
    although he did no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.
  • 10. For the Lord desired to crush him, making him sick.
    If he makes his life a guilt offering,
    my servant will see progeny and will have length of days,
    and what the Lord desires will succeed at his hand.
  • 11. Out of his suffering, my servant will see and be satisfied.
    Through his knowledge, my servant will vindicate the many,
    for he shall bear their transgressions.
  • 12. Therefore I shall mete out a portion to my servant among the many,
    and with the mighty he will divide spoil,
    because he poured himself out to death and was counted among the sinful;
    and my servant, the sin of the many he bore;
    and he made entreaty for the sinful.

The Psalm
Psalm 22
A Plea for God’s Presence in a Time of Need

Psalm 22 presents an individual’s plea for salvation from apparently inevitable death. Jesus cites from the cross this psalm’s question: “My God, why have you abandoned me?” The use of Psalm 22 at this point in the liturgy makes Jesus’ actual death and suffering the concrete circumstance that the psalm addresses.

To the director, according to the Deer of the Dawn, a psalm of David.

  • 1. My God, my God,
    why have you abandoned me so far from safety,
    disregarding the words I roared in distress?
  • 2. My God,
    I cry out each day, but you do not answer;
    and at night, but I find no rest.
  • 3. Yet you are holy,
    enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
  • 4. Our ancestors put their trust in you;
    they trusted, and you brought them to security.
  • 5. They cried out to you and were rescued;
    they put their trust in you and did not suffer humiliation.
  • 6. But I am a worm, not a human being,
    reproached by individuals,
    regarded with contempt by people.
  • 7. All who see me deride me;
    they open wide their mouth,
    shake their head:
  • 8. “Commit to the Lord;
    let God bring you to safety!
    God would save whomever God wanted!”
  • 9. Yet you brought me forth from the womb,
    made me secure at my mother’s breast.
  • 10. Upon you I was cast from the womb;
    from my mother’s belly, you have been my God.
  • 11. Do not distance yourself from me;
    for distress is near,
    for there is no one to help.
  • 12. Many bulls surround me;
    the mighty ones of Bashan encircle me.
  • 13. They open their mouths at me,
    like a lion, mauling and roaring.
  • 14. I have been poured out like water;
    my bones are all out of joint.
    My heart has become like wax,
    melting within my insides.
  • 15. My power has dried up like a potsherd;
    my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    in the dust of death you deposit me.
  • 16. For dogs surround me;
    a crowd of evil-doers encircles me,
    hewing my hands and feet.
  • 17. I can count all my bones.
    They stare gloatingly at me.
  • 18. They divide my clothing among themselves,
    and for my garments they draw lots.
  • 19. But you, Lord, do not make yourself distant!
    Hurry, my Strength, to my aid.
  • 20. Rescue me from the sword,
    my precious life from the dog.
  • 21. Save me from the mouth of the lion;
    from the horns of wild asses, answer me!
  • 22. I will declare your name to my kin;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you!
  • 23. Let those who revere the Lord praise God.
    Let all the descendants of Jacob glorify God.
    Stand in awe of God, all descendants of Israel!
  • 24. For God did not disdain and did not detest the affliction of the afflicted.
    Nor did God conceal God’s face from that one.
    Rather, when the afflicted cried out to God, God heard.
  • 25. From you comes my praise in the great congregation.
    My vows I shall fulfill in the presence of those who revere God.
  • 26. The afflicted shall eat and be sated.
    Let those who seek God praise the Lord.
    May your heart live forever!
  • 27. All the ends of the earth shall remember and return to the Lord;
    all the families of the nations shall worship before you.
  • 28. For reigning power belongs to the Lord,
    and God rules over the nations.
  • 29. The robust of the earth all shall eat and worship God;
    before God shall bow all who go down in the dust,
    whom God did not preserve alive.
  • 30. Progeny shall serve God;
    it shall be told regarding the Lord to the next generation.
  • 31. They shall come and declare God’s righteousness to a people yet to be born,
    for God acted.

The Second Reading
Hebrews 10:16-25
Jesus’ Completion of the Covenant

The Epistle to the Hebrews refers to the book of Jeremiah to portray Jesus as offering the renewed covenant and forgiveness of which the prophet spoke. They are available from the moment of Jesus’ death and entry into the presence of God. His perfect sacrifice opens the true, heavenly sanctuaries to believers, so that literal sacrifice is no longer necessary. Jeremiah looks ahead to that reality, according to Hebrews, which it is the purpose of faith to grasp and hold firm.

Following the passage from Jeremiah, “This is the covenant that I will covenant with them after those days, says the Lord; giving my laws upon their hearts, I will also inscribe them on their minds,”[3] Jeremiah’s conclusion is found: “and their sins and their lawlessness I shall no longer remember.”[4] Where these have been forgiven, there need no longer be offering for sin. Brothers and sisters, we have confidence in the entrance into the sanctuaries by Jesus’ blood, which he initiated for us—a fresh and living way through the veil (that is, his flesh). We also have a Great Priest over the house of God, and so should advance with true heart and in certainty of faith. Sprinkling hearts from evil conscience and washing the body with pure water, hold to the unswerving confession of hope, because the one who promises is faithful. Strategize to provoke one another into love and good works, not forsaking our assembly (as is the tendency of some), but encouraging our own, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Jesus’ Example of the Obedience of Suffering

The Epistle to the Hebrews dedicates itself to the theological argument that, as the Son of God, Jesus is both offered in sacrifice and is the High Priest of the offering. Combining these roles is part of the perfection which shows that literal sacrifice was only a symbol, not a command to be repeated forever. In his sacrificial action, however, Jesus also suffered, and Hebrews stresses that point in one of the briefest and yet most affecting portrayals of Jesus’ emotions prior to the Crucifixion. For Hebrews, these feelings reinforce Jesus’ connection with all believers.

So having a great High Priest who has passed through to the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, we shall grasp the key principle. Because we do not have a High Priest who is unable to suffer with our weakness, but one tested in every way equally—without sin. So we shall come forward with confidence to the throne of grace, that we might receive mercy and find grace for swift help.
In the days of his flesh he offered prayers and supplications to the one able to save him from death with loud outcry and tears, and he was heard for his reverence. Although a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and, perfected, he became the basis of eternal salvation to those who obey him.

The Gospel
John 18:1-19:42
The Death of Jesus

By this stage in Holy Week, the Gospel according to John has prepared the way for the final events of Jesus’ life. Jesus is aware of the inevitability of his death, and knows that it is his glorification. Now the presentation of the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus stresses the contrast between Jesus and those who act, yet do not understand: Judas and the arresting officers, Peter, the High Priests Annas and Caiaphas, Pilate, and the soldiers. The Roman authorities act in concert with the leaders of the “Judeans,” the inhabitants of Judea as governed by the laws of Rome. They cooperate with one another, fulfilling the Scriptures of Israel without any awareness of what they do. Only a few on the scene understand the significance of events: Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, the beloved disciple (unnamed, but described in John as intimately familiar with Jesus), and prominent Judeans previously in contact with Jesus—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

Having said this, Jesus went out with his committed students across the Wadi Kidron, where there was a garden that he entered with his students. Judas, who delivered him over, also knew the place, because Jesus often gathered there with his students. So Judas—having acquired the cohort and assistants from both the high priests and the Pharisees—came with lights and torches and weapons. Jesus knew everything that was happening to him, and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean.” He said, “I am he.” Judas, who delivered him over, also stood with them. When he said to them, “I am he,” they backed away and fell to the ground. Again he questioned them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazorean.” Jesus answered, “I said to you that I am he; so if you seek me, let these depart” (so that the word he said might be fulfilled: “Of those whom you gave me I lost not one”).

Simon Rock—Peter—had a sword, so he drew it and struck the High Priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus then said to Rock, “Put the sword into the sheath! Should I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” The cohort and the commander and the assistants of the Judeans seized Jesus and bound him and conducted him to Annas first, because he was Caiaphas’ father-in-law, who was High Priest that year. And Caiaphas had counseled the Judeans that it was beneficial for one man to die on behalf of the people.

Yet Simon Rock followed Jesus, and another committed student, and that student was known to the High Priest and entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest, but Rock stood by the door outside. Then the other disciple who was known to the High Priest went out, spoke to the maid who kept the door and conducted Rock in. Then she said to Rock, “You are among the committed students of this man!” He said, “I am not.” The slaves and assistants stood and had made a fire, because it was cold, and warmed themselves; Rock also stood with them and warmed himself. Then the High Priest questioned Jesus about his students and about this teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world; I always taught in congregation and in the Sacred Place where the Jews come together, and I said nothing in secret! Why do you question me? Question those who heard what I said to them; see—they know what I said!” When he said this, one of the assistants who stood by struck Jesus on the head, saying, “You answer the High Priest this way?” Jesus answered him, “If I spoke wrongly, attest what was wrong, but if well, why do you hit me?” Then Annas dispatched him, bound to the High Priest.

Simon Rock stood and warmed himself, and they then said to him, “You also are among his students!” He denied and said, “I am not!” One of the slaves of the High Priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” Then again Rock denied, and at once the cock sounded.

Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium; it was early and they did not enter the praetorium, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Pascha—Passover. Pilate came out then, outside to them, and stated, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered and said to him, “Unless he had been doing wrong, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate then said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.” The Judeans said to him, “It is not permitted us to put anyone to death”—so that Jesus’ word might be fulfilled, which he said signaling by what death he was about to die.[5]

Pilate then entered the praetorium again and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Judeans?” Jesus answered and said, “Do you say this on your own, or did others speak to you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Judean! Your nation and the high priests delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus’ answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my subordinates would fight for me, so that I might not be delivered over to the Judeans, but now my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate then said to him, “Accordingly, you are a king.” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I am begotten and for this I have come into the world, so that I might witness to the truth. Everyone who is from the truth hears my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” Having said this he went out again to the Judeans and said to them, “I find no case against him. There is a custom among you so that I release you one man on the Pascha. Do you then wish that I release you the King of the Judeans?” Again they shouted, saying then, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Yet Barabbas was a thug.

So then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him, and the soldiers, having twisted thorns into a crown, put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came to him and said, “Welcome, King of the Judeans,” and were striking him on the head. And Pilate again went outside, and said to them, “See I bring him outside, so that you might know that I find no case against him.” Jesus then went outside, wearing the thorn-crown and the purple robe; and Pilate said to them, “Look—the man.” Then when the high priests and the assistants saw him, they shouted, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “You take and crucify him! For I find no case against him.” The Judeans answered, “We have a law, and according to the law he is obliged to die, because he made himself out to be God’s Son.”

When Pilate heard this word, he became more frightened, and he entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus did not give him an answer. So Pilate said to him, “You do not speak to me? Don’t you know that I have authority to release you and I have authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would not have any authority against me unless it were given you from above. For this reason the one who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” From this point on Pilate sought to release him. But the Judeans shouted, saying, “If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar; anyone making himself king opposes Caesar.” Pilate heard these words, then brought Jesus outside and sat on a tribunal at a place called “Stone Pavement,” and in Aramaic, Gabbatha. Yet it was preparation of the Pascha, about the sixth hour, and he said to the Judeans, “See—your King!” Then they shouted, “Take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The high priests answered, “We do not have a King, except Caesar!” So then he delivered him over to them so that he would be crucified.

Then they took Jesus along and, carrying the cross for himself, he went out to what is called the “Skull’s Place,” that is Golgotha in Aramaic. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on each side, so Jesus was in the middle. But Pilate wrote and placed a notice on the cross, and it was written, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Judeans.” Many of the Judeans read this notice, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the high priests of the Judeans were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Judeans,’ but that ‘He said, I am King of the Judeans.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments and made four portions—for each soldier a portion, and his cloak, but the cloak was seamless, woven from the top throughout. Then they said to one another, “We shall not tear it, but choose by chance whose it shall be,” so that the Scripture might be fulfilled that says: “They divided my garments among themselves, and for my clothing they cast a lot.”[6] Then the soldiers did this. Yet by the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Klopas, and Mary Magdalene. Then Jesus, seeing his mother and the committed student standing by whom he loved, said to the mother, “Woman, look—your son.” Next he said to the student, “Look—your mother.” And from that hour the student took her into his care.

After this, Jesus, knowing that already everything was accomplished, so that the Scripture might be accomplished, says, “I thirst.”[7] A vessel full of vinegar lay there; then putting a sponge full of vinegar on hyssop they brought it to his mouth. Then when Jesus took the vinegar, he said, “It has been accomplished,” and inclining his head he delivered over his spirit. Since it was Preparation, so the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (because the day of that Sabbath was great), the Judeans requested of Pilate that they might break their legs and they might be removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, as they saw he had already died, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and immediately there came out blood and water. And the one who saw has testified, and his testimony is true, and he knows that he speaks truly, so that you too might believe. Because this happened so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “Not one of his bones shall be broken.”[8] And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on whom they have pierced.”[9]

After these things, Joseph from Arimathaea—being a committed student of Jesus, but a hidden one for fear of the Judeans—asked Pilate that he might bear away the body of Jesus, and Pilate permitted. Then he came and took his body. And Nicodemus also—who had come to him at night the first time—came carrying a compound of myrrh and aloes, around a hundred pounds. Then they took Jesus’ body and bound it in wrappings with the spices, just as is custom among the Judeans to bury. Yet there was a garden in the place where he had been crucified, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. There, then, because of the Preparation of the Judeans, because the tomb was near, they put Jesus.


  1. Following the reading found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Masoretic text: “In his death.”
  2. Reading ‘oseh ra’ instead of ‘ashir,’ “the rich.”
  3. Jeremiah 31:33.
  4. Jeremiah 31:34.
  5. John 3:14.
  6. Psalm 22:19.
  7. Psalm 69:22.
  8. Numbers 9:12 (regarding the Passover offering).
  9. Zechariah 12:10.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper with his followers as well as the particular meaning he gave to his meals with them during the last phase of his life. He had intervened in the Temple to expel vendors and their animals. They were necessary to provide for sacrifice, but he opposed their presence in the Temple. When he used force to drive animal vendors, money changers, and livestock out of the Temple, he provoked the authorities in Jerusalem. Many from the high priestly class, backed by the Roman military government, jealously guarded good order in the Temple. For them, the smooth operation of sacrifice there assured Rome’s continued rule and the power of the high priests. Jesus entered the great court of the Temple in order to change sacrificial arrangements. His expulsion of the animal vendors and the money changers who went with them, however, was momentary. He withdrew from the Temple, and the authorities sought an occasion to seize him.

Jesus’ inability to change the sacrificial system permanently may have been the reason he said that his own meals were the blood and flesh that God accepted. In effect, common meals—long a characteristic in Jesus’ circle—became a replacement for conventional sacrifice. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (11:23-26) is the earliest known reference to communion as a signifier of the New Covenant. Jesus symbolizes the meaning of the Eucharist by washing his followers’ feet in John 13:21-32. For the Gospel according to John the triumph of Jesus giving his life for his friends in the Crucifixion (John 15:13) is conveyed in the fellowship of his meals, where Jesus’ purifying presence makes his disciples ready to hear the command to love one another. The nearness of the events to the Passover inspires the choice of the first reading. Passover is also a fitting occasion for the celebration described in Psalm 116, read in part here in association with both Jesus’ impending death and his victory over death.

The First Reading
Exodus 12:1-4 [5-10] 11-14
The Preparation of the Passover Offering

This reading of Exodus 12 details the rules for the slaughter and preparation of a lamb prior to the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. Households are then to perform this same ritual annually, as a remembrance of God’s saving actions. The Paschal lamb provided the blood that marked the Israelites’ doorposts, so that Israelite households would be passed-over as God slayed the first-born of Egypt.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the first of the months; it is to you the first of the months of the year. Speak to the entire community of Israel and tell them that on the tenth day of this month, they shall take for themselves a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. But if a household is too small for a lamb of its own, then they and their close neighbor shall take one, dividing it proportionally to the number of people; according to how much they eat they shall contribute for the lamb. Your lamb shall be unblemished, a male yearling; from the sheep or from the goats you may take it. And you shall keep it under watch until the fourteenth day of this month. Then the entire assembly of the community of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and place it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they will eat it. And they shall eat the meat that night, roasted with fire and unleavened bread; with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, only roasted with fire, its head with its legs and its organs. Do not let any of it remain until the morning; that which remains of it until the morning you shall burn with fire. Thus you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your walking staff in your hand. You shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover! For I shall pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and I shall strike every male firstborn in the land of Egypt, both humans and animals. And on all of the gods of Egypt I shall execute justice. I am the Lord. But the blood will be a sign for you on the houses you are in. I shall see the blood and pass over you, so that among you there will not be a destructive plague when I strike in the land of Egypt. This day shall be for you a memorial, and you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord throughout your generations; a perpetual statute, you shall celebrate it.”

The Psalm
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
Thanksgiving for the Good Done by God

The theme of these verses from Psalm 116—deliverance from distress—is appropriate in the context of remembering Passover and the events of the Exodus. The idea that God laments the death of the righteous takes on particular significance when viewed in conjunction with Jesus’ impending crucifixion and subsequent victory over death.

  • 1. I love God
    because the Lord hears my voice, my supplications.
  • 2. Since he tilted his ear to me, all my days I will call on God.
  • 12. How can I repay the Lord for all the good God has done me?
  • 13. I raise the cup of deliverance and call upon the name of the Lord!
  • 14. My vows to the Lord I shall fulfill, in the presence of all God’s people!
  • 15. Grievous in the sight of the Lord is the death of God’s faithful ones.
  • 16. Please, Lord, for I am your servant!
    I am your servant, the child of your maidservant!
    You have opened the bonds of my distress.
  • 17. I shall sacrifice to you a thanksgiving offering,
    and on the name of the Lord I shall call!
  • 18. My vows to the lord, I shall pay,
    in the presence of all God’s people.
  • 19. In the courts of the house of the Lord,
    in your midst, Jerusalem.

The Second Reading
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
The Supper of the Lord

Paul’s account of the Lord’s Supper, as he calls the Eucharist, is the earliest written reference (from 55-56 CE) to this central sacrament of Christianity. He bases what he says on an earlier, oral tradition; in the passage he insists that he accurately transmitted what he learned to the Corinthians. According to this account, the purpose of the meal is to bring Jesus to “remembrance” before God. The action amounts to a “new covenant,” borrowing the terms of Jeremiah 31:31, and anticipates Jesus’ coming in glory in order to accomplish God’s justice.

For I obtained from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which he was delivered over, took bread, gave thanks and broke and said, “This is my body for you: do this for my remembrance.” Likewise he also took the cup after eating, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this as often as you drink for my remembrance.” Because as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you declare the Lord’s death—until he comes!

The Gospel
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet

In John’s Gospel the Crucifixion is not Jesus’ defeat, but his glorification. When he is lifted up on the cross, he says, “I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). The sign that one has been drawn to Jesus’ love is that one shows love: “just as I loved you, so you also love one another” (John 13:34). The close of today’s Gospel brings home this message in so many words. In addition, John’s unique scene of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet comes with the imperative that his disciples should both accept washing and offer washing; their love—more than a matter of affection—is to be active and reciprocal.

Before the festival of Pascha—Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come so that he would depart from this world. Having loved his own in the world, he loved them to the end. And as dinner went on—the devil having already put into the heart of Judas, son of Simon, Iscariot that he should deliver him over—Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into his hands, that he had come from God and departed to God. He rose from the dinner and put away his clothing; he took a linen and girded himself. Then he put water into a basin and began to clean the disciples’ feet and to wipe with the linen with which he was girded. So he came to Simon Rock—Peter. He said to him, “Lord, do you clean my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Rock said to him, “You will not ever clean my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not clean you, you have no portion with me.” Simon Rock said to him, “Lord, not my feet alone, but also my hands and head.” Jesus said to him, “One who has washed does not have need to clean, except the feet, but is entirely pure; and you are pure, yet not all.” Because he knew the one who delivered him over, for this reason he said, “Not all of you are pure.” When, then, he cleaned their feet and took his clothing and leaned back, again he said to them, “Do you know what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak well, because I am. So if I—the ‘Lord’ and the ‘Teacher’—clean your feet, you also are obliged to clean one another’s feet. Because I have given you a pattern, so that just as I did, you should do. Amen, truly I say to you, a slave is not greater than the master, nor a delegate greater than the one who commissions him. If you know these things, you are favored if you do them.”

So when he went out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. And God will also glorify him in himself, and will glorify him at once. Children, yet a little longer I am with you; you will seek me, and just as I said to the Judeans that ‘Where I depart you are not able to come,’ I also say to you now. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I loved you, so you also love one another. By this everyone shall know that you are my committed students, if you have love among yourselves.”

Wednesday in Holy Week

Beginning today, the readings for Holy Week proceed in episodes to follow the trajectory of Jesus’ Passion. The decision of Judas to inform on Jesus to the authorities in the Temple catalyzes the events that follow; John 13:21-32 relates the scene, highlighting Jesus’ awareness of events and of their necessity for his own glorification. John’s signature emphasis that the Crucifixion is itself part of Jesus’ triumph puts Jesus’ motivation and Judas’ on opposite tracks. Even with the awareness of Jesus’ coming glory, the sorrow of the final meal with his followers is palpable. Isaiah 50:4-9a contributes to this feeling by reflecting on the theme of purposive suffering. The passage belongs to a series of prophetic explanations in Second Isaiah (Isaiah chapters 40-55, an addition to the work of the eighth-century BCE prophet) that refer to the affliction of Israel and of the prophet during the Babylonian Exile, and portray that affliction as prelude to a triumphant return to the land after 539 BCE. Psalm 70 expresses the human capacity to have access to God’s saving power, which Jesus exemplifies. This access is associated with King David during his trials, referred to in the title of the psalm. Hebrews 12:1-3 links Jesus’ example to what is expected of all believers, and to all those who have suffered for their testimony to God, serving as an additional “cloud of witnesses.”

The First Reading
Isaiah 50:4-9a
God, Our Source of Strength

In this reading, Isaiah speaks of the vindication of God’s servant, whom he generally equates with the people of Israel and, here, with himself. He speaks of his prophetic vocation and salvation by God as a result of his righteousness and willingness to accept the humiliation others impose on him. Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion prior to his escape from the grave reflect a central theme of this week, that of purposive suffering.

  • 4. The Lord, God, granted me the tongue of those who are learned,
    so that I know how to waken the weary with a word.
    Each morning God awakens my ear to listen as do those who are learned.
  • 5. The Lord, God, unsealed my ear,
    and I did not rebel;
    I did not turn aside.
  • 6. I offered my back to those who wished to strike me,
    my cheek to those who wished to pull out my beard.
    My face I did not hide from insults and spit.
  • 7. But the Lord, God, will help me;
    therefore I have not been humiliated;
    therefore I have made my face like flint,
    knowing that I shall not be shamed.
  • 8. Close by is the one who declares me righteous.
    Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand together!
    Who has a case against me?
    Let him confront me!
  • 9a. The Lord, God, will help me.
    Who can declare me guilty?

The Psalm
Psalm 70
An Urgent Plea for God’s Protection

Psalm 70 presents a plea for God’s protection, recalling David’s appeal to God during his conflict with King Saul. More generally, it reflects the potential of and hope for divine intervention in all times of need, a reliance upon God particularly exemplified by Jesus in his Passion.

To the director, a psalm of David, in commemoration.

  • 1. Hurry, God, to rescue me!
    Lord, to aid me!
  • 2. May those who seek my life be disgraced and humiliated.
    May those who seek evil against me be driven back in shame.
  • 3. Let them be turned back in their disgrace,
    those who say, “Aha! Aha!”
  • 4. Let all who seek you rejoice and be happy in you!
    Let them who love your deliverance continually say, “Great is God!”
  • 5. But as for me
    —poor and in need—
    God, come to me without delay!
    You are my help and my refuge.
    Lord, do not delay!

The Second Reading
Hebrews 12:1-3
Following Jesus’ Example into Heaven

The Epistle to the Hebrews pursues its presentation of Jesus as both High Priest and perfect sacrifice. He has shown the way from the shame of crucifixion to exaltation in the very presence of God. For that reason his followers are called to imitate him, especially in their tolerance of aggression against them.

Consequently, we also—having such a cloud of witnesses surrounding us—ridding ourselves of every impediment and ensnaring sin, shall run the race set before us with endurance. Look to the origin and perfecter of the faith, Jesus—who for the joy set before him endured a cross, scorning shame, and sat down on the right of God’s throne. Ponder him who endured such aggression by those who sinned against their very selves, so that you might not weary, fail in your souls.

The Gospel
John 13:21-32
Satan Inspires Judas

The narrative motif that Jesus was aware of how and why events around him unfolded as they did is present in all the Gospels. In the case of the Gospel according to John, emphasis on that motif reaches a unique level. This occurs when Jesus personally gives Judas a sign that Judas is to collaborate with the conspiracy against Jesus. The motivation of the plot derives from Satan, and yet it also accomplishes the glorification of Jesus: his being lifted up to God on the cross.

Having spoken, Jesus was shaken to his core and said with certainty, “Amen, truly I say to you, that one of you will deliver me over.” The committed students looked at one another, perplexed over who he meant. One of his students, whom Jesus loved, reclined on Jesus’ breast. So Simon Rock—Peter—nodded to him and said, “Ask of whom he speaks.” Leaning back in to Jesus’ chest, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” So Jesus answered, “He for whom I will dip bread and give it to him.” So dipping the bread he takes and gives it to Judas, son of Simon, Iscariot. And after the bread, then Satan entered into that man, so Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” But no one reclining knew for what reason he said this to him; for some thought, since Judas had the money-bag, that Jesus said to him, “Buy what we need for the festival,” or that he should give something to the poor. Taking the bread, that man went out at once; and it was night. When he went out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. God will also glorify him in himself, and will glorify him at once.”

Tuesday in Holy Week

Sunday began Holy Week with a focus on Jesus’ death. Monday saw the introduction of a fresh perspective: God’s purpose is accomplished through Jesus’ crucifixion. This is the case insofar as the Crucifixion is both the basis for Jesus’ resurrection and establishes Jesus’ presence before God as the true and unique conduit for forgiveness on behalf of the community. The latter theme is pursued on Tuesday, with particular attention to the extension of God’s blessing to gentiles.

The servant discussed in Isaiah 49:1-7—which refers to Israel as a light to the nations—already offers the prospect of a mediator who will stand between God and humankind. Isaiah anticipates God’s saving power as extending to the end of the earth. Psalm 71:1-14 speaks from the viewpoint of a person thankful for God’s protection “from the womb,” using an image reminiscent of the passage from Isaiah (49:1). In the psalm, however, awareness of divine care comes with the recognition of the fragility of human life. The dangers of enemies and the breakdown of human strength that the psalm keenly expresses invite an association with the context of Jesus’ actions in Jerusalem. There, he too is surrounded by opponents and becomes increasingly reliant on God’s care alone.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 articulates the grace that is involved in Christ’s being revealed to both Jews and Greeks (that is, Israelites and gentiles). John 12:20-36 provides a unique story of Jesus’ awareness not only of his own fate but of its implications for humanity as a whole. The consistent theme in these readings is the extension to all people of God’s blessings and protection.

The First Reading
Isaiah 49:1-7
The Restoration of Zion as a Light to the Nations

Isaiah 49 proclaims the people of Israel to be God’s servant, a light to the nations through whom divine recompense—God’s saving power—becomes available to all peoples. The idea that Jesus makes salvation available to all people thus is shown to have its foundation in the Hebrew Bible’s theme of the potential for the extension of God’s blessings to gentiles.

  • 1. Coastlands, listen to me;
    pay heed, peoples from afar.
    The Lord called me from the womb;
    from my mother’s belly God pronounced my name.
  • 2. God made my mouth like a sharp sword;
    God hid me under the shadow of his hand.
    God made me a polished arrow;
    in his quiver God concealed me.
  • 3. God said to me, “You, Israel, are my servant, through whom I shall be glorified.”
  • 4. I thought, “For no purpose I have toiled,
    for nothing and in vain I have exhausted my strength.”
    But in truth, my just due comes only from the Lord;
    my reward is from my God.
  • 5. And now the Lord has determined—
    who created me from the womb as his servant—
    to restore Jacob to him,
    so that Israel to him will be gathered—
    And I have been honored in the eyes of the Lord,
    and my God has been my strength—
  • 6. For God said, “Is it a trivial thing for you to be my servant,
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the saved of Israel?
    For I have made you a light to the nations,
    so that my saving power will reach the end of the earth.”
  • 7. Thus says the Lord,
    redeemer of Israel, its Holy One,
    to the despised one, the one abhorred by nations,
    to the servant of rulers,
    “Kings will see and will stand,
    chieftains, and they will bow down,
    on account of the Lord, who is trustworthy,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

The Psalm
Psalm 71:1-14
Seeking Refuge from God

This reading expresses thankfulness for God’s protection in the context of an awareness of the fragility of human life. Reflecting on God’s protection “from the womb,” it carries forward the theme of today’s reading from Isaiah, which recognizes God’s establishing Israel as his servant “from the womb.”

  • 1. In you, Lord, I have sought refuge;
    may I never be disgraced!
  • 2. In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
    extend to me your ear and save me!
  • 3. Be my protecting rock—to come continually, as you have promised—to save me;
    for you are my rock and fortress.
  • 4. My God, rescue me from the hand of evil-doers,
    from the palm of the unjust and ruthless.
  • 5. For you are my hope;
    my Lord, God, my source of security from my youth.
  • 6. Upon you have I depended from the womb;
    from my mother’s belly, you severed me.
    My praise is continually for you.
  • 7. To the many, I have become an emblem of your power,
    for you are my strong refuge.
  • 8. Let my mouth be filled with your praise,
    all day long, with your glory!
  • 9. Do not cast me off in old age;
    when my strength is spent, do not abandon me!
  • 10. For my enemies say concerning me,
    and those who watch for my life have consulted together—
  • 11. Saying, “God has forsaken him! Pursue and grab him, for there is no one to rescue him!”
  • 12. God, do not distance yourself from me!
    My God, hurry to my aid!
  • 13. Let my life’s adversaries be shamed, let them perish!
    May those who seek evil against me be enveloped in disgrace and humiliation.
  • 14. But I shall always have hope and shall increase all of my praise of you.

The Second Reading
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
The Foolishness of God is Wiser than Human Intelligence

This selection from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians focuses on the Holy Week theme of the extension of God’s blessing to gentiles as a result of Jesus’ crucifixion on behalf of humanity.

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written in the Scriptures of Israel, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will nullify.”[1] Where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the debaters of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? By the wisdom of God, since the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the proclamation. For the Jews demand signs, and the Greeks seek after wisdom. We announce a crucified Anointed, who is an offense to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, but to those who are called both Jews and Greeks alike, the Anointed is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human intelligence, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. For consider your call, brothers and sisters—not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth, but God has chosen the foolish things of the world in order to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world in order to shame the strong, and the insignificant and despised things of the world––things that don’t even exist––God chose in order to abolish the power of the things that do exist, so that no human being could boast in God’s presence. Because of God, you are in the Anointed Jesus, who became to us the wisdom of God, as well as righteousness, holiness, and redemption, so that as it is written, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The Gospel
John 12:20-36
Greeks Desire to See Jesus

In the Gospel according to John, the theme of the extension of God’s blessing to all people is acknowledged in a unique story of Jesus’ awareness not only of his own fate but of its implications for humanity as a whole.

Now, some Greeks were among those who came up to worship at the feast. Therefore, they came up to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and they asked him, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew, and then Philip and Andrew went together and spoke to Jesus. Jesus said to them, “The hour has come that the Son of Man be glorified. Amen, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single seed; but if it were to die, then it would produce much fruit. The one who loves his life will lose it, but the one who lets go of his life in this world will keep it to eternal life. Whoever serves me, must follow me, and where I am, there also my servant will be. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Now, my soul is troubled, and what then should I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this reason, I came for this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Then the crowd that had been there and heard it said, “It has thundered!” Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus responded and said, “That sound did not come for my sake but rather for yours. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be thrown out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself.” He was saying this in order to indicate what kind of death he was about to die. Therefore, the crowd said to him, “We heard from the Law that the Anointed remains forever. How then can you say that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus then said to them, “The light will be among you for just a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness will not overtake you. The one who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become children of light.” Jesus said these things then departed and hid from them.


  1. Isaiah 29:14.

Monday in Holy Week

The Gospel reading for today, John 12:1-11, is a unique version of the narrative of the anointing of Jesus prior to his death. Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, appears as the anointer; she is not named in earlier Gospels (Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13). The earlier tradition instead seems to identify the anointer as Mary Magdalene, but without explicitly saying so.

The significance that Jesus gives to the action remains the same through any variation from story to story: this anointing conveys the necessity of his death, and his awareness of opposition to him in Jerusalem. But John’s Gospel makes a connection through Mary of Bethany to the story of Jesus’ raising Lazarus, her brother (John 11:1-52). That narrative is unique to John’s Gospel, so that the scene of the anointing is set in a context that speaks of victory over the grave and points the way forward to the Resurrection, as well as to the Crucifixion. In John’s Gospel, in fact, the Crucifixion itself is when “the Son of Man is glorified” (John 13:31) because it is the moment when he accomplishes the love that his disciples are also to show one another (John 13:34-35), and which derives from God.

The passage from the book of Isaiah, with which we begin, highlights today’s theme. Isaiah’s reference to the servant of God, which in its original context in the Hebrew Bible refers to Israel, combines the theme of trial with that of vindication, so that the aim of Jesus’ suffering is kept in view. The excerpt from Psalm 36 celebrates the security God offers in the midst of uncertainty, while the Epistle to the Hebrews explains the redemption that Jesus’ death affects for believers. Where John’s Gospel portrays Jesus’ death on the cross as transcendent love, the Epistle to the Hebrews works out a comparison between Jesus and the High Priest in the Temple. For Hebrews, the details of sacrifice laid out in the Hebrew Bible were intended as symbolic representations of Jesus’ willingness to offer himself. Animal offerings merely approximated the mediation between humanity and God, which was their aim. Only Jesus’ sacrifice achieved that purpose, and by accomplishing his task he enters the heavenly sanctuary, the place of his vindication.

The First Reading
Isaiah 42:1-9
God’s Servant Israel, a Light to the Nations

This reading from Isaiah 42 highlights themes of trial and vindication. The servant to whom Isaiah refers is the people of Israel, supported and redeemed by God. In view of the message of Christianity, the experience of the servant is made paradigmatic of Jesus’ suffering and his subsequent victory over death.

  • 1. This is my servant, whom I support,
    my chosen one, in whom my being delights.
  • I have imparted to him my spirit;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
  • 2. He will not cry out nor raise his voice.
    He will not make his voice heard in the street.
  • 3. A crushed reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick—he will not extinguish it.
    According to the truth he will bring forth justice.
  • 4. He will not grow faint and will not be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;
    and his teaching, coastlands shall await.
  • 5. Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and all that comes from it,
    who places breath in the people who dwell upon it
    and respiration in all who walk on it:
  • 6. I am the Lord.
    I called you in righteousness,
    and I have grasped you by your hand and protected you;
    and I established you as a covenant for all people, a light to the nations.
  • 7. To bring sight to unseeing eyes,
    to release the imprisoned from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
  • 8. I am the Lord. That is my name.
    The honor due me I shall not give to any other,
    nor the praise due me to idols.
  • 9. The first things indeed have come to pass,
    and new things I am proclaiming.
    Before they spring forth, I shall make all of you hear.

The Psalm
Psalm 36:5-11
God’s Mercy Fills the Earth

This reading from Psalm 36 extends the theme of trial and vindication, reflecting on the security God offers even in the midst of tribulation and uncertainty.

  • 5. Lord, your steadfast love extends to the heavens;
    your faithfulness as far as the clouds.
  • 6. Your righteousness is like mighty mountains;
    your justice, the great deep.
    Human and animal alike you save, Lord.
  • 7. How precious is your steadfast love, God;
    all people find shelter in the shadow of your wings.
  • 8. They take their fill from the abundance of your house;
    and you satisfy them from the river of your pleasures.
  • 9. For the fountain of life is with you;
    through your light we see light.
  • 10. Extend your steadfast love to those who have regard for you;
    and your righteousness to those of upright heart.
  • 11. May the foot of the arrogant not tread on me,
    the hand of evil-doers not drive me away.

The Second Reading
Hebrews 9:11-15
Jesus, the true High Priest

The Epistle to the Hebrews, among the most accomplished literary works in the New Testament, develops a comprehensive theology of Jesus’ death. For the author, a disciple of the apostle Paul writing after Paul’s death, all of the provisions for sacrifice in the Scriptures of Israel were symbols for what would later be manifest in the Passion of Jesus. They signal how Jesus makes himself a sacrificial offering, securing God’s favor and the forgiveness of sin.

Anointed, he has become High Priest of the good that comes through the better and more perfect Sanctuary—not made with hands, not of this creation. Through neither goats’ nor calves’ blood, but through his own blood, he entered once and for all into the Holy Places, finding eternal redemption. Because if the blood of goats and bulls and sprinkled ash of a heifer sanctify those defiled for the cleansing of flesh, much more does the blood of the Anointed, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our conscience from dead works to worship a living God. For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant: a death has occurred for the redemption of transgressions under the first covenant so that those called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

The Gospel
John 12:1-11
The Anointing of Jesus

Today’s Gospel reading foreshadows the Crucifixion. Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus for his burial, which is set in a context of anticipating victory over the grave.

Six days before the Pascha—Passover, Jesus came into Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus raised from the dead. So, they gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served him, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with him. Therefore, Mary took a pound of expensive nard ointment and anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the scent of the perfume. Then Judas Iscariot, one of his committed students, who was about to hand him over to arrest, said, “For what reason was this perfume not sold for three-hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He didn’t say this because the poor mattered to him, but because he was a thief. Having possession of the money bag, he was often helping himself from what was put into it. In response Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she can keep it in preparation for the day of my burial. For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” When the large crowd of Judeans learned that he was there, they came, not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus, the one whom he raised from the dead. The high priests then devised a plan to put Lazarus to death also, because many of the Judeans were going away and believing in Jesus.