Holy Week & Easter Reflections


Scripture Reading

John 13:1-15
It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.

They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘Never!’ said Peter ‘You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus replied, ‘If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ said Simon Peter ‘not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!’ Jesus said, ‘No one who has taken a bath needs washing, he is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.’ He knew who was going to betray him, that was why he said, ‘though not all of you are.’

When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. ‘Do you understand’ he said ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.’


At Passover Jesus woke up with a deep foreboding. Still there was much to be done in preparation for the feast – the room arranged, food prepared, friends gathered in this spring clean of the heart, a family time of blessing and remembering with children asking questions.

He thought of what he could say. Maybe a quick recap of the journey so far might be helpful: ‘blessed are the meek for they shall inherit’ or…

The inspiration must have come to him as it were from ‘on high’ for that evening at the table he stood up and tying a towel around his waist, took a basin of water, bent down and began to wash their feet.

Disbelief, hesitation, unease – ‘what’s all this?’ ‘You’re not a servant’. And Peter’s protest, ‘You’ll not wash my feet’. Without surrender, he was saying, you can have no part in me.

But what did it mean? It was clear that he loved them and wanted them to love one another. But something else was clarified: that in his action, his Father, too, was on his knees, his hands in the basin –‘to have seen me is to have seen the Father’.

It was then he took the unleavened bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them, saying ‘take and eat; this is my body’. And with the wine, ‘drink, this is my blood poured out for you’. In time they would understand a little more, have further questions.


Scripture Reading

John 18:1-19:42
Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kedron valley. There was a garden there, and he went into it with his disciples. Judas the traitor knew the place well, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, and he brought the cohort to this place together with a detachment of guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons. Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, Jesus then came forward and said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said, ‘I am he.’ Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said, ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground. He asked them a second time, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ ‘I have told you that I am he,’ replied Jesus. ‘If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.’ This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’

Simon Peter, who carried a sword, drew it and wounded the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

The cohort and its captain and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had suggested to the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’

Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in. The maid on duty at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?’ He answered, ‘I am not.’ Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret. But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.’ At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way to answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him, ‘Aren’t you another of his disciples?’ He denied it saying, ‘I am not.’ One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, ‘Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it; and at once a cock crew.

They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves or they would be defiled and unable to eat the passover. So Pilate came outside to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?’ They replied, ‘If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.’ The Jews answered, ‘We are not allowed to put a man to death.’ This was to fulfil the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.
So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ he asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ ‘Truth?’ said Pilate ‘What is that?’; and with that he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?’ At this they shouted: ‘Not this man,’ they said ‘but Barabbas.’ Barabbas was a brigand.

Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’; and they slapped him in the face.

Pilate came outside again and said to them, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.’ Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, ‘Here is the man.’ When they saw him the chief priests and the guards shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.’ ‘We have a Law,’ the Jews replied ‘and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus, ‘Where do you come from?’ But Jesus made no answer. Pilate then said to him, ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’ ‘You would have no power over me’ replied Jesus ‘if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’

From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted, ‘If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.’ Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated himself on the chair of judgement at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was Passover Preparation Day, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king’ said Pilate to the Jews. ‘Take him away, take him away!’ they said. ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Do you want me to crucify your king?’ said Pilate. The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’ So in the end Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate, ‘You should not write “King of the Jews,” but “This man said: I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’

When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another, ‘Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.’ In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled:

They shared out my clothing among them.
They cast lots for my clothes.
This is exactly what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son. Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.

After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said:

‘I am thirsty.’

A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.

Here all kneel and pause for a short time.

It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since that sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:

Not one bone of his will be broken;
and again, in another place scripture says:
They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time – and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was near at hand, they laid Jesus there.


The women gather, the women draw back; on the street corner, by the gate, in the shadow. They are passing it on – news about the lines of grief to be found on an ordinary Friday with its multiple goodbyes and memories of the rites of passage from womb to air, sound to sense, first steps to last.

He was on the path even now because it was that time, hauling the unmade bed of a tree on his back. Women approached with a sigh, a look, a lullaby, a wet towel for his face. Tears hardly touched the point of it all, now that all flesh was bowed down, bludgeoned, bound, spat upon.

But like an arm struggling out of a bad dream and reaching for the light, another arm is raised to deliver the wrist-shattering blow. The logic of the institution runs: ‘it is better to have someone die for the people’; like the boy who goes out waving a flag after curfew, or this one high up on faulty scaffolding, searching for a breath, for a sign, and finding none. Nothing more to be done then than hand it over – ‘into your hands’ – only to find that the Father’s hands are tied, shot through with the same nail, ‘the Father and I are one’.

The curious disperse, a soldier takes a swig from a bottle and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Time sheds its skin.


Scripture Reading

Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices with which to go and anoint him. And very early in the morning on the first day of the week they went to the tomb, just as the sun was rising.

They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ But when they looked they could see that the stone – which was very big – had already been rolled back. On entering the tomb they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right-hand side, and they were struck with amazement. But he said to them, ‘There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he has risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him. But you must go and tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him, just as he told you.”’



“Remember how he told you”

by Sr Bridget O’Connell FMA

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in, dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. (Luke 24:1-10)

Remember – Easter invites to “remember how he told you”.

After Good Friday there is a pause and a stillness as the extent of the loss sinks in.   T S Eliot speaking in his Four Quartets says: “Wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing.”  The not knowing what to hope for was very much the experience of the disciples on that morning. They had been so confident until the events of the previous week.

There was no rushing towards Easter Sunday, but on that dawn there was a reminder of a different reality for the disciples. They began to remember that this is what Jesus had told them. Good Friday will not be the end -Jesus is Risen. Remembering his life, his words and the experience of being in his presence enabled the women to cope with their fear and to bring the message of his Resurrection to the others. This is Easter.

When we remember, we find reminders that Easter surrounds us in every circumstance of life.

Easter does not change our reality but it is an invitation to awareness of another kind of reality and way of living.  Every aspect of human living is a gift and also a responsibility, a promise and an uncertainty. Life experiences can rock us back and forth between total trust and the deepest despair. We live between the threshold of faith and doubt, between joy and sadness.  The invitation of Easter is to remember that Jesus is Risen in each of those experiences.

In birth and in new life, Jesus is Risen

When the night is dark, we know the dawn will bring the morning, Jesus is Risen

In our world so full of suffering, the people of hope, who reach out and give time and energy to ease the pain they see, Jesus is Risen.

In a time of grief when a wave of loss surrounds us and then there comes a moment of peace, Jesus is Risen

When there is forgiveness in the face of hurt and disappointment, Jesus is Risen

These Easter days are a time to remember all that “He has told us” in our own life stories.


The gospel account covers the first moments of the paschal experience. It describes how the empty tomb led to faith in the Resurrection. Not all, indeed only one, of those who found the tomb empty, came to faith. Neither Mary nor Peter saw and believed – they were so sure of the death of their master that they could not understand that God had restored him to life, a life without death or shroud. Only the beloved disciple knew that Jesus was alive, when he saw that he was no longer in the tomb and no longer had need of a shroud.  Peter and the beloved disciple were alarmed by what Mary said. Together they ran the same road, but only the beloved disciple believed. Knowing that we are loved by Jesus is still the way to know that he is alive.


Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

The synoptics emphasize the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus (Mk 16, 6; Mt 28, 6-7; Lk 24,5-6.34). John tells instead of the personal meetings that took place with Jesus in Jerusalem, on the first day of the week (20, 1.19). John 20 is divided into two scenes. The first takes place at dawn, at the tomb (20, 1-18). It speaks of the disappearance of the corpse (20, 2.13.15). The second took place that evening in a particular house (20, 19-29) when the Risen Lord appeared (20,18.25.29). Jesus dominates the account – he is mentioned fourteen times.

Our passage recalls the first episode (20, 1-9) of the scene around the empty tomb (20, 1-18). It was still dark when Mary and Peter arrived at the tomb which was open and empty. The account is true to life but it is especially a story of faith. Seeing is a necessary step before we can believe (20, 8), but seeing does not necessarily lead to faith (20, 1.7). Finding an empty tomb and a discarded shroud is not sufficient to make one believe that the man who was crucified is alive.

The empty tomb discovered at dawn points to the darkness in the heart of Mary, one of the women who assisted as the death of Jesus (21, 1. 19, 25). No indication is given as to what prompted Mary to go to the tomb. (Compare Mk 16, 1; Lk 24, 1: the women brought perfume to anoint the body; and Mt 28, 1: they went to visit the sepulchre). Mary of Magdala (20, 16.18), was the first to witness the triumph of Jesus over death, but she still did not believe. She imagined, “logically” that the body has been stolen and, again logically, she ran to tell Peter and the other disciple.

There is a double theological significance in this reaction of Mary. On the one hand, seeing the open empty tomb does not, by itself, lead to faith in the resurrection (20, 10). On the other hand, the fact that the first person to go to the tomb finds it already open excludes, without saying so explicitly, the theft of the body (cf. Mt 27, 64; 28, 11-15).

Following this first fruitless visit we are told of the haste with which the two disciples competed to be first to arrive at the tomb (20, 3-4). Peter is mentioned first and is first to enter the tomb (20, 6). He sees only the cloths (20, 6-7). The unnamed disciple (19, 25-26) is the first to arrive at the tomb (20, 4) He sees the cloths (20,5; 19 40) and, most importantly, he comes to believe (20,8). Those who saw or entered the tomb were struck by the absence of Jesus. Those who had lived with him and had assisted at his passion (18, 15-16), can confirm only the disappearance of the body. Here the disciples, and not the women (as in Lk 24, 24), are witnesses of his death (20, 5-6).

But only one of them saw and believed. He was the one who arrived first at the tomb but did not enter (20, 8), the one who was known as the beloved disciple (20, 2). He saw what Peter had seen, an empty tomb and some cloths laid aside, but he believed that the Absent One had conquered death. In John’s gospel, unlike the synoptics, the disciple who is first to believe in the Risen Lord is the one who believes that he is the most loved. The first believer in the Risen Lord is the one most loved. Love leads to a particular and profound form of recognition. Only the one among the disciples who loves is capable of seeing without proof, or better, capable of believing that his beloved Lord is alive, when in fact all he saw was the shroud. The beatitude at the end of the fourth gospel applies especially to the beloved disciple, since he began to believe without needing to see (20, 8.29).

An editorial note for the benefit of the reader concludes the account. It expresses a very ancient Christian conviction. Scripture alone did not lead to faith in the resurrection, even though it had been foretold in Scripture. The understanding of the scriptures came, not before but after the paschal experience (20, 9. Cf. Lk 24, 25-27.44-45). Peter and Mary went back home knowing that Jesus was not in the tomb (20, 10). They did not know where the body might be. They went away without knowing that he was alive. So far, they are witnesses only of his disappearance. Only the one who knew that he was loved by Jesus came to know that he was alive.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

This gospel reading comes from the very beginning of the paschal experience. God was ahead of the early risers and restored Jesus to life. Indeed God was active so early that Easter morning that he caught even the earliest of the disciples unawares. They were so preoccupied with a corpse that they never suspected that God was already busy giving life, before even their day began. The open empty tomb was a silent witness to God’s action, but one that alarmed them. The power of death was shattered and defeated, but the disciples continued to search the graves, unable to believe it.

We still experience some of that early uncertainty and sadness that befell the disciples. We are conscious of the loss of Jesus and of being left orphans by his departure. We are lost in our world without him, and we make the same mistake as the disciples. We go looking for him among the dead, instead of among the living. We take it for granted that he’s gone but we don’t know where. We continue to act like those well-intentioned grave-searchers when, all the time, what Jesus needs is courageous witnesses to his resurrection. This may well be the impression we give to those who see us concerned about many things that are not the things of God.

We should return to our origins, go back to proclaiming what we know – that He is not among the dead but that He is alive forever, that He does not belong in any grave for He is risen. We should exchange our sadness for joy and speak to others of our experience. Wherever the Lord’s absence is felt today, there is need of Christians who will proclaim that He is present and alive. Where He is lost, we, as Christians, offer others a chance to find Him. Where people believe that He is dead or has disappeared from our world, we must find courage and enthusiasm, and the right words to proclaim that He is risen. The witness we have to give the world must not be limited to mere words. His new life is proclaimed when we life a new life, a life that is not guided by the criteria that condemned him to death, a life that is understandable only on the basis the He is truly alive. How do we come to the conviction that He is risen, that He is really alive? By following the same road travelled on the day of Resurrection by Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Both of them were alarmed by what Mary said. They ran together to the tomb, in great haste and great uncertainty, unable to believe what the woman had told them and incapable of imagining what God had done.  They ran together, unashamed of their anxiety and incredulity, companions in haste and in bewilderment. They arrived together at the tomb and found it open and empty – death was overcome, but the body was missing, only the cloths remained. They both saw the same things, but only one of them believed, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The one who was loved most was first to arrive at faith. Knowing that he was loved led him to recognise the one who loved him.

To become witnesses of the Risen Christ we, like the one who was first to believe, must know that we are loved by Him. He was first to arrive at the conviction that Jesus was alive, not because he was first to arrive at the tomb, but because he knew that he was still loved by Jesus. Love sees more in the emptiness, is less put off by appearances, is quicker to overcome despair, is first to comprehend the darkness, and banishes doubt with greater conviction. Just as at dawn on the first Easter Day, Jesus is alive today in those who know they are loved by Him, in whom no doubt lingers, in those who feel loved and are sustained by love.  Faith in the Resurrection is not so much an option that is taken, contrary to all the evidence, but an affirmation of what is not seen, an acceptance of gratuitous love, an affirmation of what we have already experienced. If we are certain of being loved we don’t need to see Him in order to believe, nor to find Him personally to know that we are personally loved.

We have to go against those who would wish in any way – and there are thousands of ways – to bury Jesus anew. We count on the love that He has for us. We have to be courageous enough to declare that all death has been conquered, and every tomb opened, because Jesus is risen. Nobody has a right to stay silent about the new life of the Risen Jesus.  That would be denying our right to feel loved by Him. We must accept that God continues to anticipate our sadness and our death, as He did that first day of Easter. We must again proclaim what we know – that His tomb is empty because our heart is full of Him.  Those who proclaim this are the witnesses to Christ that God and the world need today. When we say what we know, that Jesus is alive, we will know that we are His beloved witnesses.

It is not difficult, therefore, to become witnesses to Christ. All we have to do is to say what we know – that God still rises earlier than any of those who search among the graves, that the tomb of Jesus is empty, and that death has been defeated. We cannot be silent about it because we would lose our sense of being loved and we would lose the life without end that is ours after death. We risk too much if we do not feel that we are loved by the living Christ.   He lives today to love us, and it is to love Him that we will live forever.

Pray: desire that what you have heard be done in you

I praise you, Risen Lord. Your victory over death fills my mortal life with hope. Give me strength to proclaim that you are alive, even where all, myself included, feel your absence. Come to me when I am surrounded by death and desolation. Let your empty tomb be the cradle of my faith, and the place of rebirth of your Church. Grant that I may feel your love even though I do not enjoy your physical presence. In that way I will be able to see the proofs of your death, to feel your absence and still believe that you are alive. If you allow me to feel loved by you, I will proclaim that you are risen. I praise you, Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, that you were up early that first day of the week to keep your Son from experiencing corruption, even though He had suffered death, and what a cruel death! Waking early that morning, before the dawn visit of the disciples, you recovered Jesus for yourself… and you did not leave us alone in this world.  Grant that I may perceive your presence in the darkness and solitude when I am faced with death, my own and that of my loved ones. Help me to understand that death is but a passing stage that I must go through, with hope that one day I will become the companion forever of your Son, my Lord.


On this day, Lord God,
you opened for us the way to eternal life
through your only Son’s victory over death.
Grant that as we celebrate the feast of his resurrection
we may be renewed by your Holy Spirit
and rise again in the light of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.