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Holy Week 2020

Holy Week 2020

Day by day through Holy Week we have Bible readings to help us prepare for Easter, along with poems by Malcolm Guite. You can find more from Malcolm on his blog, .

The poems are also available in Sounding the Seasons; Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, published by Canterbury Press.


Luke 19.41-44

Jesus Weeps

Jesus comes near and he beholds the city

And looks on us with tears in his eyes,

And wells of mercy, streams of love and pity

Flow from the fountain whence all things arise.

He loved us into life and longs to gather

And meet with his beloved face to face

How often has he called, a careful mother,

And wept for our refusals of his grace,

Wept for a world that, weary with its weeping,

Benumbed and stumbling, turns the other way,

Fatigued compassion is already sleeping

Whilst her worst nightmares stalk the light of day.

But we might waken yet, and face those fears,

If we could see ourselves through Jesus’ tears.


Mark 11.12-25

Cleansing the Temple

Come to your Temple here with liberation

And overturn these tables of exchange

Restore in me my lost imagination

Begin in me for good, the pure change.

Come as you came, an infant with your mother,

That innocence may cleanse and claim this ground

Come as you came, a boy who sought his father

With questions asked and certain answers found,

Come as you came this day, a man in anger

Unleash the lash that drives a pathway through

Face down for me the fear the shame the danger

Teach me again to whom my love is due.

Break down in me the barricades of death

And tear the veil in two with your last breath.


John 12.1-11

The anointing at Bethany

Come close with Mary, Martha , Lazarus

So close the candles stir with their soft breath

And kindle heart and soul to flame within us

Lit by these mysteries of life and death.

For beauty now begins the final movement

In quietness and intimate encounter

The alabaster jar of precious ointment

Is broken open for the world’s true lover,

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses

With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,

The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,

Here at the very centre of all things,

Here at the meeting place of love and loss

We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

Maundy Thursday

Matthew 26.17-30

Maundy Thursday

Here is the source of every sacrament,

The all-transforming presence of the Lord,

Replenishing our every element

Remaking us in his creative Word.

For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,

The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,

The fire dances where the candles shine,

The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.

And here He shows the full extent of love

To us whose love is always incomplete,

In vain we search the heavens high above,

The God of love is kneeling at our feet.

Though we betray Him, though it is the night.

He meets us here and loves us into light.

Good Friday

The reading for Good Friday is lengthy. It is the story of the cross.

Take time with it. Do not rush.


The poems that follow follow 12 of the 14 traditional ‘stations of the cross’ (the remaining two follow tomorrow). Again, take time. Pray. This is a day - in the midst of this season in which we find ourselves - not to hurry.

You do not need to do all of this in one go!

Perhaps spread it through the day, or even over Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Allow these words space, and know that God is with you.

Mark 14.53-15.39

  1. Jesus is condemned to death

The very air that Pilate breathes, the voice

With which he speaks in judgment, all his powers

Of perception and discrimination, choice,

Decision, all his years, his days and hours,

His consciousness of self, his every sense,

Are given by this prisoner, freely given.

The man who stands there making no defence,

Is God. His hands are tied, His heart is open.

And he bears Pilate’s heart in his and feels

That crushing weight of wasted life. He lifts

It up in silent love. He lifts and heals.

He gives himself again with all his gifts

Into our hands. As Pilate turns away

A door swings open. This is judgment day.

2. Jesus is given his cross

He gives himself again with all his gifts

And now we give him something in return.

He gave the earth that bears, the air that lifts,

Water to cleanse and cool, fire to burn,

And from these elements he forged the iron,

From strands of life he wove the growing wood,

He made the stones that pave the roads of Zion

He saw it all and saw that it is good.

We took his iron to edge an axe’s blade,

We took the axe and laid it to the tree,

We made a cross of all that he has made,

And laid it on the one who made us free.

Now he receives again and lifts on high

The gifts he gave and we have turned awry.

3. Jesus falls the first time

He made the stones that pave the roads of Zion

And well he knows the path we make him tread

He met the devil as a roaring lion

And still refused to turn these stones to bread,

Choosing instead, as Love will always choose,

This darker path into the heart of pain.

And now he falls upon the stones that bruise

The flesh, that break and scrape the tender skin.

He and the earth he made were never closer,

Divinity and dust come face to face.

We flinch back from his via dolorosa,

He sets his face like flint and takes our place,

Staggers beneath the black weight of us all

And falls with us that he might break our fall.

4. Jesus meets his mother

This darker path into the heart of pain

Was also hers whose love enfolded him

In flesh and wove him in her womb. Again

The sword is piercing. She, who cradled him

And gentled and protected her young son

Must stand and watch the cruelty that mars

Her maiden making. Waves of pain that stun

And sicken pass across his face and hers

As their eyes meet. Now she enfolds the world

He loves in prayer; the mothers of the disappeared

Who know her pain, all bodies bowed and curled

In desperation on this road of tears,

All the grief-stricken in their last despair,

Are folded in the mantle of her prayer.

5. Simon of Cyrene carries the Cross

In desperation on this road of tears

Bystanders and bypassers turn away

In other’s pain we face our own worst fears

And turn our backs to keep those fears at bay

Unless we are compelled as this man was

By force of arms or force of circumstance

To face and feel and carry someone’s cross

In Love’s full glare and not his backward glance.

So Simon, no disciple, still fulfilled

The calling: ‘take the cross and follow me’.

By accident his life was stalled and stilled

Becoming all he was compelled to be.

Make me, like him, your pressed man and your priest,

Your alter Christus, burdened and released.

6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Bystanders and bypassers turn away

And wipe his image from their memory

She keeps her station. She is here to stay

And stem the flow. She is the reliquary

Of his last look on her. The bloody sweat

And salt tears of his love are soaking through

The folds of her devotion and the wet

folds of her handkerchief, like the dew

Of morning, like a softening rain of grace.

Because she wiped the grime from off his skin,

And glimpsed the godhead in his human face

Whose hidden image we all bear within,

Through all our veils and shrouds of daily pain

The face of god is shining once again.

7. Jesus falls the second time

Through all our veils and shrouds of daily pain,

Through our bruised bruises and re-opened scars,

He falls and stumbles with us, hurt again

When we are hurt again. With us he bears

The cruel repetitions of our cruelty;

The beatings of already beaten men,

The second rounds of torture, the futility

Of all unheeded pleading, every scream in vain.

And by this fall he finds the fallen souls

Who passed a first, but failed a second trial,

The souls who thought their faith would hold them whole

And found it only held them for a while.

Be with us when the road is twice as long

As we can bear. By weakness make us strong.

8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

He falls and stumbles with us, hurt again

But still he holds the road and looks in love

On all of us who look on him. Our pain

As close to him as his. These women move

Compassion in him as he does in them.

He asks us both to weep and not to weep.

Women of Gaza and Jerusalem,

Women of every nation where the deep

Wounds of memory divide the land

And lives of all your children, where the mines

Of all our wars are sown: Afghanistan ,

Iraq, the Cote d’Ivoire… he reads the signs

And weeps with you and with you he will stay

Until the day he wipes your tears away.

9. Jesus falls the third time

He weeps with you and with you he will stay

When all your staying power has run out

You can’t go on, you go on anyway.

He stumbles just beside you when the doubt

That always haunts you, cuts you down at last

And takes away the hope that drove you on.

This is the third fall and it hurts the worst

This long descent through darkness to depression

From which there seems no rising and no will

To rise, or breathe or bear your own heart beat.

Twice you survived; this third will surely kill,

And you could almost wish for that defeat

Except that in the cold hell where you freeze

You find your God beside you on his knees.

10. Jesus is stripped of his garments

You can’t go on, you go on anyway

He goes with you, his cradle to your grave.

Now is the time to loosen, cast away

The useless weight of everything but love

For he began his letting go before,

Before the worlds for which he dies were made,

Emptied himself, became one of the poor,

To make you rich in him and unafraid.

See as they strip the robe from off his back

They strip away your own defences too

Now you could lose it all and never lack

Now you can see what naked Love can do

Let go these bonds beneath whose weight you bow

His stripping strips you both for action now

11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross

See, as they strip the robe from off his back

And spread his arms and nail them to the cross,

The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black,

And love is firmly fastened onto loss.

But here a pure change happens. On this tree

Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.

Here wounding heals and fastening makes free

Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.

And here we see the length, the breadth, the height

Where love and hatred meet and love stays true

Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light

We see what love can bear and be and do,

And here our saviour calls us to his side

His love is free, his arms are open wide.

12. Jesus dies on the cross

The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black

We watch him as he labours to draw breath

He takes our breath away to give it back,

Return it to it’s birth through his slow death.

We hear him struggle breathing through the pain

Who once breathed out his spirit on the deep,

Who formed us when he mixed the dust with rain

And drew us into consciousness from sleep.

His spirit and his life he breathes in all

Mantles his world in his one atmosphere

And now he comes to breathe beneath the pall

Of our pollutions, draw our injured air

To cleanse it and renew. His final breath

Breathes us, and bears us through the gates of death.

Holy Saturday

Luke 23.50-56

13. Jesus’ Body is Taken Down from the Cross

His spirit and his life he breathes in all

Now on this cross his body breathes no more

Here at the centre everything is still

Spent, and emptied, opened to the core.

A quiet taking down, a prising loose

A cross-beam lowered like a weighing scale

Unmaking of each thing that had its use

A long withdrawing of each bloodied nail,

This is ground zero, emptiness and space

With nothing left to say or think or do

But look unflinching on the sacred face

That cannot move or change or look at you.

Yet in that prising loose and letting be

He has unfastened you and set you free.

14. Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

Here at the centre everything is still

Before the stir and movement of our grief

Which bears it’s pain with rhythm, ritual,

Beautiful useless gestures of relief.

So they anoint the skin that cannot feel

Soothing his ruined flesh with tender care,

Kissing the wounds they know they cannot heal,

With incense scenting only empty air.

He blesses every love that weeps and grieves

And makes our grief the pangs of a new birth.

The love that’s poured in silence at old graves

Renewing flowers, tending the bare earth,

Is never lost. In him all love is found

And sown with him, a seed in the rich ground.

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