Category Archives: holy days

readings for HOLY WEEK

as i participate in the lenten season, i have found myself increasingly excited about holy week. the anticipation is palpable. one practice i’ve wanted to incorporate into my experience of the week is reading through the passion week in the gospels. i looked several places to find a “reading plan.” and i never found one that was comprehensive, for lack of a better word. so, i did my own trek through the pages of my bible to figure out the passion week. hopefully, my list is decently accurate. i will be reading through all four gospel accounts this year, but in the future, i may just go through one writer’s accounts. i thought i would post it here for anyone else who would like to follow along, too. have a blessed holy week!

>> matthew 26:6-13
>> mark 14:1-9
>> luke 7:36-50
>> john 12:1-11

palm sunday:
>> matthew 21:1-11
>> mark 11:1-11
>> luke 19:28-44
>> john 12:12-19

>> matthew 21:12-17
>> mark 11:12-19
>> luke 19:45-48
>> john 2:13-22

>> matthew 21:18-27
>> mark 11:20-33
>> luke 20:1-8
>> john 12:37-50

[nothing specific is recorded for this day, but these passages are appropriate.]
>> matthew 24
>> mark 13
>> luke 21:5-37

>> matthew 26:17-75
>> mark 14:12-72
>> luke 22:7-65
>> john 13:1 – 18:27

good friday:
>> matthew 27:11-61
>> mark 15
>> luke 22:66 – 23:56
>> john 18:28 – 19:42

>> matthew 27:62-66

easter sunday:
>> matthew 28
>> mark 16
>> luke 24
>> john 20:1 – 21:25

[a different calendar] PURIM

so when i talked about how one of my goals for 2013 is to observe the religious calendar, i have always meant both the christian calendar & the jewish calendar. at least, any holy days from these two calendars that have some significance & application to my walk with Christ.
ever since i went through beth moore’s esther bible study a couple of years ago, i have wanted to celebrate purim.
purim is a feast day celebrated by the jewish people in remembrance of their deliverance from the evil haman. the story can be found in the book of esther, also known as the megillah. they were threatened by an edict demanding their destruction & annihilation because of haman’s anger & pride. they were saved by God’s providence, as He worked through a man of integrity named mordecai & his courageous niece, the queen at the time, esther. when the bad news came, it was a season of repentance & returning to the Lord for the jewish diaspora in babylon. after they were victorious against their enemies, they feasted & celebrated. mordecai then wrote to all jews in the land that they should observe this same day annually with feasting & celebrating, & also by giving presents of food to each other & gifts to the poor.
there are four main requirements for purim:
1. the reading of the whole book of esther
2. a celebratory meal
3. giving gifts of food to friends & neighbors
4. giving to the poor
purim is not considered a sabbath feast, so you can carry on with business as usual the day of if it falls on a workday. as with all jewish days, it begins at sundown the night before & continues until sunset the next evening. some people will fast that day before in remembrance of the fast that esther called for. traditionally, jews will gather at the synagogue that first evening to hear “the whole megillah” read. my favorite part about this is the “blotting out” of haman’s name — whenever haman’s name is said, everyone is supposed to make noise so you can’t hear it. this is done by booing & hissing, noisemakers, &/or the stamping of your feet. you can even write haman’s name on the soles of your shoes so that as you stamp your feet, his name is literally blotted out! and you cheer for mordecai when his name is read. “cursed be haman!” “blessed be mordecai!” the next day, the people gather to hear the book of esther read again & party it up with a feast, costumes, plays, drinking, laughing, & giving gifts. it is suggested that each adult must give two gifts of food to two different people, & each adult must give generously in some way to two different people in need.
with all this in mind [plus much more information from beth’s study than i can keep in my leaky brain or recount here], i decided to have a purim dinner party.
last year, our dear friends bob & nan had us & three other couples over for passover. it was one of the most enriching experiences of my christian walk. shaun & i decided to invite our eight “passover peeps” to celebrate purim with us. we kinda waited till the last minute to do this, so only bob, nan, chuck, & betty were able to come. but did we ever have fun, the six of us!
before we gathered for the feast, we each found ways to give to others in need, whether it be through money or a visit or a meal. and we each brought gifts of food to exchange with one another.
here is a glimpse of the meal in pictures:
[it’s important to set a fine table.]
[blue & white are associated with judaism & mordecai.]
[we used our fine china for the first time ever.]
forgive the funky pictures… most were taken after the dinner!
i forgot to get a picture of the potato dumpling soup…
[sugared almond salad]
[homemade challah, traditional jewish braided bread]
[chickpea fritters served with tzatziki, a cucumber dill yogurt sauce]
i also forgot to take a picture of the roasted veggies:
sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips & red onions with rosemary & feta]
[poppy seed fruit salad]
[more challah]
[wine & cider — this is a scuppernong cider made in my home state, north carolina.]
you may have noticed the meal was vegetarian. i chose that so we could be kosher[ish] & still use dairy products like the tzatziki & feta cheese.
in between the dinner & dessert, we read the whole megillah! we passed the bible around & each read one chapter until we had completed all ten of them. we would often pause between chapters to talk about things that struck us or questions we had. bob is very knowledgeable about the bible & a great teacher, & every one else at the table is an avid student of the bible, & i learned so much from them! i’ve never laughed so much while reading the bible. between trying to pronounce all the strange names & the blotting out of haman’s name, i believe we captured the raucous spirit of purim! we booed & hissed & stamped our feet sometimes every time haman was said. for us christians, having never experienced purim before, it was quite the unique experience in scripture reading. we told bob we thought it should be a continued tradition in his sunday bible class!
[the megillah, the only book in the bible with no mention of God!]
[the buffet set for dessert & coffee]

there are not many foods that are guaranteed purim feast traditions. nuts, seeds, & dried fruits are favored [seen in the sugared almond salad, chickpea fritters, & poppy seed fruit salad]. and there is one item that no purim feast worth its salt would be without: hamantashen. it means “haman’s ears” or “haman’s hats.” according to historical record & legend, a person of position like haman would likely have worn a triangular hat. as for his ears, they are referred to as “twisted” for not listening to God. hamantashen are triangular cookies with some sort of fruit filling [or chocolate sometimes].

[hamantashen filled with cranberry-orange marmalade & peach preserves]
[dried fruit: dates, mango, & figs]
[chocolates topped with caramel & sea salt]
i don’t have pictures of our gifts that we exchanged, but i loved it! there were homemade cookies & bars, maple chex mix [which shaun had to restrain himself from eating in one sitting!], wine, cheese & crackers, & more.

we had a fabulous experience celebrating purim with our friends! as to its spiritual significance as a christian, here are some things we reflected on: God is still present in our lives today, even when He isn’t “seen.” He still delivers us by His mighty providence. celebration is important. taking the time to remember all the times He has rescued me, provided for me, & blessed me is a vital faith practice. every time i recount what He has done in my past, i am better able to believe He will be with me in my present & future. i can have faith when i can’t see Him, when i feel like my prayers are going unanswered, when the unknown future is scary, & when i feel threatened by the enemy. when we remember & celebrate these experiences with God in our lives, we set up a memorial stone unto Him. just like samuel did when the israelites got the ark of the covenant back from the philistines. 

“thus far has the Lord helped us…” and He will help us again!

[a different calendar] ASH WEDNESDAY

i hope you have been preparing for the lenten season with me! i’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on & journaling about the questions posed by rachel held evans last year regarding lent. [she has a new post for lent this year that includes ideas for children & families.] i thought i might share with you the questions i pondered & my thoughts in part on them.

when i wake up on resurrection sunday morning, how will i be different?

i want to be acutely mindful of the real experiences Christ endured as He went to the cross & died for me. i will be desperate for the celebration of His resurrection & the hope it brings me for new life in Him. 

is there a habit or sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart or loving my neighbor as myself? how do i address that habit over the next 40 days?

is there anyone in my life from whom i need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation?
what practical steps can i take to carve out time each day for contemplation?
i use a prayer liturgy for morning, midday, & evening prayers [common prayer for ordinary radicals]. i have not been good about stopping for midday prayers, so i’ve got my locket with the liturgy tucked inside back around my neck, & it will be my constant accessory these next 40+ days.

what spiritual discipline do i need to improve in or want to try?
fasting, hands down.

what are some things in my life that i tell myself i need but don’t? can i give one or two of them up for 40 days?
stuff. just lots of stuff. i’m going to take advantage of this season of remembrance, repentance, & return to God to declutter not just my spirit but also my surroundings. i hope to donate much of what i get rid or to sell some items & donate the money to those in need somehow. i hope i have the courage to give up many things that i want to keep…

why am i giving this particular thing up? how does giving it up draw me closer to God & prepare me for easter?

i’m giving up things i already own to rid myself of the weight that ties me to this temporal world. i believe it will draw me closer to God by showing me in very visible & tangible ways that He is all i really need. my spirit can become lighter from worldly concerns while it experiences the heaviness of the spiritual realities that are the passion. and when easter comes, my spirit can be buoyant in every way!
what am i going to tell myself when self-denial gets hard?

i thought a memory verse would be appropriate. i’m on the siesta scripture memory team with living proof ministries this year, so my next verse [for february 15th] will be 2 corinthians 9:8 [ceb] — God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. that way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. 

is it necessary/helpful for me to share the nature of my fast with others or keep it private?
i want to share something i’m doing that you can do, too — 40 days of water. this is a way to tie our personal spirituality to communal justice. you can join me & hundreds of others who are giving up all beverages except tap water [& in my case, occasionally a tea bag thrown into a mug of hot tap water!] for the lenten season in an effort to raise money for digging wells that provide clean drinking water to people in uganda. you track the beverages you would have drank [drunk?] each day & the money you saved in not doing so. each sunday [feast day, in which you get to drink whatever you want again], you donate your saved money to blood:water mission. i think this is a beautiful way of remembering what Christ came to live & die for — all people — to bring to earth love, reconciliation, abundant life, freedom, truth, & justice. you can find more information & join the throngs here.

what do the ashes mean to me this year? what does baptism mean to me this year?

having not grown up in a church that practiced lent, i don’t know what the ashes actually symbolize. i’m tempted to look it up, but i thought it might be better to record my thoughts first. ashes remind me of the legend of the phoenix – the mythical bird that dies in a burst of flames & is reborn from the ashes. it recalls to me the refining fire of God, in which He burns up all that is impure in me. then, i am created a new creature with a new heart, ever more in His image. “imago Dei — who i am & am becoming.” baptism represents much the same idea, but i think of a continual cleansing so that i live the resurrected life, even here & now. from the ashes, through baptism, i am in the present & powerful kingdom of God here on earth.
i have since researched lent & ash wednesday more, & i have learned that the ashes [which in the catholic church are from the burning of the palm leaves from the previous year’s palm sunday] represent our mortality — “for dust you are and to dust you will return” [gen. 3:19] — & the act of mourning over our sinfulness — in the spirit of sackcloth & ashes often mentioned in the bible in association with mourning. i think this is beautiful symbolism, & so i have also chosen to dress simply & in black today. it’s a far cry from sack cloth, but it is a visible reminder to me all day to be mindful of my need for repentance & God’s grace.

and then we can’t forget the actual ashes! i thought about attending a catholic ash wednesday mass today, but i decided to keep with a little tradition of my own instead. you may think it’s sacrilegious, so i’m asking you ahead of time for your grace & understanding as i explain this little ritual.

in past years, i’ve explored 12 classic spiritual disciplines throughout the year [with the guidance of richard foster’s celebration of discipline], & each year, i [theoretically] spend one month focused on confession. [please don’t be impressed — i’m far from consistent in how i practice these disciplines & am a poster child for failure.] one ritual i’ve come to establish & enjoy during that month is the writing out of my sins each day, then burning the piece of paper to symbolize how God blots out my transgressions. i used to do this in my fireplace, but one day when i was perusing my local thrift store, i found a beat up copper basin that i decided to use for this daily confessional. it’s been such a horrifying eye-opener to spend time trying to remember all the ways i messed up in a day. and while it’s been painful, it has been good. i’ve come to practice it long beyond the month i spend focusing on confession, although i haven’t been very consistent in it until this year. as part of the prayer liturgy i’m using, evening prayers include a time for confession, so i’ve been a little better about practicing the listing & burning on a daily basis.

today, i spent time reading the account of Jesus’ baptism & subsequent 40 days in the wilderness from matthew 3 – 4:11 & one of the penitential psalms, psalm 51.

then i listed alot of sins…

and i burned them while rereading psalm 51.

it’s no catholic mass, but it has meaning to me!

then, [& here’s the potentially sacrilegious part], i used the ashes from the past year as the mark of the cross for my forehead. because while i think it’s really neat to use last year’s palm leaves for ashes, those don’t have a particularly personal meaning to me. the ashes in my coppen basin do… they are a visible reminder of every sin i’ve confessed that God has wiped away, a symbol of His mercies, which are indeed new every morning.

may God bless you as you remember, repent, & return on this ash wednesday!

[a different calendar] CANDLEMAS

i had hoped to write this post before february 2nd so those who might be interested in observing candlemas, too, would have some information & motivation. however, i found this particular holy day to baffle me a bit as to how i should experience it. and so it wasn’t until after the fact that i had anything potentially meaningful to share.

as i understand candlemas — also referred to as the presentation of Jesus at the temple, the feast of the purification of the virgin, & the meeting of the Lord — it is a major feast day, especially in the roman catholic tradition. the event remembered is told in luke 2:22-40, telling not only of the necessary sacrifice given on behalf of the newly born son, but of the prophetic interactions with simeon & anna.

there are many traditions tied to candlemas, especially several that have been phased out over time. it derives its name from the practice of the priests blessing the beeswax candles that are to be used throughout the year. however, many of the associated cultural rituals seem very superstitious to me, & while i love ritual & tradition, i am not superstitious in the least.

i’ve shared my various reasons for observing religious calendar, & so as i learned about candlemas, i wasn’t sure how to bring it into my life. blessing candles did not seem to be a necessary or appropriate or in any way enriching practice for me to do. reading the story is fine & always beneficial, but i desired something more to mark the season. for some sects of christianity, it marks the end of the epiphany season [more can be read about my experience of epiphany here]. and it is shortly followed by the lenten season. [this year, ash wednesday is february 13th — next week!]

as i read on, i stumbled upon one small fact that piqued my interest & heart more than all the others. apparently, pope john paul II connected the feast day with the renewal of religious vows. and in the presence of the Messiah, we would surely do so!

i’ve had many lively conversations about whether christians do or do not, should or should not make vows. it’s a subject i enjoy discussing! i personally believe that accepting Christ as Savior & committing to live under His Lordship is itself a vow. therefore, every believer has taken a religious vow. i’m also a fan of short-term vows & renewing one’s commitment to the Lord.

i have often shared with others that i accepted Christ as my Savior & was baptized at age 12. and while i spent most of my years after that trying to “live right” [minus a couple rebellious teenage years], i did not truly understand the “Lord” part of the relationship or how it was a relationship at all! i’d heard it taught, so there is no fault in my parents or bible teachers, but i didn’t really understand what it meant to live for Him rather than to try to live right. i was very pharisaic. until a breaking point when i was 25. [it is so sad to me that it took so long!] i experienced a crisis of faith & had to make a choice. a new choice. a new vow. and so i vowed to seek & serve Him rather than to seek my own righteousness & rightness. i put it into writing, sealed it, & dated it. i’ve kept that written covenant ever since. of course, i’ve failed in keeping up my end of the bargain. more than once. but each time i fail, He does not fail me! He woos me back to repentance, healing, & wholeness in Him. and each time, i break the seal on my written vow, reread it, recommit myself to Him in prayer, reseal it, & add the new date.

so with that background on my self-imposed rituals in my relationship with God, you might imagine that the idea of renewing one’s religious vows would indeed pique my interest & heart! and i thought perhaps it would be just as healthy & helpful to reread my vow to God every year, even if i haven’t failed miserably in it. so for me, candlemas is an opportunity to do just that. and it was immensely rewarding! we actually do this renewing of commitment every week when we corporately partake in the Lord’s supper together. why not also do it with longer time for deeper reflection once a year?

well, take it as you like. i have certainly been enriched by the experience & feel a refreshment in my relationship with God! [i guess it must feel something like renewing one’s marriage vows or going on a second honeymoon with your spouse.] may we all find intentional ways of being & staying committed to the Living God, our Redeemer & Friend.

marking my time by [a different calendar]

i mentioned in a past post how i make 12 goals each year that help me live & grow intentionally as a student of Life. this year is no exception, & i’m especially excited about one of my spiritual goals.

observe the religious calendar.

having grown up in church, being a preacher’s daughter, & going into ministry as a vocation, you would think i would have experienced the religious holy days, observances, & celebrations. but this is completely new to me. even celebrating christmas as the birthday of Christ is something we didn’t do in our family. but in recent years, through various books & studies, i’ve grown in my curiosity about the religious calendar — not just christian, but jewish, too.

to clear something up real quick, i don’t want you to think that i believe observing specific special days is necessary to one’s faith walk or that i want to make a rule of this for myself or anybody else. i’m not jewish, but my christian faith is rooted in a jewish heritage. i’m not catholic, but the catholic church has a gift for savoring the sacred. these things peak my curiosity, & i believe experiencing them can enrich & deepen my faith walk & understanding of Christ. 

so, i researched all the christian & jewish holy days, & i’ve chosen to observe most of them. there are a few that i may not partake of for various reasons & personal beliefs. i’ve put them all in my calendar along with alerts beforehand to prepare as needed. and i’m so excited i can’t stand it! i was so thankful that the first observance was only six days into the new year!

and that’s what i really want to share with you. on january 6, shaun & i celebrated epiphany. what is epiphany, you ask? i’d heard of it before, but i had no clue what it was. so i read alot about it. as i understand it, epiphany is the celebration of Jesus manifesting Himself as the Son of God. depending on the sect of christianity, this centers on the visit of the magi, Jesus’ baptism, &/or the miracle at the wedding of cana. i decided to do all three. there are various ways of observing epiphany, both religious & cultural, depending on denomination & country. i just chose the traditions that most spoke to me.

first, shaun & i observed the religious rituals attached to epiphany. [disclaimer: these are often performed by a priest. i am not a priest, so please don’t be offended or forgive me if you think it sacrilegious that we did them ourselves.]

i arranged the coffeetable with the necessary elements. you can see i left our christmas decorations in the middle.

candles are my addition. i just really like candles to be included in anything ritualistic. these reminded me of the Trinity, one Person of which was sent to earth in flesh to dwell among men.

i marked the three stories in our small [esv] bible. i like the nice cover & the older more formal language of this translation. we alternated reading the stories & experienced a different element on the table in between each.

first, shaun read about the visit of the magi. this we remembered by the three gifts they presented to the Christ-child. i don’t own any solid gold, so i used a gold dollar coin to represent it. the small pottery crock holds myrrh gum which smells sweetly divine. and the incense is frankincense which when lit filled the room with a wonderfully earthy aroma.

then, i read the account of Jesus’ baptism. afterwards, we enjoyed the epiphany tradition of blessing the house in which you use chalk to write the words Christus mansionem benedicat, which means “Christ bless this house.” [obviously, shaun did the writing & i did the spelling!] we also read a prayer of blessing for the house from the book common prayer for ordinary radicals. it was beautiful.

and finally we came to the wedding at cana, where Jesus turns the water into wine. we commemorated this by taking communion. [the picture just shows a cracker. i actually made a simple unleavened bread, but i took these pictures afterwards, so the cracker is a stand-in.]

shaun said his favorite part was taking communion & taking it in the small wine glass. this small detail was a reminder that the event of communion is not to be mundane. i loved all of it, but ironically, my favorite part was the anticipation & preparation! it reminds me of something i once read about sabbath — that it was meant to be the centerpiece of the week, something we look forward to & live for then live off of. sabbath helps us focus on God, the Creator, once a week, but the preparation for it keeps the living for God on our minds even before the day. that’s how i felt getting ready for epiphany. every day i was more excited about experiencing it & making sure i had everything necessary. i loved every minute of it!

well, after the more religious traditions, we enjoyed the cultural tradition of eating all things spicy! specifically, two epiphany favorites: spice cake & wassail.

i made a spice cake with a caramel glaze that i found via martha stewart. it was delish! shaun said he wants it to become a regular beyond once a year at epiphany.


we make wassail regularly throughout the fall & winter in the casteel casa. essentially, it’s a hot, spiced fruit drink. i use a simple recipe that my momma passed onto me. you can find it on my recipe blog if you’re interested.

and the last epiphany tradition we participated in was the taking down of the christmas decorations. kinda sad undecking the halls, but twelve days after christmas, it needed to be done.

i hope our epiphany experience has intrigued you into exploring the religious calendar yourself. i’m already looking forward to candlemas on february 2nd. this annual goal is already accomplishing what i have hoped from it, better said by shane claiborne:

every sturdy society has created its own calendar according to its own values. for some time now, western civilization has used the julian and gregorian calendars, which are influenced largely by the roman empire’s traditions… but if we in the church are going to take our citizenship in heaven seriously, we must reshape our minds by marking our calendars differently. we must remember the holidays of the biblical narrative rather than the festivals of the caesars… the church’s calendar weaves in and out of the world around us. it is not that we need a “christian” calendar because we want to separate ourselves from the “secular” world… the point is not to be sectarian or to try to put ourselves at odds with non-christians. the point is to keep God’s story at the center of our lives and calendar… without liturgical time, we can easily forget our eternal identity. we can get lost in the hustle and bustle of business and efficiency that shapes our culture and society. likewise, without the cosmic calendar, we can become so heaven-bound that we ignore the hells of the world around us. and the glorious goal we are headed toward is not just going up when we die but bringing God’s kingdom down — on earth as it is in heaven.