Holy Week may have no significance to you. I’m an Episcopalian, rooted deeply in the Anglican tradition, and we celebrate Holy Week, starting today, Palm Sunday. I’d like to share my thoughts with you about the events of Holy Week and the participants who stand out.
“From early times Christians have observed the week before Easter as a time of special devotion. As the pilgrim Egeria recorded in the late fourth century, Jerusalem contained many sacred places that were sites for devotion and liturgy. Numerous pilgrims to the holy city followed the path of Jesus in his last days. They formed processions, worshipped where Christ suffered and died, and venerated relics. From this beginning evolved the rites we observe today on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. These services provide a liturgical experience of the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, as well as the time and events leading up to his resurrection.”https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/holy-week
In my tradition, we separate out these events from the Easter celebration. Some of Christianity focuses only on Easter and the Resurrection. I like our way of honoring all the events beforehand that set the stage for Easter.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, not in full Royal regalia but on the back of a donkey colt. His entry defied what the world thought the King of the Jews would do!
Maundy Thursday, we give the willing the opportunity to have their feet washed, again taking Jesus’ actions to heart of “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:64) The act of feet washing is an act of love and service.
“The Thursday in Holy Week. It is part of the Triduum, or three holy days before Easter. It comes from the Latin mandatum novum, “new commandment,” from Jn 13:34. The ceremony of washing feet was also referred to as “the Maundy.” Maundy Thursday celebrations also commemorate the institution of the eucharist by Jesus “on the night he was betrayed.
Following this, the altar is stripped and all decorative furnishings are removed from the church.”
Good Friday we provide a quiet solemn time at the church from noon until 3:00 PM doing the Stations of the Cross with ample time for reflection.
“The Friday before Easter Day, on which the church commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a day of fasting and special acts of discipline and self-denial.”
Holy Saturday we have the Easter Vigil Candlelight Service celebrating the resurrection of Christ.
Easter Day is truly a day of celebration—He is risen, He is risen indeed!
So, what’s all the fuss? As I slow down this week and linger at these points along the way, I enrich my Easter experience with the details leading up to the most important day in all Christendom—Easter.
What fascinates me most in the midst of the events are the actual people who participated willingly or unwittingly:
- Of course, Jesus is center stage. His behavior throughout the week varies. On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey colt when many thought the King of the Jews would have a magnificent entrance letting all know of his power and authority. Instead, God wanted a man among men, not an authority figure similar to the Roman dictator and all his fanfare.
- Jesus needed alone time before the insanity of the week took over, so he drew away in the garden at the Mount of Olives in the dark of the night to pray and anguish over what He faced.
- The Twelve disciples joined Jesus, but they couldn’t stay awake and support him in prayer. They knew that something was coming and they feared the possibilities. Grief gripped their hearts in the dark of the night, and they drifted off to sleep out of emotional exhaustion.
- Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss. He had been one of Jesus’ closest associates but was willing to sell him out for money. When did he stop loving Jesus?
- Peter denied being a follower of Jesus three times, just as Jesus had predicted. The cock crowed, and at that moment, the eye contact between Jesus and Peter at his third betrayal must have been electric. Why did Peter change so quickly? In Jesus’ stare, Peter realized later a deep forgiveness.
- Pilate and Herod, world leaders at the time, became mere puppets in the drama that unfolded: Jesus accused; Jesus’ silence enraged them; Jesus’ fate determined by an angry mob, not two world leaders who should have stopped it. Did they realize the position they put themselves in?
- The angry mob shouted “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate succumbed to their angry words forcing him to sacrifice Jesus instead Barabbas. Did one person start the chant then it grew out of control?
- Barabbas, a convicted criminal, guilty of insurrection and murder, released from facing this cruel death, and Jesus took his place, innocent of any crime and not guilty. The mob won. Did Barabbas suffer from survivor guilt?
- Simon of Cyrene, an innocent countryman, forced to carry the cross behind Jesus. What did he think as he watched the wounded Jesus stagger and fall? Did he agree with the decision to crucify Jesus and not Barabbas?
- Chief Priests hurled insults at Jesus, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God his chosen one!” How could these Godly men watch this horrific torture of another human being and not weep?
- Two criminals crucified on each side of Jesus. One accused Jesus, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other one identified Jesus’ innocence. Jesus promised the repentant one, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
- The centurion witnessed Jesus’ death, “Certainly this man was innocent.” Did he sob at what he saw?
- Women followers stood at a distance in shock, not knowing what to do. We know there were three or four women, but we’re not sure who they were except for Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Were they able to sleep Friday and Saturday night as they grieved over the death of their Jesus?
- Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council and a good man who did not agree with what happened asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, and he laid Jesus in a tomb. Did he think that Jesus would burst forth from this tomb?
It took this whole cast of characters plus many others to put into action the events that happened during Holy Week. Some names we know; some unnamed, but yet they participated in a succession of actions that changed the course of history for all times.
At church today, we sang a song, “Above All.” The last line of the chorus states: “You took the fall, and thought of me, above all.”
At that moment on the cross when the suffering of Jesus seemed insurmountable, He thought of me, He thought of you, above all! That’s why he suffered and died—because he thought of you and me!
Do you celebrate Holy Week? If so, how?
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