Christianity · My Thoughts

What is Holy Week?

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.”

https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/maundy-thursday

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.”

https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/good-friday

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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Christianity · Christmas · My Thoughts

Our Names Didn’t Matter; Our Mission Did! An Epiphany Story

“I’m not Jewish, and I’m not going!” I was shocked as the three of us were left seated looking at each other. To me, this has been the biggest event since I joined this auspicious group of seers or astrologers. We love the stars and study them in this group.

The others filed out in silence, sneering at our idea of seeking out this new King of the Jews and his birth. “Why?” they repeated throughout the meeting. Men of wisdom had studied Judaism and its prophecies, and identified this bright star in the East as a cosmic event. The three of us agreed on its significance and wanted to do a road trip!

That star in the East had haunted me the last few days, luring me in that direction, but we had to talk to the group and see what the consensus was, so I curbed my rash desire to just flee East with no plan nor explanation.

“Well, I guess it’s just us three going then.” Initially, I thought a sizeable group of us would go, but the dissenting majority walked out, leaving the three of us in shock.

We didn’t let their apathy affect our anticipation. We prepared to travel to Jerusalem to talk to Herod, a Roman appointed King of Judea. For sure, he would know what all this meant.

We gathered our travel gear and lined up our camels for the long trek. We talked to our families, warning them that we had no idea when we would return, because the rumor was that a powerful King was born somewhere in the East, and we needed to represent our country there with gifts and the appropriate protocol.

What kind of gifts should we bring? After much discussion about what was suitable for a King of this calibre, we decided on three priceless gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The plan was to leave in the morning, but the bright star in the East kept urging me on. Nervous and anxious, I didn’t sleep much that night, rose early and stood ready to go by my camel when the other two arrived.

We talked little on the trip and kept our eyes glued on the star. It hovered over a specific place, and we knew our mission was ordained.

Arriving in Jerusalem, my heart beat increased. We were close. Our talk with Herod confused me though. Our observation about the birth of a King shocked him, but why should it? He was a Roman appointed King of Judea and knew nothing of the Jewish prophecy. His counsels scurried around and gathered the information we needed. Our wise counsel did not have the specific prophecy–they did.

They told us that it had been predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem in Judea–I knew little about the Jewish religion and wondered why Herod hadn’t noticed the bright star and put two and two together like we did.

We didn’t linger there because the three of us felt an urgency to see this King we had traveled so far to find. The nine kilometer trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem took us two hours, but our pace increased as we neared our destination.

The brilliantly lit star hung over a house of meager means. My camel’s rumbling growl seemed to anticipate something. The other two camels joined in. We dismounted, dusted our cloaks off, and grabbed the gifts we brought.

Joseph met us at the door like he was expecting us. He ushered us into his home. All of a sudden, I felt divine a presence as I saw a young Jewish mother cuddling her new born baby son in her arms. An aura of love surrounded the duo as if the star above had anointed them.

I fell to my knees as I saw His face–I knew deeply that this child held power like I had never experienced. I looked to see where my two friends were and witnessed a miracle. Both had fallen to their knees, too, faces aglow with wonder and mystery.

Solemnly, we presented our three gifts at the feet of Mary. Joseph talked quietly to us, asking where we had come from. He seemed in awed of us, foreigners to his land.

Meekly, I stepped closer and ventured to touch his cheek–sweet and precious. I looked into his open eyes and saw the face of God and knew I’d never be the same. His attraction drew my friends to his side and they, too, wanted to touch him. In her serene manner, Mary nodded her head. They touched his cheek, too, and I saw a visible change in their faces as they witnessed him.

None of us wanted to leave, but I felt we had stayed long enough to be polite–any longer could be considered disrespectful. When we left, we camped near Bethlehem, thinking we’d retrace our steps back to Jerusalem because Herod had requested we report back to him about our find.

We sat around the camp fire, warming ourselves, mulling over our full day. The world had just changed, and we knew we had played a part in it. Finally, the fire burned down, and we snuggled into our bed rolls.

The last thing I remember before falling to sleep is the glow of the embers and the glow in my heart.

During the night, I saw a warning in my dreams–don’t go back to Herod. He’s dangerous and means harm to this new King, so we traveled home by a different route.

We could not get home quick enough. We convened our group and reported our findings. The mild reception concerned me, but I knew that my job on earth was set–God had come to earth through this baby, the King of the Jews, and he had opened the door to the Gentile world through our simple obedience.

You will never hear my name mentioned–it doesn’t matter. What matters is that my two friends and I traveled the distance, witnessed the birth of the Christ child and spread the news to our world!

My religion of choice is the Episcopal church, and we observe the twelve days of Christmas, ending at the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6. In our observation, we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men to the Christ Child on this day. We believe that the Wise Men’s visit to the Christ Child opened access to the Gentile world and everyone.

What are you thoughts?

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