Holy Week Reflections

This Sunday is the beginning of what the church refers to as Holy Week. This week is considered holy because it commemorates the last week in the life of Jesus. In many ways, this week communicates in a nutshell the core of the gospel and the heart of our faith as Christians. Some Christians feel uncomfortable observing the days of this week because the days seem to be identified with a particular branch of the church about which they have marked differences. For others, the primary identifying branch of the church notwithstanding, the week is a powerful experience to remember these significant days, to focus on Jesus’ teaching, and to feel the highs and lows that he feels. I believe that there is great spiritual power in connecting to the week.

Palm or Passion Sunday commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This is a day to acknowledge along with the people of Jerusalem the messianic fulfillment of Jesus. Up to this time, Jesus has been resistant to allow the demons or others to declare the purpose of his coming. Now that the time is near, Jesus is no longer hesitant. He clearly encourages the declarations of the people which provokes the ire of the religious leaders. When they complain that Jesus shouldn’t allow the people to say such things, Jesus rebukes them: If these people don’t proclaim it, the rocks will.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week observe the activity and teaching of Jesus in the temple and in Bethany with his disciples. These days highlight Jesus cleansing the temple of the high priest’s loan sharks, Jesus being anointed with expensive oil, and warnings about the frightful days to come for those who reject Jesus and his invitation to redemption and life. These days tend to be thoughtful, contemplative days to ponder the hard, challenging words of Jesus.

Maundy Thursday commemorates the last night that Jesus spends with his disciples. The word “Maundy” is from the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” It describes this night because Jesus tells His disciples in John 13:34, A new command I give you: Love one another. On this night we come face to face with the final words of Jesus: Love. We are reminded that the gospel is about love—God’s love for all people culminating in the death of Christ and our love for God that is most clearly revealed in our love for others, particularly others who are difficult for us to love. Maundy Thursday ends with the arrest, trial and torture of Jesus and the darkness of love crucified on the cross.

Good Friday is a day focused on the cross. This day is a day of darkness and pain for followers of Jesus. This is a day of agony, confusion and loss for followers of Jesus. On this day we envision the disciples walking away from the cross dejected, demoralized, anxious and uncertain. All of their hopes and dreams are dead. The last three plus years wasted. Evil wins again. Power crushes the vulnerable. Goodness and righteousness is for losers. This is a day in which our faith wavers, our risks of love seem untenable, and our thoughts of joy seem meaningless.

Holy Saturday or Silent Saturday is a day for waiting, hoping, praying that what took place on Friday might not be the end. This is day when our trust is put to the test: despite what we witness the day before, despite what we know to be true about evil and Satan and crucifixion, despite the limp, lifeless form of God’s Son. Is it possible that something miraculous might still happen? Is it possible that God, who we believe is greater, will reveal his power? Is it possible?

Easter is the highest holy day of the year. Easter begins with an image of the women going to the tomb and finding it empty. This day celebrates what we had hoped all along: that the cross is not the end of the story, that the tomb is not the final word, that death is not greater than life. On this day we celebrate Jesus’ life that makes it possible for us to have life. This is a day that changes everything! This is a day that makes all other days—Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday—meaningful.

The Church has given us a powerful tool for connecting with these monumental moments. I am convinced that the celebration of Easter reaches a deeper level for us when we engage ourselves in the days that lead up to Easter. When we experience something of pain, heartache, loss and defeat of the rest of the week, Easter morning feels like…well, it feels like…resurrection. I encourage you to embrace the ancient church’s shaping of this week that it might be a powerful spiritual pilgrimage in our journey with Christ.