This past weekend was beautiful — sunny (finally!), with bright flowers starting to pop out everywhere and little birds singing. Winter seems to have finally left, at least for a little while (I hear we are going to get more snow on Tuesday!).
A friend of mine, said to me, “You must be busy getting ready for Easter. So what’s the thing to say — do you tell people “Happy Holy Week?’” “Well,” I said. “You could say ‘Happy Easter,’ when it’s actually Easter day, or ‘Christ is Risen!’. But until then it’s kind of confusing: there’s a lot of different things going on in Holy Week.”
Think about it. During Holy Week, we wave palms in the air and hail Jesus as king, the long-awaited messiah who’s going to save us, then we change our minds and scream that the Romans should crucify him; we share a loving last supper with Jesus and he washes our feet, then we sneak out after dinner and betray him. Jesus begs us to stay with him, we promise we will, then we don’t. We abandon him, he’s arrested and beaten; he forgives us, then we run away. Then Jesus is killed; we lay him in the tomb and weep; we go back for him, then he’s gone, then he’s back, and then — wait! — he’s not dead at all.
We call this week before Easter Sunday ‘Holy Week’ because it was originally the time of the Feast of Passover when the Jews were saved in Egypt, and because of the miraculous things that Jesus did in the last week of His Life. We witness to Christ in song and story throughout Holy Week.
On Palm Sunday we process with our palms and incense and songs. We celebrate Jesus triumphantly riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Men, women and children lined the streets yelling ‘hosanna’ and waving palm branches. They were greeting the messiah who they believed had come to save them.
On Holy Monday we remember Jesus’ throwing all the money changers and vendors out of the Temple. The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of worship for the Jews and they were required to present money and animals for sacrifice to the priests when they visited. Animal vendors, and money changers had set up booths in the court. People believed that God actually lived in ‘Most Holy of Holy Places’ the inner sanctum of the Temple. This desecration angered Jesus so much that he turned over the tables of the money changers and ran all the animal vendors out.
On Holy Tuesday, Jesus spent most of the day on the Mount Of Olives, where he preached what we now know as the’ Sermon on The Mount’, telling crowds of people what the Kingdom would be like and how we could join Him.
On Spy Wednesday we remember Judas Iscariot, a zealot, who thought he was doing the right thing by agreeing to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. He thought that if Jesus was jailed, the people would rise up and overthrow the Romans.
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus shared a common meal with his disciples – this has become the celebration we call Eucharist or Communion. Many churches strip their altars and cover any icons and statues on Maundy Thursday in preparation for the mourning of Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. There will be no celebration of Communion until the resurrection.
Many other churches hold feet washings, washing each other’s feet, to commemorate that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Jesus reminds us that we are to love each other as he loved us. After the meal, Jesus went to the Garden at Gethsemane to pray. He asks the disciples to stay and pray with him, but they all fall asleep. Jesus is left to pray for strength for what is to come by himself, abandoned by his own disciples. Judas then identified Jesus for the Roman guards with a kiss and He was taken away by the soldiers.
We don’t know why this Friday got the name of ‘Good Friday‘ – it certainly was not a ‘good’ day. Jesus was brought before Pilate, the Roman governor, and sentenced to death. He was then forced to walk to the Hill of Golgotha, carrying the cross on which he will be crucified.
There is a commemoration of this walk called the ‘Stations of the Cross’ where participants remember each of the steps to the crucifixion. Here at Trinity, we do a Stations of the Cross around the Statehouse, interweaving Jesus’ trials with social justice issues.
It is generally accepted that Jesus was nailed to the cross around noon on Good Friday and died after three hours. Many churches, including Trinity, hold a vigil with readings and music during this three hour period. The Bible says that when Jesus died, the world turned black, which scientists think was a solar eclipse in the middle of the day. Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross and buried in an unused tomb.
Holy Saturday ends the season of Lent for Easter Sunday will be a celebration of new life. Holy Saturday is a day of waiting for the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Some churches hold a twilight or midnight vigil waiting for the resurrection; others have people praying throughout the night, waiting for Easter Sunday.
The word ‘Easter‘ comes from the German ‘ostern’, meaning the direction from which the sun rises, celebrating the spring sun, when all things return to life again. Some churches, if they do not do an Easter Vigil, hold a sunrise service to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus as the sun comes up.
This is a day of great celebration with banners and special music and great feasting. We have left the penitential season of Lent and are reveling in the fact that with the death and resurrection of Jesus, we all have new and eternal life. All our sins have been forgiven with His death and have been promised a place in Heaven for eternity.
So this Holy Week, think about each of the days and what preparation you can make to be ready for the festive celebration of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, was we approach the week of the trials of your Son, let us remember our own shortcomings and vow to cleanse ourselves of those things that keep us from you. By raising Christ, your Son, you conquered the power of death and opened for us the way to eternal life. Let our celebration raise us up and renew our lives by the Spirit that is within us. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden Ministry, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 13 April 2014