What Is Holy Week?

Next week we begin the most sacred of the periods in the Christian faith: Holy Week.

Holy Week is the last week of Lent before Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Holy Saturday, part of the Church Year where Jesus’ final moments are remembered.

Scholars think that Holy Week probably developed in 4th century Jerusalem when Christians from all over the world would take pilgrimages to the Holy Land where there were rites and worship dedicated to reenacting the final events of Christ’s life. The first account we have of such rites is the diary of the pilgrimage around 381 BCE. Gradually many of these customs and holy days spread to the wider Christian world.

The purpose of Holy Week is to reenact, relive, and participate in the passion of Jesus Christ. Holy Week is important because it commemorates the events of Christ’s final days and passion. This includes the institution of the Eucharist and the crucifixion. Holy Week commemorates these important events, and is therefore a very busy time in the life of the Church.

We heard in the Gospel reading that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, with the people waving palm branches along the way. It was a jubilant time because the people thought Jesus has come to save them from the oppression of the Roman Empire. As he rode by, the crowds shouted

“Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9)

After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem Jesus preached to the people.

A lot of Christian churches read or perform a Passion Play, describing the betrayal, trial and crucifixion of Jesus on Palm Sunday, which is also called Passion Sunday.

Holy Monday commemorated Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple of all the money changers and vendors in the inner court 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 to sell their wares. 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. Obviously, this greatly angered the priests, who were supported by these donations.

On Tuesday, Jesus spent most of the day preaching at the Mount Of Olives, delivering his most famous teachings in the Sermon On The Mount.

This is the day that Judas talked to the priests of the Temple and decided to betray Jesus. Judas was a zealot or ‘dagger-man’, who felt the way to rid Jerusalem of the Romans was to kill the high officials. He thought Jesus as coming to lead a revolution and felt betrayed when he did not come with an army. The price for betray was thirty pieces of silver.

Also called Maundy Thursday, the word ‘maundy’ comes from the Latin word for mandate. It was Jesus’ mandate that we are to love each other as he loved us. On this night, Jesus shared a common meal with his disciples – this has become the celebration we call Eucharist or Communion. After the meal, he went into the Garden at Gethsemane to pray. After praying, Judas identified Jesus for the Roman guards with a kiss. He was then taken away.

Many churches strip their altars and cover any icons, statues on Maundy Thursday in preparation for the mourning 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.

We don’t know why this Friday got the name of ‘Good Friday’ because it certainly was not a fun day. Jesus is brought before Pilate, the Roman governor, and sentenced to death. He is then forced to walk to the Hill of Golgotha, carrying the cross where he will 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 is a day of waiting for the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Some churches hold a midnight vigil anticipating the resurrection. Holy Saturday ends the season of Lent for tomorrow will be a celebration of new life.

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 atoned 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, Trinity Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH 10 April 2011

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