Today we begin the final week of Lent. In Jesus; at one time these seven days were called Passover, as it is still called today by the Jewish people. Christians around the world know these seven days as Holy Week, the Passion of the Christ. It is a week that starts with triumph and celebration, goes to betrayal, condemnation, and death; then climaxes on Easter Sunday with in the resurrection of Jesus – His triumph over death, and the saving of all mankind.
It is seven days that changed the world.
These seven days have been the topic of a thousands of sermons, countless debates, and numerous books and films. These seven days have inspired the greatest painters, the most skilled architects, and the most gifted musicians. To try and calculate the cultural and historical impact of these seven days is impossible. But harder still would be an attempt to account for the lives of men and women who have been transformed by the life of Jesus and the events of Holy Week. And yet these seven days, as they played out at the time in Jerusalem, were of little significance to anyone but a few people involved.
What happened on those seven days?
Let’s look at these seven days to see how they changed the world:
- This Sunday, commonly known as ‘Palm Sunday, is the first of the seven days of Holy Week. As related to us in the Holy Gospels, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of ‘Hosanna’, fulfilling an old prophecy in Zechariah 9:9.
Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion! Raise the roof, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming! a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a mere colt of a donkey.
People were excited – the man they knew as Jesus was arriving in Jerusalem. . . coming to celebrate Passover and save them from the persecution and tyranny of the Roman rule. In The Gospel of Luke we learn they shouted:
Blessed is he who comes, the king in God’s name! All’s well in heaven! Glory in the high places! (Luke 19:38)
Or at least that what they hoped for and dreamed of and thought. People lined the streets and waved palm branches as He rode in on a donkey. People spread out their cloaks on the road to soften His path. It was a time of great celebration and anticipation. But little did they know what they waited for was not what they were going to get.
- On Monday Jesus walked into the Jerusalem Temple and found money changers and stalls of animals. This was the great temple of Jerusalem – the place of the Ark of the Covenant, the house of God. The Temple authorities had been using the Second Commandment about no graven images to cheat the people by requiring them to exchange their Roman money for Jewish shekels, thus making the Temple a place of profit rather than of prayer. In a great rage, Jesus overturned the tables and ran all the animal sellers out of the temple.
- On Tuesday Jesus taught in parables, warning the people against the religious authorities who cheated the people. As we hear in the Gospel of John, Jesus also predicted the destruction of the great temple of Jerusalem, saying:
Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. (John 2:19)
This enraged the Jewish religious authorities and they started to plan for the crucifixion of this troublemaker, Jesus. They asked him all kinds of questions, trying to trick him into saying things that would indicate He was a rebel and was aiming to overthrow the Romans. But Jesus stayed quiet and gave them no justification for arrest.
- Wednesday, the fourth day, is also known as ‘Spy Wednesday’. This is the day that Judas, who was going to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver met with the religious leaders and made the deal to identify Jesus the following night with a kiss. The thirty pieces of silver was the going price for the purchase of a slave in that time.
- On Thursday, in an upper room, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. But he gave it a new meaning. No longer would his followers remember the Exodus from Egypt in the breaking of bread. They would remember his broken body and shed blood in a meal that became known as ‘The Last Supper’ or ‘Communion’ or ‘Eucharist’.
Knowing what was going to transpire, Jesus agonized in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane at what lay ahead for him in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It was during His praying in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Jewish officials and Roman soldiers would come to the garden. Judas led the Jewish priests to the Garden of Gethsemane and identified Jesus by kissing him and addressing him as “Master.”
Jesus foretold that he would not only be betrayed but denied as well by his closest friends. Peter, on whom He would found his church, indeed denied knowing Jesus three times before the cock crowed, just as Jesus had foretold. The priests and Roman soldiers took Jesus away and imprisoned Him.
Thursday of Holy Week is also called ‘Maundy Thursday’. In the evening many Christians strip their altars of everything and cover all icons and statues and crosses with black cloth to symbolize the mourning of the betrayal and upcoming crucifixion of Jesus. The stripping of the altar also signifies the seizing of Jesus’ clothes and the humiliation he suffered.
Trinity has a Maundy Thursday service which is very moving, held at 7 pm in the church. I would invite every to come attend the service and participate in the solemn remembrance of the imprisonment, death and resurrection of Jesus.
- Friday, the fifth day known as ‘Good Friday’, isn’t named ‘good’ meaning pleasant or fun but holy or pious. Jesus was abandoned by his disciples, suffered through a false trial in front of Pontius Pilate, and was condemned to death by the Jewish officials. The Bible tells ys that Pilate had been warned by a dream of his wife that Jesus was innocent of the charges made by the Jewish officials. But the crowd wanted blood and so he washed his hands, symbolically removing from him any responsibility for what was about to occur.
It was the custom during Passover for the Roman officials to free one criminal. Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but the crowd, riled up by the religious officials. wanted blood. So Jesus was sentenced to death on a cross, a sentence which was only given to the lowest and vilest of criminals. He was even made to carry his own cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha (“The Place of the Skull”), where he was crucified with two common thieves.
He suffered for about three hours and then died. Since Jewish custom required burial within 24 hours, His body was removed from the cross and placed in an unused tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathaea.
Many Christians honor these three hours with prayers and music and meditation, but there are no formal services with Communion.
At Trinity, we observe Jesus’ walk to Golgotha and a walk around Capitol Square, with a life-size cross. This begins at 11 am from the front steps. When we complete the walk, we come into the church and meditate for three hours on the death of Jesus. You are welcome and come and go as you wish, respecting the solemnity and quiet of the vigil.
- On Saturday, the observance of Lent ends. Jesus lay dead in the tomb and women came and anointed his body with oils and spices, as was the Jewish custom. The disciples locked themselves in a room, afraid to come out for fear of being imprisoned or killed. No one remembers of understands that Jesus will rise from the dead the next morning. No one understood that when he said
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”(John 2:19)
He was talking about Himself and His resurrection.
Today’s Christians often hold an Easter Vigil at the onset of Saturday evening, as a time of waiting in prayer for the resurrection of Christ. Often baptisms are conducted so that these new Christians may rise with Jesus on Sunday. The practice of communion begins again in celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
- On Sunday, Jesus’ ordeal was over, the stone had been rolled away. Jesus was alive. He appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to the 11 disciples gathered in a locked room. His resurrection was proclaimed and our salvation ensured.
Easter Sunday is a day of great celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and our salvation guaranteed by His death and resurrection.
Trinity holds a festival Eucharist at 9 am on Easter Sunday, with music and choir and trumpets to celebrate the wondrous resurrection of Christ. Following that service is brunch to celebrate. Please consider coming to enjoy the pageantry and celebrate in the resurrection.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 24 March 2013