March 19, 2013
Overview of Holy Week
The final week of Lent, the week before Easter Sunday, is known as Holy Week.Many churches use this week to focus on the last days of Jesus’ life.Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and remembering Jesus’ triumphant entry in Jerusalem.Maundy Thursday often includes a variety of events, including the Last Supper, Jesus’ fervent prayer in the garden while His disciples slept, and Jesus’ betrayal.Good Friday is the day of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and burial.Holy Week ends with Holy Saturday, a day that Jesus remained in the tomb.
Holy Week is immediately followed by Easter Sunday, which celebrates Jesus defeating death and rising again, granting us all eternal salvation, if we chose to accept it.As with Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday is an extremely joyous occasion.
Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday
The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming seated on a donkey’s colt.” At first His disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.(John 12:12-16, NIV)
In this passage, Jesus fulfills the prophecy written in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus is announcing Himself as David’s descendant and as the Messiah.Jesus is the Savior for which they have been waiting!
Those cheering Jesus’ triumphant arrival would, only five days later, be cheering Jesus’ suffering, His pain, and demanding His death.
In most churches, this Sunday is known as Palm Sunday, for the waving of the palm branches as Jesus entered Jerusalem.Palm Sunday is often a celebratory Sunday, as it was on that Sunday in history.Jesus is celebrated as being the Messiah.Celebratory hymns such as “Hosanna” are often sung, with some churches waving palm leaves while singing.Many churches also find ways to incorporate children into the service with reenactments of Jesus entering Jerusalem and the waving of palm branches.
More and more churches are also beginning to place emphasis on the Passion of Jesus on this Sunday.Our English word of “passion” is derived from a Latin word meaning “to suffer.”Jesus suffered not only physical, but emotionally.In His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, we are shown that Jesus does not want to die, asking His Father for another way.In the end, Jesus chooses to do what is right and follow the will of His Father, no matter what may happen to Him.Our Lord did indeed suffer for us, so that we may spend eternity with Him.
Maundy Thursday/Holy Thursday
Several events happen rapidly in the days and hours before Jesus’ death, that it can be difficult to realize they occur within such a short time period of one another.
Following Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the tone and mood of the people began to change.Jesus preached serving, not ruling.Jesus spoke of honoring those who ruled over you, not overthrowing them.Jesus was not the type of Messiah the people, or the Pharisees expected.The Pharisees expected to be publically praised and rewarded for their work, instead Jesus publically criticized them for their hypocrisy.The people expected a Savior who would strictly honor the laws of the Old Testament and overthrow the secular government who did not follow those laws, instead Jesus healed on the Sabbath, breaking one of the most honored laws in the Torah.The Jews failed to understand that Jesus came to provide them with spiritual salvation, not political salvation.The Pharisees encouraged the people to turn away from the Man they had so recently cheered as being their Messiah.
On the Thursday after entering Jerusalem, Jesus and His disciples sat down to share their last meal together, likely a Passover meal.Before the meal, Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples, demonstrating, once again, His serving attitude.It was during the meal that Jesus revealed one of them would betray Him.After the meal, Jesus and His disciples, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus would pray until His arrest.
Maundy Thursday is often remembered by having a communion, just as Jesus did with His disciples during their final meal together.Maundy Thursday, however, gets its name from an event that happens later that night.Maundy is derived from the Latin word mandatum, which means, “to give” or “to order.”
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, ESV)
Jesus spoke this to His disciples on their journey to Gethsemane.Maundy is often translated as commandment, hence Maundy Thursday is the day which our Lord gave us new commandment.
Good Friday/Holy Friday
According to Jewish traditions, days are counted from sundown to sundown, therefore, Jesus’ arrest, trial, suffering, death, and burial all occurred on Friday. Many Christians struggle to understand why Good Friday is called Good Friday. After all, it is the day that our Lord and Savior was beaten, betrayed, and crucified. It is for exactly those reasons that it is called Good Friday.
Jesus came to Earth and took the form of man so that we could all be saved from our sins and spend eternity with God in Heaven.Jesus, a perfect, sinless man, chose to take the sins of the world, past, present, and future, upon His shoulders.“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do.’”(Luke 23:34a)Jesus was not only talking about those who crucified Him, He was also talking about you and me.He was asking God to forgive us of our sins, two thousand years before we made them.
Of course, Good Friday is not Good Friday on its own. Resurrection Sunday is what truly makes Good Friday good. Jesus defeated death and rose again, giving us a light to find our way through the darkness. Good Friday only became Good Friday after Jesus rose.
Churches that celebrate Good Friday often hold a special service emphasizing the pain that Jesus experienced, remembering His walk through Jerusalem to the site where He would be crucified, and remembering the crucifixion itself.It is a time of prayer and reflection.Communion is rarely served, as it is considered a day of mourning.
The colors associated with Good Friday are the colors associated with mourning, generally black. Is some churches, all pictures and crosses are covered in black. Coverings in the sanctuary are replaced with black ones. The black remains through Saturday, however they are removed and replaced with white coverings before Sunday morning services.
On Saturday, after His death, Jesus remained in the tomb in which He had been buried the day before, so as not to remain on the cross during the Jews Holy Day.The Bible does not tell us what Jesus did that day and theologians continue to debate His actions to this day.Those who were close to Jesus stayed at home and rested, as was expected on the Sabbath.
Saturday is the final day of Lent.It is traditionally a time of reflection and rest.Some denominations observe a strict fast of 40 hours before Easter morning.Some churches hold services that reflect on what the world would be like without the grace and salvation of God.Others remember friends and family members who have died before Christ’s return and those who have died sharing the word of Christ.