What is Holy Week?
In the church calendar, Holy Week is the week preceding Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday. The week includes several appointed days of special prayer and scripture reading, all focusing on the final week of Jesus’s life before His glorious resurrection on Easter.
During this week, we celebrate His majesty as King on Palm Sunday, waving palm branches in memory of His journey into Jerusalem.
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:12-15 ESV)
After Jesus came into Jerusalem, He met with His disciples for a final meal together, the Passover meal, blessing the bread and the wine. This Last Supper is celebrated on Maundy Thursday. During this meal, Jesus used the bread and wine of Passover to describe His gift of life to them; it is also where we get the sacrament of Communion or the Holy Eucharist:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-20 ESV)
Maundy Thursday is also celebrated, often, by the tradition of foot washing. On the same night of the Last Supper, Jesus took time to wash the feet of His disciples. Seems a little strange, huh? During Jesus’s time, ceremonial foot washing was a way symbolize humility and blessing. By washing the feet of His friends, Jesus was showing them how to humbly serve and love others:
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:12-17 ESV)
The final day before Easter is the reverent and humbling day of Good Friday: the day when Jesus died on the cross. On Good Friday, we walk with Jesus from the city to the hillside where He was crucified. With a spirit of sadness and veneration, we read the scriptures together that lead Christ to the cross, for all people, to save us from our sin and bring us with mercy, back to God.
And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull) … And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:33-37 ESV)
The evening ends with Christ’s death:
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:46-47 ESV)
We leave Good Friday in somber reflection of Christ’s sacrifice. We carry this reflection to Easter, in hopefulness that Christ will rise from the dead and from the tomb on Easter morning.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
Holy Week culminates in the glorious resurrection of Christ on Easter. On Easter Sunday, we go to the tomb of Jesus and see that it is empty. He has risen, just as he said he would!
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (Luke 24:1-3 ESV)
We sing joyful and hopeful songs, celebrating together Jesus’s glorious majesty and the promise of new life we have through His gift.
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:45-49 ESV)