Holy Week… So What?

Dr. James Emery White, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Holy Week… So What?

This weekend is known as Palm Sunday weekend.

So what?

It’s a fair question. In our culture, the significance of sacred days and times has long been forgotten. We live our lives on the surface of frenetic activity, seldom adding depth to any given moment. We surf and skim over a body of information, but rarely dive into the depths of knowledge, much less wisdom. 

There are no “thin times,” as the ancient Celts would have noted; times when the separation between the eternal and the temporal was thin enough to walk the soul between both worlds.

But without that sensibility, we are lesser people.

So here’s the “so what.”

Palm Sunday is the traditional beginning of what has been known throughout Christian history as Holy Week, a week designed to focus our attention on the “passion,” or suffering, of Christ.

The story of Christ (a title meaning “messiah”) is the story of God Himself coming to earth in the form of a human being, a man named Jesus, living the perfect, sinless life and then willingly going to the cross in order to die for the sins of the world.

The tradition of Holy Week began when Christians making pilgrimages to Jerusalem had a natural desire to re-enact the last scenes of the life of Christ in dramas.

There is an ancient text called The Pilgrimage of Egeria which describes a fourth-century visit to Jerusalem.  It was noted that people were already observing Holy Week by this point in history, so it dates back many, many centuries.

There are five days in this week that are set apart:

It begins this weekend with Palm Sunday, and then includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and then Easter Sunday.

Maundy Thursday denotes when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet during what is known as the Last Supper on the night He was betrayed. 

The word “Maundy” is built off of the Latin word for “command;” when Jesus washed their feet, He said, “A new commandment I give you – love one another as I have loved you.” It’s why some churches actually have a foot-washing ceremony or service on Maundy Thursday.

Good Friday is the day we mark the anniversary of when Jesus was crucified. I know; the word “good” is a misnomer. 

Or is it? 

Sin is not good. Suffering is not good. But what Jesus did for us, what His death accomplished on our behalf – that was good. Good because He took on our sins, and then hung in our place, paying the price for our sins so that we could be forgiven.

Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday, marks the time of Jesus in the tomb. To be honest, little is associated with this day, though it is named. Perhaps because few know what to do with the obscure verses Peter offers surrounding Jesus’ descending into the depths of hell. The medievalists called it the “harrowing of hell,” and that is perhaps its fullest sense. 

What is certain is that it was a victory lap.

And then, of course, comes Easter Sunday when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. A day that so altered human history that we are still talking of it, and marking it, over 2,000 years later.

Each day rich with meaning, significance, and spiritual admonishment.

But it all begins this weekend, with Palm Sunday, the day of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

From the gospel of Mark:

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethpage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ”


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