This week matters. Not because it will be filled with more COVID-19 news that will rock our world. Not because our hearts will be breaking with more lives lost. Not because of potentially increased ways the “new normal” of sheltering in place and social distancing will alter our lives.
No, the week will matter because of something bigger than anything that will trend on social media or newsfeeds.
The week will matter because it is Holy Week.
Or, at least, it should matter.
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. This is why taking time to mark Holy Week matters so much.
And what is Holy Week?
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 reenact the last scenes of the life of Christ in dramas.
There is an ancient text called The Pilgrimage of Egeria that describes a fourth century visit to Jerusalem. It was noted that people were already observing Holy Week by that point in history, so it dates back many, many centuries.
There are five days in this week that are set apart:
It began this past weekend with Palm Sunday, and then includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and 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 command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34, NIV). It’s why some churches actually have a feet-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 can 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 we are still talking about it, and marking it, more than 2,000 years later.
Each day rich with meaning, significance and spiritual admonishment.
Welcome to Holy Week,
... still the most important headlines of our day.
James Emery White
On Holy Week, and the individual days, see The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church; the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition; and the Encyclopedia of Christianity.