The Whole of Holy Week
April 10, 2019
Five different worship services in 7 days? Seriously?
Is it worth it?
When we take each step of the journey through Holy Week, we immerse ourselves in the story of the saving acts of Jesus. We experience the story of our salvation in “real” time…and it makes a difference.
Many churches around us are advertising their Easter worship opportunities – the same service running on repeat on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. One stop for the whole story in 55 minutes or less.
I get the attraction – and the efficiency of it all.
But sometimes we need pace and pause. The journey through the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry feels like one of those times. We join the countless Christians who have, from the very first years after Jesus’ resurrection, marked the hours and days of the Whole of Holy Week.
We begin on Palm Sunday. In recent decades, it has also been called Passion Sunday, because of the newer tradition of reading the Passion Story (the story of Jesus’ suffering and death) in worship. I like to think of this as an entry point and an overture:
- An Entry Point into Holy Week, we wave Palms and shout “Hosanna” remembering the triumphal entry of Jesus – welcomed as King – to Jerusalem.
- An Overture because – as happens in the overture that precedes a musical theater performance, we are introduced to the themes and sounds of the week. We are reminded that voices calling “Hosanna!” will soon enough shout “Crucify Him!”
Maundy Thursday – We enter the upper room. “Maundy” comes from the Latin “Mandatum” or mandate (command). This is when Jesus gave his disciples, and us, a new command – to love one another as he has loved them. Jesus illustrated that love by washing their feet. While some churches continue the foot-washing tradition, we have moved to a hand-washing…which powerfully captures the nature of Jesus’ mandate. We also focus on the table, where Jesus first offered bread and cup as his body and blood…
Good Friday – On this holy night, we gather at the foot of the cross. We linger here. It might be said that the full nature of Easter’s good news cannot be received without spending time in the shadow of the cross, considering the depth of our sin. The traditional Service of Tennebrae marks growing darkness as candles are extinguished one by one until the Christ Candle is “buried” at the close of the service. Darkness. Silence. This night drives home the sacrifice Christ makes on our behalf.
Easter Vigil – On Saturday night, we feel the shift. We are on our way from darkness to light, from death to life! Centuries ago, this was the night on which all baptisms were conducted; a reminder that in our baptism we move, with Christ, from death to life. Stories of promise are joined with baptismal renewal and Holy Communion at the Vigil.
Finally, Easter Sunday bursts forth with the scent of lilies, the sound of brass instruments, and the good news that the grave is opened and empty…Jesus lives and so do we!
When a baseball player hits a single, double, triple and homerun in the same game, we say he has hit for the cycle.
Last year, Christ the Savior member Matt Huffer pulled me aside at the Easter Vigil, having attended all the Holy Week Services, and proudly proclaimed that he had “hit for the cycle” of Holy Week! An accomplishment indeed! The whole of Holy Week draws us deeper into the story of salvation. Easter morning shines brighter when we’ve experienced the darkness of the cross, and all that led to it.
Hope you’ll join us for the journey through the Whole of Holy Week this year!