What is Holy Week? In most churches throughout the world the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday is called Holy Week. Why do we call this week Holy? I sometimes wonder because the events of the week lead up to Jesus’ death on a cross. It is a week filled with betrayal and desertion, suffering and abuse, and, finally, the death of an innocent who cries aloud in despair.
So why in the world has the Church decided to call these days “Holy”?
The answer is that in this week God draws near to us, God takes on our lot and our life that so that we might know that wherever we go, whatever we do, whatever is done to us – God in Jesus understands and identifies with us.
We begin with Palm Sunday which was a celebration. But Jesus’ triumphal entry wasn’t a first-century version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was a meant as a statement. Jesus rode into town as a returning king and the crowds greeted him with hosannas and praise. They expect him to overthrow the Romans. And the Romans take note. This helps to explain why, he was crucified. It wasn’t just an accident. It wasn’t because he simply offended the religious authorities of the day. It was because he proclaimed another kingdom – the kingdom of God – and called people to give their allegiance to this kingdom first. He was a threat.
In fact, Jesus did come as God’s Messiah and there was a “regime change.” But they misunderstood what that meant, the change came through the love of God poured out upon the world in a way that dissolved all the things we use to find a differences in one another to form a single humanity, and the prayer is that one day we can fully live into that humanity given to us by God.
Thursday of Holy Week is called “Maundy Thursday.” The name “Maundy” comes from the Latin “mandatum,” or “command.”
“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.” Jesus, speaking to his disciples, continues, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
Jesus says these words during his final meal with his disciples. For this reason, worship on Maundy Thursday is almost always a communion service and is often used as an occasional on which to reflect on the nature and import of the Lord’s Supper.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples in an unusual display of service, and then commands them to do the same. Discipleship, is about service, about caring for others. And having set this example for them, he adds a new commandment: to love one another.
Jesus command his disciples – then and now – to act in a loving way. To care for and serve each other as he has cared for and served them. This kind of love is more about behavior than emotion, to behave in a way that honors God and your neighbor.
The day on which Jesus was crucified, nailed to a wooden cross until he died is called “Good Friday.” It is the day nearly two thousand years later on which we remember his suffering. It is the day we read the story of his trial, sentencing, crucifixion, and death. It is the day we hear of how all of his companions and friends either betrayed, denied, or abandoned him.
How can this day be good?
Because, we confess, that in and through Jesus’ life and death God acted in a unique way to save the world. For this reason, we make bold claims to call this awful day Good.
But our questions typically don’t stop there. We also want to know how? How, did Jesus’ death make such a difference? Why did Jesus have to die in the first place?
Once you ask those questions, you are venturing into territory described by theologians as theories of “atonement.” The one word in theology that comes from English, atonement means just what it describes: at-one-ment, the process by which God restores our broken relationship with God and makes us one again.
We leave worship in a somber mood, reflecting on the life, ministry and transformation of Jesus. We begin to understand the impact this one person has had on so many around the world and throughout time.
Finally we arrive on Easter Sunday where we receive in Christ’s resurrection the promise that while many dark and difficult things come into our life on our journey, none of them are more powerful than the abundant life God offers us in Christ. No fear or loss or disappointment or suffering or hate or even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing is more powerful than the life and love we see displayed in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
In the cross we receive the promise that wherever life may take us, Jesus has already been there, and in the resurrection we receive the promise that where Jesus is now, we will one day also be. And that’s why we call this week holy.
If you want to learn more about holy week and celebrate these days you care invited to come to Faith Lutheran Church on April 9th for Palm Sunday worship at 9:00 or 11:00 am. April 13th for Maunday Thursday worship, April 14th for Good Friday worship and the celebration of Easter at the Easter Vigil on Saturday April 15th at 7:00 pm and Easter Sunday morning at 9:00 or 11:00 am. Have a blessed Holy Week.