Holy Week: Journey to the Cross
Easter will look a little different this year, but current events can’t take away from the significance, nor the power, of what our Savior has accomplished for us. So this week we want to virtually celebrate Holy Week leading up to Resurrection Sunday. We’ll kick off the week by sharing the purpose and meaning behind Holy Week and what each day represents, and culminate the week into a day of reflection on Good Friday and celebration on Resurrection Sunday.
What is Holy Week?
Some call it Holy Week, some call it Passion Week. Whatever your flavor, this week represents the most significant week in history. It’s the week Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to bear the weight of the sins of the world so that all who believe in Him would not perish but receive everlasting life (John 3:16). Sometimes we hear those words so often that the reality of their impact aren’t felt. We’ve heard about salvation so much, that it’s become rote. But what Christ accomplished for us was no small feat. In fact, it was an impossible task that no man on earth or being in heaven could have ever accomplished for us (Romans 3:9-24; Revelations 5). And that’s what the celebration of this week is all about: slowing down to reflect upon and remember Christ’s death on the cross and all of its implications for our lives and the lives of the whole world.
How do we celebrate Holy Week?
There are many traditional ways to celebrate and recognize Holy Week. Many congregations around the world gather to attend services focused on Christ’s journey to Jerusalem, crucifixion and resurrection; participate in Holy Communion, wash one another’s feet, and enjoy feasts similar to The Last Supper.
This week we’ll provide you with a series of ways you can celebrate each day at home. But first, it’s important to know what happened during this very special week.
Palm Sunday represents the first day of Holy Week and it’s the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem humbly riding on a donkey and was met with shouts of praise from the multitudes and a path laid in clothing and palm leaves (hence “Palm” Sunday).
Palm Sunday represents the fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, confirming that Jesus was the promised Christ who would bring righteousness and salvation to the world.
Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy/Spy Wednesday
There are varying accounts in the Gospel of what specifically occurred, and when it occurred, during the next three days of Holy Week. But during Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy or Spy Wednesday a lot of activity occurred. Jesus cleared the temple of God by turning over tables and driving out those who bought and sold. He cursed a fig tree that had leaves indicating it bore fruit but had no actual fruit on its tree. He also debated and rebuked the Pharisees and the Sadducees, prophesied the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, and was anointed by women in preparation for His burial.
These days are significant because during them Jesus provided final instruction, fulfilled prophecy, and prepared to take on the sins of the world. This is also the time in which Judas betrayed Jesus and set a snare for Him with a kiss, and why some recognize Wednesday as ‘Spy’ Wednesday.
‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment. In this context, it references John 13:34 when Jesus, in the Upper Room during the Last Supper, said to the disciples: ‘A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Maundy Thursday commemorates the time that Jesus spent with His disciples during the Last Supper instructing them, communing with them, washing their feet, and encouraging them.
Good Friday was a day of great anguish and sorrow. It was the day that Jesus was falsely accused, placed on trial, beaten and bled for us, crucified on the cross with thieves and buried after death. Many people may wonder why this day is called good. Although it wasn’t evident at the time, this was the greatest gift ever given to mankind. Romans 5:8 tells us,
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”
Scripture tells us that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory (the infinite holy and perfect, image, character and beauty) of God (Romans 3:23). In Christ’s death we receive pardon for every sin, every fault, every act and motive of unrighteousness that we could never receive pardon from with our own efforts. So Good Friday is good because it begins the fulfillment of the good news of our salvation as laid out in scripture (Luke 4:17-21; Isaiah 49:6, 8-9; Isaiah 61:1-3).
Scripture doesn’t tell us much about what occurred between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. We can gather from the little that we are told that this must have been a time of great unrest. Matthew 27:62-66 tells us that the Pharisees requested Jesus’ tomb be sealed in case his disciples came to steal him away and deceive the people of His resurrection. And we can only imagine the immense grief and confusion the disciples were experiencing after witnessing the loss of their Master. Although there’s debate about what was occurring with Jesus during that time, traditionally this day has been commemorated with solemn reflection and prayer.
Resurrection Sunday (or Easter as many are familiar) is the most recognizable day of this week, for it represents the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Although it’s not considered part of Holy Week, all of Holy Week’s contemplative activities are meant to bring us to this celebratory day that marks the hope of the world made manifest. Jesus’s resurrection meant the restoration of all things that were lost, all hope that was gone. His resurrection represents the greatest promise we could receive from heaven, and the greatest representation of love ever seen on earth. Without the resurrection of Christ, our lives would be lived in vain. And without the life and death of Christ, this resurrection could never have happened.
The importance of Holy Week is not just to observe traditions, but to reignite the Passion of Christ within our hearts.
If you’re interested in learning more about the timeline of Holy Week, visit this website which provides scriptural references and a map of Jerusalem during Holy Week.
Check back here daily for a new post providing study and celebration resources for each day of the week.