Christians are now remembering those climactic, universe-rattling days, otherwise known as Holy Week. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and reaches its zenith in the three days of the Easter Triduum (the period including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday). It’s a week of focused worship.
We can focus in several ways. One is to read through the biblical passages around which this week circulates. While we must beware of wooden harmonies, this link helps. Another is to join the Church at large and recall the various events traditionally assigned to each day of the week:
- Palm Sunday: We just celebrated this event on Sunday, which is sometimes called “Passion Sunday.” Jesus arrived in Jerusalem as a king, but he did not bring violence. Riding on a beast of burden signaled that he was the Prince of Peace.
- Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday: Jesus drove out the money-changers from the temple and cursed a barren fig tree on Monday; He taught all day on Tuesday and issued his woes upon the Pharisees; Judas betrayed him on Wednesday (a day traditionally known as “Spy Wednesday”) and Christ was anointed with oil. A careful reading of all the passages shows that Jesus and his disciples occupied the temple. The authorities would have interpreted that as a dangerous, rebellious act. Read all about it here. Suffice it to say that Jesus was not always meek and mild.
- Maundy Thursday: We remember Jesus’s Last Supper with his disciples, a ceremony he commanded for succeeding generations (the meaning of “Maundy” is “command”).
- Good Friday: We remember the crucifixion. Good Friday is good because Jesus died for the sins of the world, providing salvation for those who accept it. Communion is not offered in most liturgical churches; much is draped in black (although the Catholics changed the Good Friday color to red in 1970); and there are the processions of the Stations of the Cross.
- Holy Saturday: Also known as the “Great Sabbath” or “Black Saturday” or “Easter Eve.” The Bible doesn’t give us much information on the location of Christ’s spirit between his bodily death and resurrection. Traditional creeds say he “descended into Hell,” with “Hell” being a translation of Hades. Some say such a doctrine has no biblical foundation. I’m not sure. First Peter 3:18-20 is tantalizing: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” But Peter veers off before fully explaining what he meant. The very concept of Christ entering Hell seems revolting, but that’s the point: The one person who did not deserve to suffer and die did so on our behalf. The whole thing is revolting, in a sense. See 1 Corinthians 1:23 and Galatians 5:11. The cross is a “scandal.”
- Easter Sunday: Hallelujah! The Lord has risen. He has risen indeed.
A final word: Don’t worry about the minor differences among the Scriptures of Holy Week. Some seem to fret and worry and perform great feats to harmonize them. Those worries only arise when we make the same demands of the Bible as an engineer would of a bridge: everything must fit lest the bridge topple into the bay. Don’t panic. The Bible is more like a painting and God is the artist. A few odd brush strokes make it more interesting.