If man had his way, the plan of redemption would be an endless and bloody conflict. In reality, salvation was bought not by Jesus’ fist, but by His nail-pierced hands; not by muscle but by love; not by vengeance but by forgiveness; not by force but by sacrifice. Jesus Christ our Lord surrendered in order that He might win; He destroyed His enemies by dying for them and conquered death by allowing death to conquer Him.”
― A.W. Tozer
What is Holy Week?
Holy Week is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. This is the last week of Lent, where we remember the last week of Jesus’ life on Earth.
We begin with Palm Sunday, where we remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19). Most Palm Sunday services begin with what is called “the Procession of the Palms,” where the congregation are given, and hold, palm branches as they make their way into the church to begin the service. You may have heard Palm Sunday referred to as Passion Sunday. That is because we are on the very cusp of Christ’s “passion week,” where God takes the brokenness of his people onto his own self, in Jesus, and, by doing so, makes all things new.
The significance of Palm Sunday is the transformation that takes place before us. Lent is now behind us, and we look forward to the rest of Holy Week, where everything is going to change. We begin with the reminder and audible cries of “Hosanna!” Soon, these cries will turn from, “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!”
And this transition, from celebration and excitement to the bloodthirsty cries of crucifixion and death, is how we begin Holy Week. Jurgen Moltmann reminds us, “At the centre of Christian faith is the history of Christ. At the centre of the history of Christ is his passion and his death on the cross” (The Way of Jesus Christ, 151).
This is an ominous beginning, but we can take heart because we know what’s coming. There will be resurrection. Yet, we must remember, there is no resurrection without first having death.
Remembering the Last Night
We make our way living out Holy Week and find ourselves at Maundy Thursday. On this night, we reenact the last meal that Jesus shared with those who were closest to him, his disciples. Most Maundy Thursday services will recall Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. In this very act, and in participating in such an act ourselves, we are able to realize that our own spiritual maturity begins when we love without expecting anything in return. In fact, we might find ourselves praying, as St. Francis did, that God would “grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.” As we retell and remember the story of Jesus’ last night with his disciples, we are able to “make real once again God’s love for us and to illustrate how we are to love” (A Pilgrim People, 16).
Each year on Maundy Thursday, we remember that we are all called to be a community of love and embody the story we tell to the world. In breaking bread together, we are reminded of the ultimate Sacrifice.
God with Us
We wake up the next day to Good Friday. This is the day we remember all of the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion. The story of Good Friday brings us to the reality of suffering in our own lives and the lives of those around us. Yet, it reveals to us that, even in our suffering, we are not alone. Remember when Isaiah foretold Jesus’ coming, saying that he would be called Immanuel, God with us? God is with us. He put on flesh to be with us. He gave us his Spirit to be not only with us, but living inside of us. That means that even in death, suffering, pain, mourning, or hurting, God is still with us. So Good Friday may be a day of sorrow, but it is not a day of hopelessness.
On Good Friday we remember Jesus’ death, but we are reminded of what this death allows us to see: his sacrificial love for us. In the death of Jesus, God was able to free the world from the stronghold of evil. John H. Westerhoff III shares with us, Good Friday “is the story of the death of Jesus from God’s perspective; it is the victory of God not in spite of death but by and through death. The cross has become the tree of life.”
“Death is not the end.”
The next day, Holy Saturday, is a time of solitude and sabbath. It is a chance for us to meditate on the time that Jesus was dead and buried. This Saturday is one of anticipation, because we know the end of the story. We know that death is not the end. We know that, soon, Jesus is walking out of that tomb. Yet, we wait with anticipation and longing. We await the coming of the third day where our true hope is found.
The story continues. Three words ring in our ears, playing over and over again in our minds, bringing warmth to our cold and weary hearts: Christ is risen!
On this day, everything that we believe about God is at stake. Our very faith hinges on this very day. If Christ did not rise, then we are still lost and bound for death. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead! The story of Easter is the story of how God acted on behalf of his creation. On Easter, God made everything new and redeemed all things.
A New Creation
Because of Easter, you and I are new people living in a new world. We fell away from what we intended to be, as beloved daughters and sons created to bear the image God. Yet, on Easter, our image was restored. We have been mended back together, and our broken relationship with God has been made right again. This does not mean that evil no longer exists, for it does. However, its power is no longer final. We are living in the already but not yet, where all is now new, and yet God is continuing to restore all things. And this is what we come together to celebrate on Easter Sunday: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.