With Palm Sunday out of the way, we can finally celebrate Easter! But what about Holy Week?
Holy Week is the most important week of the year and leads us up to Easter. There has been a lack of emphasis within churches for our Christian tradition and beliefs, despite the denomination you worship. As many Christians claim the name of Jesus and call him Savior in growing, where is the theology and authority that teaches the importance of what it means to be a Christian?
Fundamental teachings within the church, like Holy Week, go too unnoticed. People tend to celebrate and wave palm branches on Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ arrival into the City of Jerusalem and skip right to Easter a week later, but Holy Week is just as important. Holy Week is the commemoration of the events that lead to the cross and is often difficult and unpleasant to talk about, but it’s important that we do.
There are three main services in Holy Week to signify events that make up Holy Week called the Paschal Triduum, which literally mean, “three days of Easter.”
The first service is Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the Last Supper. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word, mandatum, or commandment. The name comes from the Latin translation of the Gospel according to Saint John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” This is where Jesus gives us a single new commandment to follow. Traditionally, the Maundy Thursday service is a time of remembering this new commandment through the acts of the Last Supper by celebrating Holy Communion and foot-washing, as Jesus did for his disciples.
The second service is Good Friday, which is the day Christians recognize the crucifixion and death of Jesus. It seems inappropriate to name the day of the Savior’s crucifixion “good,” but the word was originally used to mean “pious” or “holy” in older English.
Christians celebrate this event by participating in a service of Tenebrae, or shadows. The name comes from the systematic extinguishing of candles as the crucifixion, or passion story is read. People read of Christ’s death, the extinguishing of candles leading to darkness, hymns that remind them of Christ’s suffering, and noises and sounds that emulate the pain of death and a world without the light of Christ.
Each service varies, but traditionally Good Friday is celebrated in a similar fashion, depending on denomination.
The third and final service of Holy Week is less celebrated by modern churches, but is one of the earliest Christian services. This service is called the Easter Vigil and encompasses the entire covenant God made with man about salvation.
This vigil, or service, is celebrated by lighting and blessing a new fire as it symbolizes the fire of resurrection. Next, stories of salvation from the Old and New Testaments are read, which leads in to the final part of the vigil. At the end of the vigil, Christians remember their baptism and share in communion together. Traditionally, this is where new members of the church would join, but that practice has been weakened by churches allowing baptisms and membership vows all year.
These Holy Week services help us remember Jesus’ passion, or suffering, as we lead up to Easter. It is important for Christians to celebrate, participate, and remember Holy Week because it is the foundation of Christianity. Without the suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus would have been nothing more than a prophet, and Christianity would not exist.
As we enter Holy Week, I encourage you to dive deep into the story of Easter, the recognition of Holy Week and the importance of passion.