When I was younger, the thing that most defined Easter was coloring eggs the day before. On the Saturday before Easter, my mother boiled dozens of eggs. I dropped tablets of concentrated color into pungent white vinegar and listened to the bubbling and fizzing. The practice of dying eggs for Easter was both art and science for me. I experimented with leaving the eggs in the colored liquid for different lengths of time, I blended colors, and I created layers of color along the shells. I focused all my attention on the eggs.
I remember going to church on the days leading up to that Saturday, but those services did not mean much to me besides being forced to sit in a pew for a few extra uncomfortable hours. I knew that beyond those hours were colored eggs and Easter candy; the additional services were a small price to pay for such a reward.
Today I no longer color eggs in preparation for Easter, and those worship services on Thursday and Friday are not just a few boring hours that I need to sit through in order to get candy. They have come to be a significant part of my life and faith. They constitute what is for me, and for Christians around the world, a holy week.
This Sunday, we will remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus will once again ride atop a donkey as he approaches that ancient walled city. We will stand with the crowds who wave palm branches and spread their cloaks on the road, joining our voices as we shout, “Hosanna in the highest!” Many people will exit their pew on Palm Sunday and will not return until the following week, Easter Sunday, when we will all stand and shout, “The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!”
So much transpires between those two Sundays. We mark events that are crucial to experience and try to understand if we are to appreciate Easter Sunday fully. The reality is there is no resurrection (Easter) without passion (suffering and death). The focus of our worship during Holy Week enables us to make the journey from the jubilant crowds on Palm Sunday to the empty tomb on Easter morning.
During Holy Week, the Revised Common Lectionary provides guidance for daily readings that help Christians devote themselves to scripture readings focused on the Jesus’ passion from the Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament, and Gospels. This chart serves as a guide for the daily readings for Holy Week.
On this day, Christians around the world remember the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples. Worship typically focuses on foot washing, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, or the fervent prayers Jesus offered in Gethsemane prior to his arrest. Another tradition is called Tenebrae. During a Tenebrae service, people worship in a dimly lit sanctuary. At certain times during the service, candles are extinguished, and the service ends in darkness, signifying the sorrow and mourning of the next two days. Many churches also strip the sanctuary at this time, removing paraments, furniture, and other settings from the sanctuary, symbolizing desolation and abandonment. Maundy Thursday marks Jesus’ final hours of freedom before his arrest, and they reveal some of his most intimate and vulnerable moments. The term Maundy comes from the Latin word for mandate, because in these hours Jesus gave his followers a new commandment: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
Many traditions exist that mark the Friday of Holy Week. On this day, Jesus was crucified and died upon the cross. He would have been buried before sunset, which marked the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. Christian worship takes different forms on Good Friday. Some churches, like ours, gather for worship at noon, the hour we mark Jesus’ crucifixion. While our worship service lasts an hour, some churches worship for three, ending at 3:00 p.m. to mark the hour of Christ’s death. Often times, these services focus on the last seven sayings of Jesus, uttered during his final hours. Many churches also rehearse the Stations of the Cross, a series of fourteen events that guide pilgrims along Christ’s journey from Pilate’s palace to Golgotha. Good Friday is sometimes observed with fasting and prayer.
While popular culture turned Easter into a secular holiday featuring bunnies, eggs, and candy, it remains the most important observance in Christianity. Christians cannot truly appreciate Easter Sunday, though, without experiencing the pain, anguish, and suffering Jesus experienced in his final days. At some point, all Christians must put aside their colored eggs and turn their attention to the events that mark Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Living a holy week is the only way we can truly and joyfully stand at the empty tomb and fully appreciate what it means to declare, “The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!” We invite you to worship with us during this Holy Week.