Understanding Holy Week

By Amelia Hamilton Published on March 28, 2015

This Sunday begins Holy Week. During this week, which is also known as Passiontide, from Palm Sunday to Easter, we commemorate the Passion of Christ. While it is a solemn week as we remember the suffering of Jesus, we also look forward to the joy of his resurrection on Easter. Let’s take a look at what these different days mean for Christians.

Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, commemorates the day Jesus arrived triumphantly in Jerusalem. He was greeted with joy as the Messianic king, and people waved palm branches and placed them in his path. In many churches, congregants will be given palms at this service, a tradition going back to fourth century Jerusalem, when Palm Sunday was marked by a procession of the faithful with palm branches. Modern Christians will take the palms home to be displayed in places of prayer or around the home, to be returned to the church before Lent the following year. The palms will then be burned, and the ashes used for Ash Wednesday services.

The next three holy days, referred to as the “triduum,” are Maundy Thursday (sometimes known as Holy Thursday), Good Friday and Holy Saturday. On Maundy Thursday, we remember the Last Supper, when Jesus had a meal with those who had served him. On that night, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, an act of humility. In remembrance, many churches provide a Eucharist for this service, and some also have a ceremony of foot washing for the congregation. In the spirit of sharing a meal in fellowship, it is not uncommon for a church to have a potluck or other meal after services. Hours after Jesus shared this meal with his disciples, he was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, setting the stage for Jesus’ crucifixion the following day.

It is the crucifixion that we remember on Good Friday. These services remember the suffering of Jesus, so it is not traditional to celebrate with a Eucharist. Instead, many churches have a “Stations of the Cross” service, where congregants look at various events in Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, crucifixion and death. It’s important to remember what he suffered to save the world from sin, and this service walks us through these events. On the day after Jesus’ death, Jesus rested in the tomb. This is what we remember on Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is the day before Easter Sunday. While some churches hold regular services, many suspend them, waiting for an Easter Vigil on Saturday night. This is a time of reflection and waiting for the savior to arise.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord with music and eucharist. It is the most important day in the Christian year, the day when our sins were wiped clean. That is reason for celebration indeed!

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