Meaning in Holy Week
With 2 billion faithful, Christianity is the world’s largest and most wide-spread faith. The gospel revealed at the Sermon on the Mount has turned out to be durable, even in the clumsy hands of us mortals. Though a bit battered, it has survived two millennia and transformed the world. Christianity brought a new standard of morality, increased sanctity of life, and an end to slavery. In the Dark Ages, religious monasteries preserved western civilization. The university system, beginning with the University of Bologna in 1088, grew out of monastic and cathedral schools. The universities in turn spawned the scientific revolution, mainly led by devout Christians seeking to understand the work of God. Education, once the privilege of the elite, became universal, democracy was founded, and women gained civil rights. Christianity, so often linked to traditional values, is arguably the greatest transformative force in human history.
It is interesting to view Holy Week—from the upcoming Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday—in light of this world change. We can leave it to the good pastors of our town to explain gospel theology, but who isn’t moved by its power? The most profound day of the week, for me, is Holy Thursday. This is the day of the dinner in the upper room, the sharing of bread and wine in the first sacramental communion. From this evening comes the tradition of the washing of feet; Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit, to teach, comfort and inspire; and of the great commandment to love one another as He loves us. Finally, there was the night visit to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ fervent prayer to His Father, and incalculable suffering as He took upon himself the ills of mankind. In Holy Week, the glory of God is exposed to all who can see.
Because the Jewish Passover seder feast usually falls just before Easter, the two major religious holidays have a shared history. Jesus, in fact, had come to Jerusalem for Passover. Jews observe Passover by commandment—it celebrates Moses leading the Jewish people out of Egyptian enslavement about 1300 BC. In the original Passover, the last of 10 plagues visited upon the Egyptians, the first-born male of each home died. Israelite families were “passed over” if the blood of a lamb was brushed over their door. Passover and Holy Week each have great religious significance.
I have an unforgettable image of a long-ago Holy Week—Semana Santa—procession in Guatemala City. Large crowds lined the streets. Women in black shawls, rosary beads in hand, recited prayers. Ornate floats representing the Stations of the Cross were carried on the shoulders of hundreds of men, each dressed in purple. Priests preceded the floats swinging smoking incense canisters. A wooden cross was carried by one wearing a crown of thorns. The setting sun shone down the darkening street, adding drama to the scene. There was a sense of timeless wonder. We can thank the Catholic Church for making Holy Week paramount.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday; Easter Sunday follows. In every Christian chapel ministers will stand on their tiptoes to do justice to the day. Be there, be part of it. Seek the glory of God. It will bring greater meaning to your life.
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He is the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” He can be reached at [email protected]
Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):
Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.
Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.
Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.
First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.
ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.
Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.
Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.
Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.
United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.
St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.
St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8 & 10:30 a.m.
Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.