What is Holy Week?


By Beth Pinney, Special to the Independent

Holy Week, with its sacred mysteries, rites and symbols, is the last week of Lent. It begins with Palm Sunday, celebrated this year on April 17.  The tradition of observing the events of Holy Week began in Jerusalem in the earliest days of the church when Christians traveled to Jerusalem at Passover to reenact the events of the week that led up to the Resurrection.

Palm Sunday commemorates the time when Jesus’s followers joyfully hailed him as their king, waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna,” as he entered Jerusalem. Christian churches decorate their sanctuaries with palm fronds, and distribute palms to congregants to remind them that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, King of Israel.

On Maundy Thursday, Christians remember the last evening in the upper room when Jesus washed his followers’ feet in an act of humility sometimes reenacted in Christian churches on Holy Thursday. He shared a Passover meal with his disciples and broke bread and shared wine with his disciples, instructing them to do the same, and to “love one another, as he loved them.”

This “Last Supper,” marks the beginning of Christian rites of Holy Communion, or Eucharist. Passover then and now celebrates the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery and into the Promised Land. After dinner, Jesus and a few of his closest disciples retired to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas betrayed him with a kiss to identify Jesus to the authorities. He was arrested, tried before Pilate, and sentenced to death.

On Good Friday, Christians meditate on Jesus’s final words at the cross. The Biblical scenes are reflected upon as Jesus, en route to Golgotha, carried the cross on which he was hung between two accused criminals. After three hours, Jesus died and was buried and sealed in a borrowed tomb.

Holy Week services culminate Easter Sunday, April 24.  Easter joyfully celebrates Jesus’s resurrection from the dead and appearances where he showed his wounds to “doubting Thomas” and other much-loved followers. After three days, on the first day of the next week, Jesus rose from the grave according to Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-3, Luke 23:56-24:3.

Christians solemnly remember the events of Holy Week, and identify with Jesus’s life, teaching and death, believing that Jesus did not face pain, suffering, or death to exempt his followers from life’s difficulties. Instead, Jesus experienced short-lived honor and celebration, followed by betrayal, humiliation, anguish, and death upon the cross offering dignity and hope to those who suffer. No tragedy, not even death, can overwhelm God’s providence, love, and grace. Even though the cross was the instrument of Christ’s death, it also represents his victory over it. Christians see it as “good” because out of the tragedy of Christ’s suffering comes resurrection life. As Romans 5:8 states, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”


Beth Pinney is a member of Laguna Presbyterian Church.

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