Holy Week is the seven-day period beginning on Palm Sunday and leading up to Resurrection Sunday (Easter Day). Holy Week is also called Passion Week, although this name is sometimes used for the week before Palm Sunday as well. Passion comes from the Latin word for suffering, so Passion Week literally means “suffering week.” Each day helps us remember the events that happened in Jerusalem leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection—the most extraordinary thing to ever occur in human history. As we count the days toward each event, we hope, mourn, and rejoice along with the followers of Jesus over two thousand years ago.
On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem several days before the Passover celebration would take place. When He entered the city, crowds waved palm branches and welcomed Him as the Messiah (or Anointed One). Palm Sunday is a bittersweet day because while the Jewish people in Jerusalem recognized Jesus as the savior prophesied to come, they misunderstood what He was there to do. Before the week was over, the crowd that cheered Him as king would cry out for His death. Read about Jesus entering Jerusalem in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19.
Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week come in-between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday. These are days that we can review the events that happened between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and His arrest. During this time, Jesus taught every day, He drove the money changers and vendors out of the Temple (Matt. 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-48), and a woman anointed Him with perfume at a home in Bethany (Matt. 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-11, John 12:1-11). (Note: in John’s gospel, the anointing occurs before Jesus enters Jerusalem.)
On Thursday (known as Maundy Thursday), Jesus and the disciples celebrated Passover, and Jesus instituted the first occurrence of the Lord’s Supper, which we will continue until He comes back again. Maundy is a word derived from a Latin term meaning commandment. This term is used because, in John 13, Jesus gives a “new commandment” to His disciples while washing their feet on the night of Passover. Jesus used this last evening with His disciples to encourage them, lay down teachings they could rely on once He was gone, and spend time in prayer before the ordeal He knew He was about to face. On Thursday evening, things started to get darker, leading right into the solemn events of Good Friday. On this night, Judas turned Jesus in to the authorities, Jesus was arrested, and Peter denied knowing Him. Read about these events in Matthew 26:17-75, Mark 14:12- 72, Luke 22:7-65, and John 13:1-17, 18:1-27.
On Good Friday, we remember the trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus Christ. It may seem odd to call this day “good,” but in this case, good is used to mean holy. Although horrible, Jesus’ death was ultimately planned out and necessary to restore humanity’s relationship with God. But it is a somber day as we realize how seriously God must take sin and how much He was willing to sacrifice for our sake. Read about Good Friday in Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 22:66-23:56, and John 18:28-19:42.
Holy Saturday is a day of watching and waiting. Because the Sabbath started at sundown on the day that Jesus died, they had to bury Him that evening in a readily available tomb. Since work is prohibited on the Sabbath, they could not do anything more until Saturday was over. That is why Jesus’ followers returned to the tomb with spices for burial preparation on Sunday.
Finally, on Easter or Resurrection Sunday, the third day after Jesus’ death, the disciples found His tomb empty. Think of the thrill the disciples felt at thinking their Teacher dead and finding Him alive again and talking face-to-face with them! The fact that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday is one of the main reasons why Christians meet together on Sundays. Easter is a day of celebration and rejoicing, as the resurrection is one of the cornerstones of our faith. Because Christ rose from the dead, we know that we serve a God stronger than death and that death also has no power over us. Read about Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28:1-15, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, and John 20:1-18.
Holy Week is full of mixed feelings. Hope as we look forward to celebrating our liberation from sin and restored relationship with God through Christ. Grief as we remember how Christ suffered on our behalf because of our sins. And finally, joy as we affirm that Christ conquered death and is alive today!
Rejoice! He has Risen!