This year Holy Week falls in March. It starts with Palm Sunday, includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and ends with Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is the last day of Lent and is the day before Easter. During this week we remember the events that lead up to the Resurrection.
In our Palm Sunday worship, we recall Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem. The Gospel tells us that many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches and spread them before Jesus. The crowd shouted “Hosanna! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the coming kingdom of King David, our father! Hosanna!” (Mark 11 9:10) The triumphant entry into Jerusalem by Jesus riding on a colt fulfilled the scriptures and sealed his fate with the religious leaders of the day.
Palm fronds will be brought into the church, and we will join that crowd in saying “Hosanna, Hosanna!” The irony of it is that five days later the same crowds were shouting for His crucifixion, and one of His disciples would betray Him and one would deny knowing Him. We experience that same irony in the Palm Sunday service, as we hear the story of the crucifixion later in the service.
On Maundy Thursday we remember the Last Supper. This was simultaneously the Passover meal, which Jesus ate with His disciples, and the very first celebration of Holy Communion. It was the day that the lambs for the Passover meal were killed. Hence, the symbol of Jesus as the “Lamb of God;” a perfect sacrifice.
On that evening Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, giving them a new commandment or mandate. (Maundy Thursday derives from the Latin word mandatum or mandate.) “I give you a new commandment: love one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples”. (John 13 34:35) At the end of the Maundy Thursday service the church is striped of all adornment. This symbolizes the abandonment of Jesus by His disciples and stripping of Jesus by the soldier before the crucifixion.
Good Friday is the day that Jesus died for our sins. On Good Friday he was betrayed, denied, condemned, flogged, crucified, suffered death and buried. “It was about twelve o’clock when the sun stopped shining and darkness covered the whole country until three o’clock; and the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two. Jesus cried out in a loud voice. “Father! In your hands I place my spirit!” He said this and died.” (Luke 23 44:46)
In Christ’s time, a day was counted from sundown to sundown in the Jewish tradition so the Sabbath started at sundown on Friday. The Gospel tells us after Jesus was placed in the tomb the women who followed Jesus went home and prepared the spices and perfumes for burial. On Holy Saturday they rested, as the law commanded.
The church will be dressed in white on Easter Sunday. This represents purity, completeness and joy. The rest of the Easter season (which ends at Pentecost) will also be white.
On Easter morning at the break of dawn the grieving women who followed Jesus, carrying their burial spices went to the tomb where Jesus had been placed. The women wondered who would roll back the stone that covered the tomb only to find the stone rolled back and the tomb empty. The bible gives varying accounts as to what happened next. At hearing that Jesus had risen from the dead there was unbelief, fear, excitement and uncertainty. But in the days and weeks to follow when the witnesses saw Jesus, spoke to Him, ate with Him, touched Him and put their fingers in his side, their feelings turned to joy and wonder. God had raised Jesus to life!
That Easter morning over two thousand years ago Jesus, the Lamb of God, overcame death. The Easter Story is as important today as it was then. The evil on Good Friday is no match for the goodness of the God on Easter.