Holy Week - The Takeaway
Holy Week. It’s the most important week in Jesus’ life—and the most important week in the church calendar. It’s also the most well-documented week of Jesus’ life, for good reason.
Let’s look at the week, day by day:
· Palm Sunday, when Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey
· Spy Wednesday, when Judas betrays Jesus to the Sanhedrin, the temple council, acting as a spy among the disciples
· Maundy Thursday, when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, gives the disciples a new commandment (“love one another”), and shares the Passover meal with the disciples (the Last Supper). The day’s name comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” which means commandment.
· Good Friday, when Jesus is condemned to death by both religious and political leaders, he is crucified on Golgotha, a hill outside Jerusalem, he dies on the cross in the afternoon. The day’s name comes from the goodness and holiness of Jesus and his sacrifice.
· Holy Saturday, when Jesus is in the tomb
The climax of Holy Week is Good Friday: it’s both the high point and the low point at the same time. Let’s turn to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion from the gospel of Mark. I invite you to listen for specific details in the story. Open your ears for God’s word to us today:
25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
33When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15.25-39)
Did you notice some of the details? 9 am, charge against him: “king of the Jews”, “Aha”, mocking him, taunting him, noon, darkness came over the whole land, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, sour wine, loud cry, breathed his last, curtain torn, “truly this man was God’s Son.” The story of Jesus’ crucifixion is poignant in its specificity. The details show us how real Jesus’ death was.
We’ve listened to the story of Good Friday, the death of Jesus, from the Scriptures. And now we turn to church history.
How was Holy Week commemorated in the early church? We have a first-hand account from Egeria, a Spanish pilgrim to Jerusalem in the 4th century. She wrote detailed notes about her experience of Holy Week in Jerusalem so she could share it with her Christian friends back home.
Let me share with you some highlights from her notes.
· On Palm Sunday, she describes that all the children hold olive or palm branches, even those who can’t walk yet. Babies and toddlers are part of Palm Sunday.
· On Maundy Thursday, Egeria records that when the gospel passage about Jesus’ betrayal is read, everyone moans and groans, and the crying can be heard throughout the city of Jerusalem.
· Finally, on Good Friday, she describes several hours of worship, including a ritual when worshippers kiss a fragment of the cross.
The Pilgrimage of Egeria gives us the earliest and most detailed description of how Holy Week was kept by early Christians. St. Jerome, who lived in Bethlehem in the 4th century, also wrote about the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem during Holy Week and followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Over time, this pilgrimage route in Jerusalem came to be known as the Way of Sorrows (or Via Dolorosa in Latin) and the Way of the Cross.
But what about those who couldn’t make it to Jerusalem—who couldn’t be there where it happened? In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Franciscans began the tradition of reproducing the pilgrimage route in Europe, both inside churches and outdoors, with stops or stations to remember specific events of Good Friday. The Stations of the Cross transported the Via Dolorosa from Jerusalem to the everyday places where people lived. This tradition emerged as a way to imagine yourself in Jerusalem with Jesus during Holy Week—and a way to pray your way through Jesus’ Passion.
These are the 14 stations of the cross:
· Jesus is condemned to death
· Jesus takes up his cross
· Jesus falls for the first time
· Jesus meets his Mother
· Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross
· Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
· Jesus falls for the second time
· Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
· Jesus falls for the third time
· Jesus is stripped of his garments
· Jesus is nailed to the cross
· Jesus dies on the Cross
· Jesus is taken down from the Cross
· Jesus is laid in the tomb
These 14 stations are vignettes in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.
We’ve listened to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion in the gospel of Mark. And we’ve explored how Christians throughout church history have commemorated Holy Week, from the pilgrimage of Egeria in the 4th century, to the tradition of the Stations of the Cross, a tradition still kept today. So how can that guide our keeping of Holy Week this year?
I invite you to keep Holy Week this year in two primary ways. The first is our Holy Week worship services at PHPC: our virtual Palm Sunday worship at 9 and 10 am, our virtual Maundy Thursday worship with communion at 7:30 pm, and our virtual Good Friday Tenebrae service at 7:30 pm.
The second way is to participate in the Stations of the Cross on the PHPC campus. We will display a series of 14 pieces of art corresponding to the 14 stations of the cross from artist Scott Erikson. He calls the series “Stations in the Street,” as they are designed to be viewed outdoors. The stations will be located in the walkway between the sanctuary and the chapel and will begin on the sanctuary end. They will be on display from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. To deepen your experience of the stations of the cross, we will offer reflections on each station by Monie Pastoral Resident Jeannie Corbitt, as well as music recorded by our own Paul Demer (so bring your headphones!). More details are available on our website, phpc.org, under the “Lent and Easter” tab.
Worshipping together virtually and praying through the Stations of the Cross are ways to make Holy Week real and meaningful, ways to journey with Jesus in his final week. May you find ways to draw close to Jesus this Holy Week—as he draws ever close to you.
Let us pray.
Holy Week is a mixed bag,
From celebration to desolation,
You know this first-hand.
Give us the strength to go where you go,
Give us the wisdom to understand you,
Give us the heart to receive your sacrifice.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, world without end, Amen.