It’s Holy Week. In the Christian calendar, Holy Week is the liminal space between Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and his resurrection on Easter morning. It used to be that if we didn’t go to church during Holy Week, we’d jump over the hard stuff (Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death). Then church leaders recognized that most American Christians were, in fact, not observing Holy Week. So, now it’s standard to read the gospel story with that hard stuff on Palm Sunday as well.
This gives me a sense of spiritual whiplash. It’s a frustrating condensation of a story that needs time and space to unfold. We need that time. We need to dwell in that liminal space. We need to ponder the hard stuff.
I intend to spend time at church during Holy Week. For me, it’s a precious tradition that goes back to my childhood, when my mom was church secretary and Holy Week coincided with spring break. That meant we spent the week with Mom at church. St. Andrew Presbyterian had six different services over the eight days between Palm Sunday and Easter, so there were numerous bulletins to print, fold, and collate, rehearsals to watch, eggs to dye and bread to bake for the festive meal after the Easter Vigil…there was lots going on, with new things happening each year (readers’ theater, liturgical dance). I recall it all fondly.
Over the decades since, I’ve spent many Holy Week evenings in liturgies at churches across the country. I value the darkness, silence, questions, stories, hymns, special music, familiar scenes, and fresh interpretations. I’ve read, prayed, sung, and danced in Holy Week liturgies. I was confirmed at St. Andrew’s first Easter Vigil.
This week means a lot to me, and it always will. If we don’t live into the pain, death, and grief symbolized by the crucifixion, resurrection doesn’t make nearly as much sense or have as much value.
Think for a moment about the disciples. They were entering liminal space on Palm Sunday, though they did not know it. Their beloved leader entered Jerusalem a high note, in the midst of a spontaneous and celebratory parade. People were excited to have Jesus back in town, teaching and healing and making trouble for religious leaders.
In the midst of all this jubilation, there was no way the disciples could know what came next. They couldn’t have imagined betrayal, arrest, trial, and execution. Yet, without all that, resurrection would be incomprehensible. They, and we, can’t jump straight from Palm Sunday to Easter. We need what lies in between.
I invite you to reflect on your own feelings about Holy Week. What have you experienced, and what was its impact on you? How might you participate more fully in Holy Week this year? How can you approach these days with fresh eyes and a curious heart?
I, too, experience Holy Week as a special time. One of my practices has been to read the stories of that last week in the various gospels. I attend the Maundy Thursday service and of course, the Good Friday one as well. As a child, I loved that Tenebrae service, as the sanctuary became dark and the cross was draped in black cloth. Saturday was always somber as we contemplated the fact that Jesus’s disciples didn’t know what would be happening the next morning. We know the end of the story, but they didn’t. Then came Easter morning and singing in the high school choir at all three services. It was so joyous! About approaching these days with fresh eyes, I’ll be reading from the First Nations Translation of the New Testament this week. I find this book absolutely fascinating. Thanks for all the memories you have evoked!
Thank you, Aston, for sharing your memories of Holy Week and its importance for you. I love the idea of reading a new translation of the gospels during Holy Week. May it truly be a blessing for you!
Thanks Shirin for the history of the evolution of Holy Week and reminder of childhood memories. There is a peace for me being in a church, whether anyone else is there or a service or just me. This in-between time is important for coming to grips once again with the role suffering plays in our life and how our God connects with us in this suffering. Happy Holy Week and Easter! No skipping to Easter!
You’re welcome, Tom! So glad to help you think about the role of suffering in all our lives and how God is indeed with us in it. Blessings on your Holy Week and Easter as well!