What is Holy Week?
Holy Week is a series of eight days that allow us as Christians, as believers, as followers of Christ, an opportunity to reflect upon the shift in humanity Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross launched. It starts with Palm Sunday when Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem. The week leads us through the Last Supper, His crucifixion, and ends on Easter Sunday with His resurrection. This is the basis of Christianity – His sacrifice launched the New Covenant God promised and many had prophesied throughout the Old Testament. Each day of Holy Week allows us to peek into the heart of our Saviour at an intently close proximity. His love for us is reflected in every significant step toward the cross, every breath up to the last, and His resurrection.
How Holy Week Leads to Easter Sunday
Though Jesus didn’t walk the earth as fully man until He was born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph, He exists and works throughout the entirety of the Bible. Scripture assures us that He was present at Creation with the Father, that He is the Word, and many prophesies were specifically fulfilled during this final, holy week of Jesus’ life on earth. Each Gospel has a narrative of the last week of Jesus’ life (Matthew 21-28; Mark 11-16; Luke 19-24; John 12-21).
By enduring and defeating death sacrificially for us, He swung open the gates of heaven making a way for our sin to be forgiven and usher us into the presence of God (Romans 5:8).
Holy week starts with Palm Sunday. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday; palm branches, which symbolise triumph or victory, were strewn in Jesus’ path, as He rode into the city. He rode into town on a humble donkey, fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your kings comes to you, righteous and victorious, low and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The people welcomed Him, echoing the words of Psalm 118:25-26:
“25 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.”
more popularly recognised as “Hosanna! Hosanna!”
The word hosanna originated from the word save. The meaning of the word eventually shifted to express gratitude for salvation, and is used in the New Testament initially in Matthew 21:9: “The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” This is a pivotal moment in the history of humanity, as the long-awaited new covenant God promised to His people would produce new salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross.
On the way back into the city from Bethany, where Jesus and the twelve spent the night, Jesus became hungry. Seeing a fig tree with no fruit on it, though it was full of leaves and thus should have been full of fruit, Jesus spoke a curse on the tree. Jesus went to the temple on Monday and confronted those making a profit off of the people coming to worship there.
“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said the them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of robbers.’” –Matthew 21:12-13
Those who heard and witnessed Jesus’ miraculous healings that day sang praises to Him, which caused authorities to begin looking for a way to kill him. The Gospel of Luke says that “they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.” –Luke 19:48
The next day, Peter noticed the fully withered fig tree Jesus had cursed, to which Jesus admonished a lesson to have faith and recognise the power of forgiveness:
“22 Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” –Mark 11:22-26
Holy Tuesday was a day of avoiding traps and teaching. The priests set four traps for Jesus, the first questioning His authority, to which He answered with a question and then taught three parables: The Parable of the Two Sons, The Parable of the Tenants, and The Parable of the Wedding Banquet. The second trap challenged Jesus’ allegiance, the third trap attempted to ridicule Jesus’ belief in resurrection, and the fourth Jesus answered by claiming God’s greatest command to be “Love.”
“This is the real, historical Jesus: fully in control as he responds with grace and truth to traps on all sides. He knows what he is doing. And he knows what is coming.”
Stopping at the Mount of Olives to rest on the way back to Bethany to spend the night, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the upcoming trials for His followers.
Though the Gospel of Luke states, “every day he was teaching in the temple,” Holy Wednesday is referred to as a day of rest for Jesus. While in Bethany, a woman anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume. It is also widely known throughout the church as “Spy Wednesday.” While Jesus rests in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the plot of the high priest and the authorities to kill Jesus is in full swing.
Finding an open opportunity in the greed of Judas, Satan entered him. Judas went to the chief priests and authorities, “and from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” He would soon betray Jesus for the price of a slave, and the twelve would scatter. None of the twelve will be left at the foot of the cross as Jesus dies but John.
On Holy or Maundy, Thursday, in an upper room, Jesus and His disciples shared the Last Supper. On this day, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and broke break with them for the last time. Still celebrated today as a part of many congregational traditions, the bread broken and the wine shared represented the body and blood of Christ, to be broken and shed for the disciples, and all of us. During the meal, Jesus predicted His betrayal by one of them and Peter’s denial.
After the meal, the disciples accompanied Jesus to the Garden at Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in agony. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel came to strengthen Jesus in the garden. There, He taught His disciples, and us, what to do when we come to the end of our own strength and need God to help us press on.
Maundy, from the Latin root madam, means “commandment” or “mandate.” On that Thursday Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment, which is why we use the term Maundy today. The word in this context is used by Jesus after He washes the feet of His friends.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.” –John 13:34
No one knew love like the sacrificial and selfless love of Jesus before the cross. Thus, a new commandment to love sacrificially and selflessly.
Good Friday was the last day of Jesus’ life on earth before His resurrection. He was betrayed by Judas, as predicted, and denied by Peter, as predicted. His disciples scattered. He was arrested and was placed on trial falsely. He was condemned, beaten, mocked, and required to carry His own cross to the place where He was crucified and died. “The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head.” Though he was offered something to dull the physical pain, Jesus refused. He chose to face the pain of death head on. They stripped Him of His clothes and cast lots for them, fulfilling another prophecy.
Two prisoners were crucified alongside Jesus. One mocked Him, but the other said, “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43). Amidst the most cruel, unfair, unjust, and painful death a human body could endure, Jesus chose to respond in grace to the criminal beside Him and care for His mother and best friend. “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’” (John 19:25-27). At noon, Jesus cried out
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” and died.
“It was at about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” –Luke 23:44-46
Jesus was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linens, and placed in a tomb.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:28
This doesn’t mean we are protected from all things that are bad. Jesus’ death was awful. The most painful thing, physically, mentally, and spiritually, that any human could have to endure. Why would Jesus choose to obey His Father’s will? And why was His will for His only Son to suffer? God’s ways are truly above our ways, but the good that came out of Jesus’ death saved our souls for eternity. We are called to suffer with and suffer for Christ (1 Peter 2:21, 2 Timothy 2:3 )
It’s called Good Friday because, by Jesus’ death, he became the final, complete sacrifice for our sins. We couldn’t have erased our sins. Our hands would have been forever stained with every single sin for a lifetime. But Jesus broke the bonds of death and sin!
Black (or Holy) Saturday
In the stillness, humanity awaits Christ’s resurrection
Jesus’ body rested in the tomb on Holy Saturday; it was a rich man’s tomb, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9. Preparations were made for Jesus’ body and placement in the tomb until 6pm, when preparations for the Sabbath began.
“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” –Luke 23:55-56
Holy Saturday is a time for us to lean into being present in the Lord, placing our own agendas at the door, and coming before Him to simply be with Him. The Lord desires a relationship with us, and a requirement of a relationship is time together. Holy Saturday is a great day not to ask for anything, but to simply spend time within the Spirit of the Lord.
There are varying theories as to where Jesus’ soul was in between His death on the cross and His resurrection. The Bible doesn’t really say too much about where He is at. From His statement to the criminal on the cross, “you will be with me today in paradise,” we can only assume that He was in the presence of His Father in heaven on Holy Saturday.
Easter Sunday (Resurrection Day)
He is Risen!!
“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” –Matthew 28:6
On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead, fulfilling the prophecy. Early in the morning, the women who had prepared the spices before the Sabbath returned to Jesus’ tomb to find it empty. Mary Magdalene arrived first.
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” –John 20:1
Two men, angels, appear to the women to tell them Jesus has risen. The women, both afraid and joyful, remained first silent, and then quickly finding the eleven disciples. Mary ran ahead to tell Peter and John, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2). Jesus met the other women on their way!
“And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him.” -Matthew 28:9-10
After all eleven have been informed, they rush to the empty tomb. Jesus appeared to Cleopus and another on the road to Emmaus, and to Peter. That evening, He entered a room with locked doors to greet the other ten disciples. “Peace to you!” (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23)
“It can see like to claim that the resurrection changes everything is an example of hype, but as you read the Bible and you understand all that flows out of Jesus’ resurrection, it is no exaggeration to say that Jesus rising from the dead literally changes everything.”
Prayer for Holy Week
Father, Holy Week reminds us how intentional You are about loving us. You came to save the lost, You sent Your only Son to be sacrificed so we could be in Your presence. Jesus, thank You for making a way for us. May we come to know fully and never forget the lengths You went to save us. Bring the story of each day to life for us as we walk through this week. Move our hearts closer to You, and direct our lives to bring honor to You. Jesus, help us to follow Your new command of love. Help us to understand and receive Your love, and teach us how to love the people in our lives well. Bless this week, Father, and may many new souls come to receive Your grace. In Jesus’ Holy Name, Amen.