In Christian tradition, Holy Week is the name of the week leading up to Easter. It begins on Palm Sunday (April 2 this year) with the celebration of Jesus of Nazareth’s entry into Jerusalem when the people heralded him with palms and shouts of acclamation. But the day is tinged with tension: The adoring crowd that welcomed Jesus turned hostile just a few days later, demanding his death on trumped-up charges of sedition.
The Palm Sunday liturgy reflects this fickleness. It begins with the joyful liturgy of the palms: the people process into the church, all waving palm branches, shouting “Hosanna!” and singing glad songs of praise. The service continues with readings about Jesus’s arrest, trial, and execution, anticipating the days that lie ahead in Holy Week. In many churches, when the Gospel is read, the congregation joins in shouting the demand of the crowd —“Crucify him!”— a reminder of our own fickleness, of the ways in which we who hail Jesus as our king so quickly forget him, and even deny him.
From Palm Sunday onward, Holy Week is a swift descent into death, ending in the Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday — the most somber and solemn days of the Christian year.
Maundy Thursday is the day Jesus ate his last meal with his disciples, the day he was betrayed by a dear friend and arrested.
Good Friday is the day Jesus was condemned to death, the day he was nailed to a cross, his arms spread wide to embrace the world. It is the day he died and was laid in a tomb.
Holy Saturday is the day Jesus’s disciples hid in fear and grief, the day their hearts lay shattered in their chests and their hope lay shattered at their feet. It is the day between the darkness of Good Friday and the light of Easter. Like Palm Sunday, it is a day of contrasts: on this day we sorrow at the foot of the empty cross even as we anticipate the true and glorious meaning of its emptiness.
For the empty cross points forward to the empty tomb, to Easter Sunday when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over evil and death.
— by K.C. Ireton, author, The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year
parishioner, Holy Trinity Edmonds
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