By Barry Howard
This week is Holy Week — a time to experience the passion of Christ. Around the globe, Christians and other inquirers will be reflecting on the events leading up to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is the purpose of Holy Week and how can I explore its deeper meaning?
The tradition of observing Holy Week seems to have originated in the East, emerging out of the practice of pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Each day of Holy Week is significant, however, for those of us whose faith was primarily shaped in non-liturgical communities — because at least four days of the week call for guided reflection.
Palm Sunday is a day to revisit the royal welcome extended to Jesus by the curious crowd as he entered Jerusalem. On Maundy Thursday, believers recall the occasion when Jesus washed the feet of the Disciples as he gave them a new mandate to love and serve. On Maundy Thursday evening, many faith communities re-enact the Last Supper (or Lord’s Supper), when Jesus broke bread and shared the cup with his disciples — therefore establishing the practice of sharing communion elements as an act of remembrance. Good Friday is an occasion to feel the passion of Christ and to think on the enormity of his suffering. And Resurrection Sunday, or Easter, is a festive day to celebrate and proclaim that “Christ is risen; he is risen indeed.”
Because of the sequential significance of these events, Holy Week is best approached slowly, with a disposition of holy exploration — an attitude of sacred awe. In his book, The Gift of Worship, Welton Gaddy underscores the opportunity we have to experience a profoundly meaningful experience of Jesus’ resurrection: “Holy Week services bring into focus dimensions of discipleship that are missed completely by a simple leap from Palm Sunday to Easter. Worship services which take seriously the truths of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday please God because they challenge a greater commitment and a more comprehensive ministry of compassion among the people of God.”
This year as you embark on a spiritual journey through Holy Week, rather than merely reading the historical account open your senses and your imagination to both the tragedy and the triumph of this pivotal week in history. Take time to listen to the voices of the crowd as Jesus enters the city. Hear again the teachings of Jesus and contemplate his days in Jerusalem. Feel the water touch your feet, taste the morsel of bread on your tongue and the sip of wine rolling over your lips. Sense the disgust of his betrayal by a friend.
Smell the stench of the scourge and hear the mocking sarcasm of the trial. Grieve over the cruel injustice of his execution and experience the passion of his incomprehensible suffering. And, ultimately, consider the mysterious power of the resurrection and the hope generated by the notion that life invested in Christ cannot be extinguished, even by the reality of death.
The events of Holy Week invite and inspire us to follow Jesus not out of religious obligation or fear of eternal damnation, but because we resonate with his teaching, we identify with his vision and we belong — we just belong — to his cause and to his Kingdom. A slow and deliberate journey through Holy Week may re-energize your faith and motivate you to live and serve with passion.