A Brief Overview of Holy Week

Last Edited: March 22, 2021

Original Date: March 25, 2018

A Brief Overview of Holy Week 

Dating back to as early as the third century C.E., Christians have commemorated the week leading up to Easter Sunday as Holy Week, a special time of observance and reflection specifically on several significant events recorded in the Gospels during the final week of Jesus’ life prior to His victorious Resurrection on the first day of the new week!

There are usually five day (and in some traditions, six) during Holy Week that are specifically commemorated, beginning with Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’s paradoxical Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. (John 12:12-19). Although not as common, some set-apart the following Wednesday as Silent Wednesday traditionally viewed as a day when Jesus did nothing, perhaps spending the day with his friends in Bethany while personally preparing for the events that would precipitate His betrayal on Thursday and crucifixion on Friday.

A more common day commemorated during Holy Week is Maundy Thursday (“Maundy” coming from the Latin, ‘command’), the day when Jesus observed ‘the Last Supper’ with His disciples in the Upper Room, including washing their feet and setting before them a NEW commandment to love one another as He loved them (see John 13). Good Friday is the day we remember Jesus’s crucifixion and death on the cross, where God Himself, in the form of a human being (Jesus) came to earth, lived a perfectly sinless life, and died for the sins of the world on a Roman execution stake (John 19).  

Of course, it wasn’t Jesus’s death that was good, but rather, what it accomplished for us.

Although there is traditionally little associated with this day, Holy Saturday marks the time when Jesus was in the tomb, and in some traditions, symbolizes Christʼs wrestling-away the keys of hell (harrowing of hell) in order to fully establish and secure His victory over sin and the grave. (See post, Embracing the Darkness for a more full perspective on the uncommon significance of Holy Saturday.)

Holy Week culminates in celebration with Easter, or Resurrection Sundaythe centerpiece of the Christian faith and the most important event in human history (John 20). For without the resurrection, we are left hopeless. Without resurrection, we have no assurance that Jesusʼs death for our sins and the sins of the world was an acceptable sacrifice.  But by being resurrected, Jesus not only claimed victory over sin and death, but equally importantly, by being raised, Jesus death was validated as the once-and-for-all, acceptable offering for the atonement of our sins, making us holy and acceptable to God through faith in Jesus.  Therefore, it is through our faith in Him that we have been raised to new life!

The late British theologian, John Stott, says it this way:

“The cross was the victory won, and the resurrection the victory endorsed…”

John Stott

Holy Week Resources & Suggestions 

Serve your Community 
Jesus said about Himself, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”(Matthew 20:28).  He tells His disciples, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). Holy Week is a wonderful opportunity to follow the example of our Lord by serving others. Here are a few suggestions for how we might practically do just that…

[Take into consideration this was written years before the covid-19 pandemic, so please keep certain and necessary ‘physical distancing’ measures in mind. In other words, without disregarding these suggestions, get creative.]

  • Serve a meal for the marginalized and vulnerable. Look for opportunities to do so at a local shelter, soup kitchen or school.
  • Take a meal to first responders and law enforcement.
  • Collect and deliver critical items to local non-profits serving vulnerable, at-risk and crisis-facing populations. (Ex. Pregnancy Support CenterCommunity Care ClinicFamily Crisis Council in Rowan County).

Eat together.
There is something significant about sharing a meal together.  Over and over in the Scriptures, we see God commanding His people to celebrate feasts together.  In the Gospels, we often see Jesus eating with His disciples, including the self-righteous and the socially-outcast.  This week is an excellent time to invite friends and family to spend time enjoying one another’s company, with thanksgiving, over some good food!

Wash Other’s Feet (literally)
In John 13, Jesus takes a towel and basin and washes His disciples’ feet.  This scandalous act was not only out of place for a teacher to conduct with his/her disciples, it was out of place in that it occurred during (not before) the meal.  Jesus sets for us the example that serving is the main event, and there are few more humbling (and sacred) acts than that of washing someone’s feet.  Consider incorporating a foot-washing ceremony into this week’s life group or family gathering while reflecting on John 13 together.

Fast from Something 
While fasting is traditionally associated with Lent, and although you may have missed the opportunity to abstain from something over this 40-day period that concludes on Maundy Thursday, it’s not too late!  As a way of giving Jesus your full attention this week in prayer and reflection, while limiting the distractions, consider fasting from certain foods, television, Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Worship with Other Churches
Participating and collaborating with other church’s is a beautiful expression of Gospel-unity that brings glory to Jesus, especially across denominational and ethnic lines and differences that seem to continue to divide us.  Do a search of either local or familiar churches holding services with which you, your family and/or friends might participate. (Contact me for recommendations if needed)

Take time to reflect on, learn about and explain the events and meaning of Holy Week to your children.

Observe Passover.
On the night Jesus was betrayed, He shared the traditional Passover meal with His disciples. albeit a likely primitive version. It was Jesus would become the one-and-for-all sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sins of the world.  Author Ann Voskamp offers a wonderful guide to celebrating a Christian Passover (Seder) HERE.

Observe Communion.
“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

We encourage you to consider sharing the power, beauty and sacredness of this moment with a group of family and friends sometime this week.  Below are two wonderful resources to guide you.

Recommedned resources

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