What’s so Holy about Holy Week? by Pastor Walter Snyder Here we are at the fullest time of the Church Year. Even the Advent-Christmas season can’t hold a candle to the stretch from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. Yet because there are so many “options” for attendance, some act as if they can pick and choose among their opportunities for worship. Granted, missing a service or two doesn’t condemn us to an eternity in hell. However, what testimony do we give when we cavalierly decide between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday? What’s wrong with going to the church on Saturday evening for the Easter Vigil? Why is Easter Sunrise (or a later festival Communion service) “better” than the other?
Holy Week is a special time for God’s people (that’s you and me) to realize that we aren’t holy by nature, nor do we make ourselves holy. No, Christ endured fasting, temptation, betrayal, denial, emotional abuse, physical torture, and cruel death to make us holy. Yet our ever-active sinful natures try to make us feel that the “inconvenience” of an “extra” service or two (or three, or …) somehow is a cross to bear rather than a joy to share.
Those who belong to non-liturgical churches may not know exactly what I’m talking about. However, churches that continue the ancient traditions observe the penitential season of Lent for forty days (excluding Sundays) before Easter. Lent concludes with Holy Week, leading from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday and into Easter. The week focuses on the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus’ final days of teaching, the Last Supper (on the day known as Maundy Thursday), his garden prayer, arrest, trial, suffering, death, and burial. Some churches have services each day of the week; many more pause from Monday through Wednesday, then commence on Thursday.
Often, the celebratory nature of Maundy Thursday with the giving of the New Testament in Christ’s blood ends with a solemn stripping of the altar and removal of all decorative furnishings in anticipation of Good Friday’s focus on His crucifixion. The Vigil, one of the oldest Christian services, often was the day in which new members were brought into the Church through Baptism. While low-key, it still reverses the increasing solemnity of Lent and Holy Week, preparing the believers for a full-scale celebration later on Easter day.
When we take full advantage of the wisdom of the Church fathers and participate fully in the services of Holy Week, we seize the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the fullness of Christ’s work on our behalf. This year, as we ponder Jesus’ sacrificial love, may God grant us ears eager to hear, mouths eager to sing and pray, and hearts eager to believe that in this Holy Week we find the Source of our holiness.
Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book “What Do Lutherans Believe.”
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from ~The Holy Bible, English Standard Version~, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
Ask the Pastor, © 2004 by Walter P. Snyder. It may be reproduced in totality, including this disclaimer, by anyone, provided that no profit is generated by said republication and redistribution. Translations into other languages should similarly note the United States and any appropriate international copyrights, as well as God’s Scriptural injunctions concerning the property of others.
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