By Sophia Bricker, Crosswalk.com
As a child, I always assumed Easter was about attending an egg hunt and eating chocolate from the “Easter bunny.” I did not understand why the Friday before Easter was called “Good Friday” and had never heard about Holy Week. Like many other people, I did not understand the biblical significance of Easter.
Once I trusted in Christ for salvation and grew in my faith, my former enjoyment of eggs and bunnies faded. I knew that the truth of Jesus’ resurrection was so much greater than any piece of chocolate or egg hunt.
When I attended my first Palm Sunday service, I was fascinated by the palm branches that the members waved as people entered the church, which stayed in my mind as we read about the triumphal entry.
Each day of Holy Week invited me to a deeper study of the Bible and to reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Although each believer should exercise discernment about their view of holidays and participation in certain traditions, I believe that Christians need to know about Holy Week since it is a historic practice in church history and is important to many believers around the world.
The following three points include information that all Christians should know about Holy Week.
1. Holy Week Starts on Palm Sunday and Extends to Easter Sunday
What is known as “Holy Week” or “Passion Week” is the week leading up to Easter, the day Jesus was resurrected. Each day from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, churches around the world focus on the significant events leading to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
When churches observe these days, they often read Scripture passages and hold special services. The following points give an overview of each day in Holy Week:
Holy Tuesday: The withered fig tree (Matthew 21:20-22; Mark 11:20-21), Jesus’ responses to the teachers of the law and the scribes (Matthew 21:23; Matthew 23), and the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-36).
Good Friday: Jesus was crucified and died (Matthew 27:32-56; Mark 15:21-41; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:17-37). Before the Sabbath began at sundown, He was buried (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42).
Holy Saturday: Jesus’ body was in the tomb. The Roman soldiers guarded the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66).
Easter Sunday, also known as Resurrection Sunday: Jesus was resurrected (Matthew 28:5-6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:5-7; John 20:1-18). He told the women to announce the good news to the disciples (Matthew 28:8-10; Mark 16:7; Luke 24:9-11; John 20:18).
The Bible does not give us a detailed order of these events in a calendar format. However, we do know from Scripture that Christ was crucified on Friday and was resurrected on Sunday (Mark 15:42; Luke 24:1).
Regardless of the exact chronology a church might follow for the other days, believers can observe Holy Week and remember the important events that occurred.
2. The Days of Holy Week Have Special Names
If you noticed the list in the previous section, the days in Holy Week have special names. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection are central to the Christian faith, the church has historically recognized Holy Week as a time set apart from other days. They are designated as “holy” days, such as “Holy Monday” or “Holy Saturday.”
The specific names also point to the events that occurred in Jesus’ life during that week. Palm Sunday is named for the palm branches that people waved as Jesus’ entered Jerusalem on a donkey, which fulfilled prophecy (Zechariah 9:9; John 12:12-15).
Many churches will celebrate this day by reading about Christ’s triumphal entry and distributing palm branches to the congregation.
Another day in Holy Week is “Spy Wednesday,” which earns its name from Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16).
Since Judas was one of the 12 disciples, his plan to hand over Jesus to the Jewish leaders seemed spy-like, hence the name “Spy Wednesday.” Despite the sneakiness of Judas, the Lord knew about the betrayal (John 13:18-30).
After Spy Wednesday is “Maundy Thursday.” The term “Maundy” comes from the Latin “Mandatum,” which means “command.” During the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
On Maundy Thursday, we can observe the Lord’s Supper and remember His command to love others as He loves us.
In addition to the special names of Palm Sunday, Spy Wednesday, and Maundy Thursday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion and sacrificial death is known as “Good Friday.” Many people wonder why this is called “good” when Jesus was put to death and suffered the agony of crucifixion.
Christ died for our sins, enduring the punishment we deserve. As Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
We call Good Friday “good” because He died to give us salvation, the greatest gift we can ever receive.
3. Churches of Various Traditions Hold Special Services for Holy Week
Since early in church history, churches have observed Holy Week. In modern times, churches hold special services. These services are not only held by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches but also by Anglican and Protestant churches.
On each of the days of Holy Week, believers can attend services, listen to Scripture passages, and connect with traditions that have the potential to enrich their understanding and celebration of Easter.
For example, a Christian could attend a Good Friday service and meditate on the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross to die for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2).
Some churches will hold a Tenebrae service on Good Friday to help believers contemplate the darkness that surrounded Jesus’ death, such as the physical darkness while He hung on the cross and the disciples’ hopelessness after Christ died.
Seeing the candles in the service extinguished and hearing the loud sound at the end of the service, which symbolizes the closing of the tomb, can help us think more deeply about Jesus’ death.
Although churches have various traditions, there is no command in the Bible to observe Holy Week or attend special services.
Believers throughout time have found these traditions and liturgies helpful in their Christian walk, but we need to evaluate what is beneficial to our spiritual growth.
If a holiday or practice distracts us from Jesus’ death and resurrection, then we do not have to observe those days or activities (Romans 14:5).
What Does This Mean?
Holy Week is observed every year by Christians around the world. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, believers can take time to remember the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Traditionally, the days of Holy Week have special names that indicate the type of event that occurred, such as “Spy Wednesday” and “Maundy Thursday.”
Finally, believers need to know that many different churches from a variety of traditions observe Holy Week. Whether we choose to participate in Holy Week services or not, we can appreciate this historical church practice centered on Jesus’ wonderful gift of salvation.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/RyanJLane
Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.