What is Holy Week and How do I prepare for it?
The last week of March, starting on Palm Sunday, March 25th, and culminating on Easter Sunday, April 1st, is known as ‘Holy Week.’ Some consider this week the most important week in the entire church year. During this week, we follow the timeline of Jesus’ last week before His resurrection. You can read about this ‘final week’ in all four of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, with each gospel writer giving slightly different perspectives on the events of the week.
Palm Sunday commemorates the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matthew 21:1-11). This was significant because Jerusalem was the holy city where the Jewish leaders who were hostile to Jesus were concentrated, and so for Jesus to go there was like a sheep walking into a den of wolves. But Jesus went, knowing what awaited Him. As He entered the city, the people came out waving palm branches and saying, “Hosanna [Hebrew for “salvation has come”] to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Palm-bearing date trees were valued for their dignity, beauty, and shade and were used at special occasions to welcome heroes and royalty. Interestingly, some of these same people who were praising Jesus as a saving king were probably some of the same people calling for his crucifixion just a few days later.
Maundy-Thursday commemorates the day that Jesus celebrated a final Passover meal with His disciples (John 13-17). Passover is the Jewish celebration of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt through Moses. During the evening, Jesus washed his disciple’s feet and taught them about how the Holy Spirit would come and minister to them after He leaves them. When Jesus took the bread of the Passover and claimed that it was His body, and called the wine a ‘new covenant in His blood’, He was saying that He is a greater savior than Moses in delivering God’s people from bondage to a greater enemy, sin and death. During the supper, Jesus told His disciples that one of them would betray Him, and indeed just hours after the supper, Judas Iscariot led a band of Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus.
Good Friday commemorates the day Jesus was condemned and crucified on the cross (Mark 15). We watch Him endure great suffering, but when we understand the deeper meaning of the cross- that the sinless Savior was bearing the sins of His people and undergoing the full weight of the wrath of God- we understand the greater suffering Jesus endured was spiritual. So, why do we call this day good? Because through Jesus’ death, we are set free from the curse of death, and evil itself has been defeated.
Easter Sunday commemorates the day of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:1-29), not only the time when a dead man came back to life, but when the first human experienced the glorious state of having their sinless, pain-free, resurrected body ready for eternal life. Jesus was the ‘first fruits’ of all who will come after Him in the future resurrection. In other words, if we believe and follow Him in life, we will follow Him into eternity in the new heavens and the new earth.
Are you preparing to get the most out of this week? Those who participate in Lent through fasting and prayer are hopefully tuning their hearts to the deeper meaning and joy of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation found in Holy Week. But, even if you haven’t been observing Lent, you can certainly prepare yourself for the week by reading the gospel narratives, as well as Old Testament passages that prophesied the events of the week, like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. There are also a number of great books you can read, like Tim Keller’s Jesus the King, John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, and Donald Macleod’s The Person of Christ.
If you would like to listen to a sermon series to help prepare you, we recommend The King's Cross from just a few years ago.
By the way, don’t forget to celebrate Ascension Day on Thursday, May 10th (40 days after Easter Sunday). It celebrates the under-appreciated event of Jesus’ ascending into heaven (Acts 1:6-11) to take His rightful place at the Father’s side and beginning His reign as the new Adam having dominion over the world (Genesis 1:28). It’s the necessary next step (after the resurrection) in God’s plan to redeem His people, and a great day to praise the Lord Jesus that “all authority in heaven and earth” has been given to Him, to thank Him that He is giving that authority to His church to disciple the nations, and to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.