What is...Holy Week?

The word holy means "set apart". God has called the Church "a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9). Another name for Christians is "saints", which literally means, "holy ones". There are also things that are seen as holy - things that are set apart for use by God's people in God's service.

So Holy Week is a special week in the church's calendar. It's a week that's set apart to tell the most important parts of the most important story of all time: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It officially begins on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter Sunday) and ends on Good Friday. Easter Sunday is a officially a part of the Easter season, though it's commonly viewed as the end of Holy Week.

Congregations mark Holy Week in different ways, but one common way is to gather for worship multiple times throughout the week. Some may gather every day. At Concordia, we gather on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And then, of course, again on Easter Sunday.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is when we tell the story of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem on His way to the cross (Matthew 21:1-11). The crowds gathered to welcome and honour Him with cries of "Hosanna!", which means "save us now". It's also known as "the Sunday of the Passion" (the word passion really means "suffering", not "to like something a whole lot").

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is the day we remember the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-29), when Jesus gathered with His disiples to celebrate the Passover. Except He instituted something brand new: what we call Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper. So on Maundy Thursday we gather for worship with Holy Communion.

The word Maundy is a rather odd one. We don't really see it anywhere else in common usage. It's pronounced "MAHN-dee", and it's a English appropriation of the Latin word mandatum (mahn-DAH-toom), which means "command" (like "mandate"). The word comes from the Latin version of the Bible in John 13:34, where Jesus gives His disciples a new command: to love one another.

Good Friday

Good Friday is the most somber day in the church's calendar. It's the day when we most specifically commemorate the death of Jesus. It can seem to be a morbid thing, to be so focused on death, especially one as gruesome as crucifixion. But this was Jesus' most important mission. He was to die as a substitute for us as sinful people. Sin must be paid for; it can't simply be "swept under the rug". So instead of condemning us all to die for our sin, God took it upon HImself in the person of Jesus.

And that's why the Friday is called Good. There's nothing good about death. There's nothing good about suffering. It's only Good Friday because the suffering and death of Jesus was for us. By His death, full payment of sin has been made. There's nothing left that we need to do to make ourselves right with God. God has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus and for His sake, counts us as being perfectly righteous and gives us the gift of eternal life.

And so we commemorate Good Friday every year, because we know that it was for us and for our salvation that Jesus was crucified (Romans 5:6-8).