Easter Sunday is the celebration of Jesus resurrection from the dead, considered the most important day of the year for Christians. Easter is the greatest celebration!
Holy Week is the week Christians remember Jesus death on the cross to pay the price for the sins of all the people of the world, as well as a remembrance of the events leading up to that day.
Let’s take a look at what Holy Week is, and why you should honor Holy Week before Easter.
What is Holy Week?
When people use the term “Holy Week” (sometimes called “passion week”) they can be referring to 2 different things.
“Holy Week” is sometimes referred to as the Biblical account of the activities Jesus did in the city of Jerusalem during the week before his death on the cross. A lot is recorded about Jesus last week on earth. Jesus came into the city of Jerusalm in order to celebrate Passover. (Jesus was Jewish, so he celebrated Passover.) He taught, disputed with the Pharisees, prayed in the garden, was betrayed by Judas, and finally was arrested, tried, beaten, and killed outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
“Holy Week” is also used to refer to our modern day remembrance of those events.
The terms “holy week” or “passion week” are not used in the Bible, so how you choose to honor these events today is a personal determination.
What are the Days of Holy Week?
Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week, and is the Sunday before Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday is sometimes also called The Triumphal Entry, and is it recorded in the Bible in Matthew 21. Although Jesus is a true King in every way, he chose to ride into Jerusalem in a humble way, riding on a donkey. The people shouted “Hosanna”, laid their coats on the ground before him, and waved palm branches. Today in many churches, on Palm Sunday during the service, children walk in a palm parade for Jesus to remember this day. (Come to church on this day because watching the kids in the palm parade is the sweetest!)
Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday (also sometimes called Spy Wednesday — something I had not heard of before until I did some research for this article) are days that are honored in a few churches but not traditionally in most. Some churches remember specific events on these days, but we don’t know for certain which events in Jesus life occurred on these days. The Bible records events that Jesus did in Jerusalem during his final week, but it is unknown specifically on which days.
Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, is the name given to the day when Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples, also known as The Last Supper. During this meal Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, or communion. This is recorded in Luke 22 and John 13. During this meal, Jesus also washed the disciples’ feet and predicted that he would be betrayed by Judas and Peter. During church worship services on Maundy Thursday, most churches focus on the beginning of Holy Communion, although some churches have a foot washing service.
Good Friday is always the Friday before Easter Sunday, and it is the day when Jesus’ death on the cross is observed. Along with Easter Sunday, it is one of the most meaningful days in the Christian church. (Although it’s important to point out that it’s not the day itself that matters. Jesus’ death and resurrection is a free gift every day of the year. This is just the day we choose to remember His death.) Read the story of Jesus death in Matthew 27, John 19, or Luke 23. During a Good Friday worship service, solemn hymns are sung and the church is dark. The altar area is bare or draped in black. Typically worshipers leave the service without speaking. If you have to choose one worship service to attend besides Easter Sunday, I would highly recommend Good Friday. Call me a little morbid, but I love the Good Friday worship service. It’s incredibly meaningful.
Holy Saturday, or the Easter Vigil, is the time we mark when Jesus was dead in the grave. This service is also somber, but less so than Good Friday. It looks forward to the hope coming in the morning. Not as many churches offer a worship service on Holy Saturday, but some do. Years ago, some churches offered an Easter Vigil that was truly a vigil. They kept watch all night long, worshiping, singing, and praying until Easter morning. You don’t hear of that too much these days.
Why You Should Honor Holy Week Before Easter
Many people are familiar with two main holidays in the Christian church: Christmas and Easter.
Christmas is when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, and Easter is when the church celebrates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
If you honor one or both of these holidays because you believe Jesus is God’s Son and is your Savior, that’s a great step in your faith!
One way to grow deeper in your faith is to honor Holy Week. Why?
One way to explain why Holy Week is meaningful is to use the word appreciation. Each year, when I take time each day of this week to walk through a remembrance of what Jesus experienced and did for me, it provides me with a new understanding and insight into the gift of grace I have been given.
As a parent, I get incredibly frustrated when my kids take a gift or daily life blessing for granted. Sometimes they assume food will be on the table and the Christmas gifts will be under the tree on Christmas day. I try different ways to show my kids that not everyone has the gifts they have been given, like pointing out areas of the world where people go without food, or reminding them of soldiers who give their lives for our American freedom.
I remind my kids how hard their dad and I work to provide for their needs. The food, clothing, and medical care don’t just appear for free. (Yes, I’m starting to sound like my father. Don’t get me started on when they leave the door open and let the heat or air conditioning out.)
Honoring the days of Holy Week is a spiritual wake-up call. Jesus did not have to walk down this terrible road, but He did it because He loves you.
Plus, the celebration on Easter Sunday takes on a whole new meaning after experiencing the darkness and pain from the days before.
How Do You Honor Holy Week in a Meaningful Way?
There are many ways to honor Holy Week. Some people prefer personal, quiet reflections, and others find meaning in a group situation. A combination of both can also be powerful. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Attend worship services. Most traditional Christian churches (Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic) will have services on Thursday, Friday, and sometimes Saturday during Holy Week. Call or check the church websites for times. Even if you aren’t a member, every church welcomes visitors to these services. Some Catholic churches provide a mass every day during Holy Week.
- Pray. Many people set aside specific prayer time during Holy Week as they remember what Jesus did for them. Here is one link to Holy Week prayers.
- Bible readings. Plan devotion and Bible reading time each day of Holy week, especially focusing on the life of Jesus. Here are a couple of links, and see below for books and resources: Family Bible Readings for Holy Week, Bible Verses for Holy Week. The story of Jesus’ death can be found in several different places in the Bible in the New Testament: Matthew 27, John 19, Luke 23. Read the chapters before these to read about what Jesus did in the days prior to his death.
- Light Candles Many people find lighting candles an important part of their somber Lenten experience. Lenten candle wreaths are sometimes created, similar to an Advent candle wreath. Single candles are also used, to allow for darkess and remembering Jesus death.
- Fasting. Probably more common in the Catholic church, fasting is done as a spiritual discipline during Holy Week, as well as during Ash Wednesday and all of Lent.
- Music. Music during Holy Week is usually somber and serious, similar to what you would hear at a funeral. I have explained to my young children that the Good Friday worship service is like a funeral for Jesus. Michael Card, The Life is a neat collection of songs about the life of Jesus. I enjoy listening to these and pondering all Jesus did during his life on earth.
Resources and More Information
Holy Week and Easter — Martin Luther, sermons
The Week That Led to Easter — Arch book for kids
Christ in Easter: A Family Celebration of Holy Week — by Billy Graham
Six Hours One Friday — Max Lucado
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What other ideas do you have about ways to honor Holy Week? Do you have helpful resources to share? List them in the comments below.