Holy Week: What Are We Celebrating?
It seems like a lot of things get converged into Holy Week. There’s Spring Break, Egg Hunts, Easter candy, religious shows on television, the end of Lent, Jewish Passover celebrations and then there are those religious Christian days we don't necessarily understand what their titles mean. Like in most things in this world today, there is often much to do about the season that has nothing to do with the season.
In our pursuit of God it becomes important to weed through all of these activities and latch on to the ones that will help us truly celebrate the event and genuinely “remember” what its to mean for us.
What you do matters and what that means also matters. Its important we devote our efforts so that we are genuinely in pursing a closer walk with Jesus. Last Sunday I went into a great deal of detail in my sermon to explain the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the midst of it I pointed out that while the people outside of the gates were exuberant in their worship of Jesus they were probably misguided in what they were lifting up. They were not recognizing Jesus as the Savior of the World or the Son of God or the new Messiah for all of humanity, they were overtaken with emotion because they believed he was ushering in the old kingdom of David and was about to proclaim himself the Anointed One for the Jews.
Exuberant and jubilee as they were, they were misguided and didn't get Jesus’ message. We need to be careful that we not jump in with all of our devotion into something that is not of God.
So how do we prepare. First, read the Bible. Read the chapters 11-16 in the Gospel of Mark, read chapters 26-28 in Matthew, or chapters 22-24 in Luke. Each writer gives an account. The accounts are not exactly alike but that's not expected, for each person will focus on what was important to them, what they saw and whom they talked to that was a firsthand witness. The point here is to grasp the various events and absorb the impact of what took place. Remind yourself that this is not a story but a recounting of a real event.
When you read through these chapters you will see why Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and concludes with Resurrection Sunday. This is why we as Christians take this week to reflect and capture the details.
Palm Sunday obviously is not about the palms. However the palms are a symbol of the victory the people by the gate of Jerusalem were experiencing as they welcomed Jesus. Palms and wreaths were symbols used as far back as the Greek empire some 500 years before that symbolized victory. Olympic champions often wore nothing but a wreath of greenery on their heads to identify them as the victors. The palms in the hands of the people on the road between Bethpage and Jerusalem was used in the same way when the people believed they were receiving the new king ushering in David’s kingdom. Meanwhile, Jesus ensured that he met the criteria of the Messiah promised in Zechariah 9:9 as he entered into Jerusalem.
We then have Maundy Thursday. What is Maundy? Maundy is an old English word that comes from the Latin, “mandatus”which means commandment or mandate. What’s being mandated on Maundy Thursday? This is the day when Jesus was celebrating Passover and in that meal Jesus gives his disciples a new understanding and mandates them to take the break and cup “in remembrance” of Jesus. This is why in many traditions they will celebrate a Seder or Passover meal or have a Lord’s supper service.
Good Friday was not good, but it is holy and this is what’s meant when we label it Good Friday. We take time to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Key here is reflecting on the fact that Jesus did not deserve to die on the cross and in sharp contrast we do, but he took our place. This is an act of love by Jesus on our behalf and it is an act of mercy on God’s behalf towards us. I don't think we should use it to highlight all of the gory details surrounding the barbaric practice of crucifixion practiced by the Romans, but we need to understand that he endured much persecution and torture on our behalf. The love was deep and sincere.
Resurrection Sunday is the culmination of it all. We celebrate the great miracle of Jesus overcoming death and conquering over the permanence of death and allowing us the promise of knowing that when we die we are not being discarded but we are being received into a wondrous fellowship with God, if we believe. You can argue all you want over the veracity of this but in the end this is something that can only be received in faith. We believe that the disciples went to their deaths defending their testimonies of having seen Jesus alive. I doubt very much that any charlatan trying to promote a false scheme is willing to go to their deaths to promote a falsehood. I believe in the power of Jesus to overcome, I believe in the authority of Jesus that proclaimed he would rise again and I believe in the testimony of the disciples who went to their death defending it. More importantly, I believe that in light of my own personal failures and moral sins that if I believe in Jesus as my Savior, my sins are washed away and I am renewed for eternity and I too will resurrect in new glory to be with God.
This is what we celebrate during Holy Week. We don't celebrate things like palms, bread, wine, donkeys, or even the crown of Jesus. We celebrate the life, love and sacrifice of the person Jesus who is our Christ and Savior. If what we do this week does not move us to learn more about him or to get closer to him, we are focusing in on the wrong things. Lets be genuine and intentional and remember Jesus all week long. Its all about Jesus and How He Loves Us.