Holy Week recounts the saving acts of God, from Jesus Palm Sunday ride into Jerusalem, his Good Friday suffering on the cross as our substitute, and his Easter resurrection as proof of God’s full forgiveness and the promise of dwelling with God forever.
What we call “Holy Week” starts on the Sunday before Easter and concludes on Easter Sunday. In ancient times, the week-long commemoration of the saving events of this week were commemorated starting on Easter and continued until the following Friday. Such gathering of pilgrims to “holy sites” began already in the early second century, and so provoked a response by the emperor Hadrian, who in 135 A.D. built a pagan shrine to Adonis over the place of Jesus birth, a statue of Jupiter and an altar of Venus over Jesus’ tomb, and likewise built a structure over St. Peter’s house in Capernaum.
Unwittingly, the locations of these sites were thus preserved for Constantine’s mother Helena to discover when she made a pilgrimage to the holy land in 326 A.D., Constantine gave permission for these structures to be torn down, and apparently authentic locations were discovered beneath. Churches were constructed over these sites – and others – and were thereafter visited by an unnamed pilgrim from Bordeaux in 333 and a nun from Spain named Egeria in 381 who wrote a diary that provided a detailed account of each location visited and worship services held for pilgrims who gathered to walk where Jesus walked.
Palm Sunday recalls people laying palm fronds before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem, shouting “hosanna!” (save, please!).
Monday recalls Jesus being anointed by Mary of the sister of Lazarus, after Jesus had raised her brother from the dead.
The Tuesday reading from Jonah foreshadows Jesus burial, where just as Jonah was three days in the belly of a great fish, Jesus was to be buried for three days in the heart of the earth.
“Spy” Wednesday recalls Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
Maundy Thursday (from the Latin “mandatum”) recalls Jesus command to love one another as he has loved us, his washing of the disciples feet and the first Lord’s Supper.
On Good Friday (from the Anglo-Saxon word for “God”) Jesus, as our substitute, suffered upon the cross for the sins of all people.
Holy Saturday recalls Jesus’ stay in the tomb. Historically, it was on this night that Christians gathered at dusk for Easter worship that continued until dawn, when people would cry out “He is risen, he is risen indeed!” On Easter Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, assuring us that we are forgiven and that we shall be raised to dwell in God’s presence forever.
Holy Week reminds us that the Bible is more than a book of doctrine. It is God’s own record of his saving acts on behalf of a world in need of rescue.