Holy Week and Easter
The most solemn week of the Christian year, Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter, and is the week during which we particularly remember the last week of Jesus's life. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday refers to Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding a donkey, when the cheering crowds laid palm leaves across his path. These same crowds cried out for his execution on Good Friday.
There are many services in Holy Week, perhaps a Stations of the Cross, and days on which we remember some of the events that lead towards the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday. Many churches celebrate an Agape Supper - a meal not unlike the Passover at which Holy Communion is incorporated into a family meal.
Maundy Thursday is the evening associated with the Last Supper where Jesus washed the disciples' feet and instituted the Lord's Supper, commemorating his Passion by dying on the cross for the sins of the world, through the sharing of bread and wine: his body and blood given for our forgiveness and redemption. It then culminates in Jesus' impassioned prayer, betrayal and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, follows by his trial and condemnation by the High Priest Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. The evening liturgical celebration on Holy Thursday begins the first of the three days of the Easter Triduum, which continues into the ‘Watch’ kept late at night.
Good Friday is the day on which we recall and observe Jesus’ judgment before Pilate, scourging, crucifixion and death. It is the most solemn day of Holy Week. Some churches keep watch at the Cross for between one-three hours on this day recounting the ‘Way of the Cross' along the Via Delorosa. The day ends with Jesus’ body being deposed from the Cross and laid in the tomb.
Holy Saturday is a day for quiet reflection. However, in the evening an Easter Vigil is kept in expectancy of Jesus’ resurrection, which recounts the story of the first ‘Exodus’ when Moses led his people from Egypt at the first Passover. In the Jewish calendar a day begins at sunset, so Easter begins on the evening of Holy Saturday. The church is in darkness, the congregation wait outside. The Easter Fire is lit, from which is lit the Paschal Candle; ‘Christ is risen, Alleluia!’ Is proclaimed and in some traditions the Exultet is sung. Members of the congregation light their candles from the flame of the Paschal candle and, follow it into the darkened church. Lights are switched on, the organ bellows and Easter is here.
Easter Day is the great Feast Day of celebration as we recall and rejoice in the resurrection hope for us all, opened up for us by Jesus' rising from the dead on the third day.