A primer for those wondering what all the hubbub is about.
Holy Week, in a nutshell, is a spiritual retreat without leaving home. Remember summer youth camp? You had an authentic, transformative experience of God in a group of others having the same experience. You came home connected to those people and God in a new way. You thought, “That was fantastic. I am different and I can hardly wait to come back next year.” Holy Week is a lot like that.
Holy Week is series of liturgical experiences that walk us through the final week of Jesus’ life. We journey with Jesus, in the short span of a week, from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the missing guard unit, neatly rolled grave clothes, and the shocking appearance of a risen Savior. In a symbol and story impoverished culture, Holy Week opens our hearts to the gift of Jesus’ victory over sin and death. This is more than a psychological remembrance, it is actively allowing ourselves to be in that final week, baptized (immersed) into his death…”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? …in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)
Holy Week is sacramental
…and we are sacramental creatures. Regardless of any initial reaction you may have to that word, hear me out. A sacrament is a tangible symbol that creates what it signifies. Like kissing. When you first kissed that special someone on the doorstep at the end of the evening, it did more than represent thinking the girl was pretty and nice and that you enjoyed talking with her. It actually created and amplified those feelings. You walked back to your car more emotionally connected to her than you were when you opened her door a brief moment earlier. And when her front door clicked shut, you fist pumped the air. “Heck, Yeah!” Because that kiss actually made more of what it signified.
So God gave us, fleshly, sacramental, critters that we are, a God who came in flesh. Who lived. Who breathed. Who touched us and was touched by us. Who walked willingly to a criminal’s cross, laid down, spread his arms wide for humanity, and waited for real nails to pierce his hands and feet. It is because you too are flesh and blood that you should engage in Holy Week…because Holy Week creates what it signifies: “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10)
A current reality
The ancient prayers point us to the deep mystery in this: It isn’t “Christ rose.” It is “Christ is risen!” Holy Week is a current reality. A more real reality. So we do more than meditate on these holy mysteries. We allow them to become true within us, as our baptism is true within us. We join him on Maundy Thursday in His Last Supper. We are with him on Friday in His death. We keep prayerful watch before His tomb on Saturday. With growing anticipation we mark His descent into Hades and His trampling of death by His death. Finally, with shouts of joy, we greet His resurrection on Sunday morning, knowing that one day it will be our resurrection too. In Holy Week, as Orthodox priest Fr. Steven Freeman says, “The life to come becomes the life we live.”
A “deep mystery,” it should be said, is not magic. We must surrender to the prayers and liturgy – faith must be lived. In the end, Holy Week isn’t something we do. It is something that does us.
So what is the hubbub?
Holy Week is more than an emotionally powerful experience. It is an opportunity for a greater sanctification. As Paul said, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:8) Or, as an Arnold Swarzenegger character once said, “Come with me if you want to live.”
Do yourself a favor, make time to engage in Holy Week, especially the three-day “Triduum”: The despair of Golgotha on Good Friday, the muted sorrow of Saturday, the joyful Baptisms at Saturday’s Great Vigil, and the surprise of a risen Savior on Easter morning.
Almighty God, who through your only‑begotten Son Jesus Christ, overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life‑giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
7 thoughts on “Holy Week for Newbies”
Matt, I think this is mostly wonderful. Great, even. But in the grid at the bottom of the post, I’m wondering why Stations of the Cross is plugged in the Good Friday slot when there is an actual proper liturgy for the day that is probably older than anything else in the Triduum? Stations is a very nice supplement, but the real thing is the dramatic reading of the Passion, the Solemn Collects, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion from the previous evening’s leftovers.
Hello bishop, thank you.
You are surely correct on my Good Friday fail. In our case we don’t have our own building and have to go somewhere offsite on Friday night to get everyone in.
The Tenebrae service modifications are really fantastic though. About 3000 young adults have been to one of the services over the last 4 years. I can send you a link to the files…including the chants composed for it. It is in Keynote so you would have to be a Mac user to open it. Otherwise I can send you a pdf. Tell me what form and I will send it to your diocesan email address.
Hello again, Bishop Martins. I beefed up both the Maundy Thursday and the Good Friday sections. Thank you for the head’s up. 🙂
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Reblogged this on the gospel side and commented:
With Holy Week fast approaching I wanted to repost this as an invitation to my friends…
Thanks for the great posts on Holy week!
I just wanted to share this awesome Maundy Thursday message:
[audio src="http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/the-last-day-of-jesus-life.mp3" /]
I think you’ll appreciate it.
Thank you. I have it up on a web page to listen to.