As is often the case when studying anything in-depth, it is essential first to define our terms. For those who are not familiar, Holy week is the period that culminates with Easter Sunday. It begins the week before with the celebration of Palm Sunday – the day on which is marked the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The week concludes with four very symbolically rich days: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
On Holy Thursday, the central focus is a celebration of the last meal Jesus had with his closest disciples. During this meal, he gives them final instructions, washes their feet in an attempt to express the real meaning of Christian leadership, and shares with them bread and wine and explains that when they do the same in the future, these will be his body and blood. He then leaves with them to spend the night in prayer in a garden, and it is there that the officers of the chief priest arrest him after having been led there by one of his own disciples – Judas. He is arrested, supposedly for not giving due respect to the Roman Emperor (which was considered to be treason). However, it is widely understood that this was a trumped-up charge. The chief priest was not interested in protecting the rule of the Roman Emperor. He was much more worried by Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, which he considered to be blasphemy and significantly undermining of his authority. After all, who is going to listen to a chief priest when you’ve got God himself to listen to?
The focus for Good Friday is the prolonged torment and execution of Jesus. Why this particular Friday is called ‘Good’ is a question that is often asked. It denotes the supreme benefit that these events have for us. A contemplation of the events of that day reveals that the Son of God gave himself over completely into our hands to show the depth of his love. In this light, to refer to the day as ‘good’ is something of an understatement. Tradition has it that Jesus died at 3.00pm in the afternoon of Good Friday. It is why, in this country at least, most celebrations begin at that time.
Superficially speaking, not much happens on Holy Saturday. It is a period of waiting and keeping vigil. Bear in mind that what we wait for is different from what the first disciples were waiting for. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that on Easter Saturday we are waiting to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The early disciples had no such expectation. Instead, they were waiting for other things. Some were waiting to go back to the borrowed tomb in which Jesus had been laid and to have the opportunity to bury Jesus properly. Most were waiting to work out what to do next. All were wondering if Jesus’ death meant that everything he talked about and taught them was all over. It would be fair to say that most, if not all, were waiting to be arrested. Their leader had just been put to death for sedition, and they anticipated that they were going to meet the same fate.
Finally, we have Easter Sunday, on which day is celebrated the wonder of the resurrection of Jesus. Central to this reality is the interplay between life and death. The interplay between these two realities is something we experience every day in one form or another.
Photo by F Wilkinson
14 October 2019