Journeying Through Holy Week: Unveiling the Heart of the Gospel

Journeying Through Holy Week: Unveiling the Heart of the Gospel

This week, we embark on the journey we call Holy Week. We gather in a variety of ways to follow our Lord Jesus in his final days. For those of us who have been Christians for some time, it can be easy to forget the significance of each of the days that we celebrate as a church. And for those who are newer to the faith or our church family, perhaps these holidays will be altogether new. So, it seems fitting to review what Holy Week is all about and how we can participate, as we prepare our hearts for what God has in store for us in the week to come. 

We begin tomorrow with Palm Sunday. This is when we celebrate with the crowds of men, women, and children who welcomed Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The Bible says, “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Matthew 21:8-9). Hosanna was a term of exclamation and praise, similar to hallelujah! But it also carries the meaning of its translation: “Save us!” It is a declaration of worship and a cry to the Lord for salvation. 

It is on Palm Sunday that we encounter Jesus as the Savior who came to rescue his people. He is the Son of David, the Anointed One, the long-awaited King. And he is the Prophet from Nazareth, who proclaimed good news and fulfilled the ancient prophecies of the coming Messiah. On Palm Sunday, we celebrate all that Jesus is to us, we give him praise for what he has done, and we welcome him into our lives, just as the people welcomed him into the city of God. We will worship at our usual times tomorrow morning at 9:00 and 10:30 am. 

Next comes Maundy Thursday. This is one of the least familiar names for a Christian holiday. To understand it, we need a little Latin lesson! Maundy comes from the word mandatum, meaning mandate or commandment. This comes right out of the passage in John 13 that describes what Jesus said to his disciples on the Thursday before his death and resurrection. After Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples, he said to them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). According to Jesus, love looks like what he did for his disciples. He was willing to serve them in the most menial way, by cleaning their feet after traveling around in the dirt and filth. And he now commanded them—and all of us who follow Jesus—to do the same. 

My grandfather, who recently went home to be with the Lord, was a pastor for decades in the Grace Brethren church. They practiced what is called threefold communion. According to them, if communion was to be done properly, it must include three aspects: a shared meal, partaking of the bread and cup, and feet washing! Communion only “counted” if it included washing your fellow believers’ feet on the same occasion— it was sacramental to them. Now, we don’t go that far as Presbyterians… thank goodness! But we do acknowledge the heart of the matter: we are commanded to love our brothers and sisters as Christ loved us by serving one another. 

To commemorate all of this, we remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper and Christ’s painful prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, both of which occurred on that same Thursday night. To close our Maundy Thursday service, to acknowledge the experience of the disciples as their Lord was dragged off to be judged, we whisper the Lord’s Prayer and exit in silence. This is one of our most contemplative and somber services of the year. And for many, it is the most meaningful. We will worship with music, preaching, and communion on Thursday, March 28, at 6:30 pm. 

The next day, we worship online on Good Friday. If Maundy Thursday is the most difficult holiday name to understand, Good Friday is a close second. This is when we remember the trials and awful abuse Christ endured, culminating with his death on the cross. Here’s why the name “Good Friday” may be confusing: if we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus on Friday, what about it could possibly be good? Well, in this instance, we don’t need Latin to understand the name. We just need to go back to when the English word “good” carried a different meaning than it does today. The word good was used to describe something pious or holy. Good Friday calls us to stand in reverence at what Christ accomplished, as he endured unimaginable suffering in our place at the hands of evil men.

Back during the COVID days, our denomination, the EPC, called for a day of prayer and fasting on Good Friday. Pastor Mark led us through times of online prayer throughout the day, walking us through what Christ experienced each step of the way. This was so impactful that we have continued this as a tradition. And this year, we are continuing and building upon that tradition. We will have online prayer Friday, March 29, on our YouTube channel at 6:00, 9:00 am, noon, and 3:00, and conclude with an online worship service at 6:00 pm. That service is designed to be shared with those in our lives who don’t know Jesus, to invite them to the final day of Holy Week, which is…

Easter Sunday! This is when we rejoice in the central Christian truth that Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! As a popular worship song says, “Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You, You silence the boast of sin and grave.” For those of us who trust in what Jesus has done, we experience his resurrection power in this life, and we receive everlasting life in the age to come. We are the people of the empty tomb! And we await the day when the whole creation will be restored by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. We will worship our Risen Lord on at 8:30, 10:00, and 11:30 am on Sunday, March 31.

In short, on Holy Week, we experience the heart of the Gospel unveiled in seven days— that God has saved us through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is during Holy Week that we rehearse and rejoice in this incredible news that changed eternity. And it’s also a special time when we share this amazing news with others! As Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).

So, as we enter this important week, let’s participate in these times of prayer and worship. Let’s pray that God would show us who to invite. And then let’s take that step to invite them to join us. You never know how the Lord might use your invitation to bring transformation to those in your life who desperately need the hope of Jesus.  

Pastor Gunnar