Holy Week

Preaching and Worship Resources about Holy Week

The last week of Lent and the climactic week of the church year, Holy Week comprises the seven days that begin with Palm Sunday, include Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and conclude with Holy Saturday.

In Scripture

Jesus enters Jerusalem "The great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, `Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!' Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: `Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt!' His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him" (John 12:12 - 16).

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified "Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, `Sir, we wish to see Jesus.' Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, `The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor" (John 12:20 - 26).

Judas's betrayal "One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, `What will you give me if I betray him to you?' They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him" (Matt 26:14 - 16).

The Last Supper "While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, `Take, eat; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, `Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.' When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Matt 26:26 - 30).

In Gethsemane "They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, `Sit here while I pray.' He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, `I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.' And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, `Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want'" (Mark 14:32 - 36).

Jesus crucified "It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, `The King of the Jews.' And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left" (Mark 15:25 - 28).

Jesus cries out "When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, `Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, `My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mark 15:33 - 34).

Points to Ponder

In Holy Week Christians commemorate the events just before Jesus's sacrificial death and his burial. On Palm Sunday Jesus is hailed as a conquering king ("Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord"), illustrating a part of the confusion that pervaded Jesus's life. Would he usher in the kingdom of God in its fullness right now, or only later? On Thursday Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples and instituted the Lord's Supper, feeding the traitor Judas along with the other disciples. On Friday Jesus died a horrible death by crucifixion on Golgotha and was buried. Christians believe that Jesus's death was not a mere expiration, but a heroic sacrifice of himself to win atonement "for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).

The scene on Golgotha tells us how fearful a thing atonement is, even for the Son of God. All of Jesus's securities had been stripped away, including his clothing and the loyalty of his friends. The gospels tell us that priests had plotted against him, that Judas had betrayed him, that three disciples fell asleep on him, that witnesses lied about him, and that Peter denied him. Each event was a stake in his heart long before the Romans drove nails through his hands and feet. Mark tells us that Pilate flogged him and that soldiers mocked him. And when the soldiers got tired of kneeling in front of Jesus and then belting him in the face, they led him out to crucify him. All these attacks, all these degradations assaulted Jesus till finally he was led to the cross. Where degradation is concerned, crucifixion is just a way of finishing it off.

Catholic monks often read the book of Lamentations during Holy Week. The death of Jesus is to them like the fall of the city of Jerusalem. In each case the center of our life has been assailed and ruined.

Ceremony of foot washing Congregations that worship on Maundy Thursday sometimes include not only a sharing of the Lord's Supper, but also a ceremony of foot washing, following Jesus's example in John 13. "Maundy" comes from the same Latin root as "mandate" and refers to Jesus's command to his disciples that just as he has washed their feet, so they also ought to wash each other's feet — in other words, that just as he has loved them, they also ought to love one another.

Mark 15 tells of darkness from noon till three, and of Jesus's terrible lament when the darkness was over. The darkness has a primeval feel, a feel of un-creation, as if the earth were collapsing back into chaos. On earth's first day, in a spectacular burst of power and love, God had said, "Let there be light." God's creation is so full of light that at its dawn the stars sing together and all the children of God shout for joy. God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. But on Friday from noon till three, there's no light on Golgotha. It's as if God turns his face away. It's as if God can't bear to watch the madness on Golgotha, and so God hides from it.

Jesus Christ wasn't crucified in church. In the earliest Christian gospel, Mark tells us of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the Lord, the Son of God. He tells of this howling wilderness event, out in the darkness, away from the light of God. Jesus Christ wasn't crucified in church. As Jürgen Moltmann reminds us, Jesus wasn't crucified "between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull." The darkness tells us that everything here is chaos, and that the whole earth is groaning under the weight of it.

Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani! Mark's gospel tells us that Jesus suffered through the darkness from noon till three, and then he "cried out with a loud voice, `Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani!'" Jesus recovered his voice after a season of darkness and took upon his lips not his own words, but the first words of Psalm 22.

God does not hold himself aloof from human suffering but enters into the worst of it himself The crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Son of God, climaxes Holy Week not just because in the mystery of God's providence Jesus was making atonement "for us," "for many," "for all," but because his death not only horrifies, but also comforts. It horrifies because the death of God's Son looks like the end of the world. But it comforts because we see in this grotesque event that God does not hold himself aloof from human suffering but enters into the worst of it himself, thus proving that he may be trusted. Many suffering Christians have clung to the cross of Jesus Christ because they have trusted the person impaled on it.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.