I always love this time of the year. Holy Week, for those who don’t know, is the week long commemoration (and eventually, celebration) of the finish of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Something about this week just gets me excited! Perhaps it’s the reassurance that He earned forgiveness for my sins (and all of ours) by going back to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and eventually taking our place on the Cross.
Each day of Holy Week, I try to meditate on, or at least think about, what happened on that day. I imagine myself tagging along during that original Holy Week over 2,000 years ago, and put myself in the Apostles’ shoes.
Jesus seemed to be giving His “last reminders” to the Apostles each day. His last “teachable moments” before He was to die. There was also plenty of symbolism. On Palm Sunday, He returned to Jerusalem. The symbolism here gets me choked up. The crowd greeted Him as one would greet a king, but the greater (and sadder) symbol in my eyes, is that of the sacrificial lamb. During Passover, a sacrificial lamb, a blameless, innocent creature, is slaughtered in full view of the people as an atonement for sin. In the case of Jesus, His return to Jerusalem was God presenting Him to be the sacrificial Lamb for our sins.
The three days of Holy Week after Palm Sunday, (simply called Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday), don’t seem to get as much attention as they should. But they are no less important.
The most memorable teachable moment to me, associated with Holy Monday, was when Jesus entered the Temple and drove out all the merchants and money changers. This was one of the few times in scripture where Jesus became genuinely angry. He usually seemed pretty compassionate and laid back. But not here. When He saw all that was happening in front of Him, he made a whip and drove out all the livestock. He also overturned all the tables of the money changers and said, “My Father’s house shall be called a house of prayer. But you have made it a den of thieves!”
For a long time, I never understood why Jesus did this. But now, I get the interpretation that He was angry because that Passover had become commercialized. Not unlike how Christmas has become commercialized today. The people had forgotten the reason for the season. It was no longer about the Jewish people of the time worshiping at the Temple, and thanking God for deliverance from Egypt in the time of Moses. They had forgotten all about that. While Jesus angered many by what He did that day, He was there on Holy Monday to remind them to turn their hearts back to God, and away from material wealth.
On this day of Holy Week, Jesus tells the Apostles two parables. The Parable of the Ten Virgins, and the The Parable of the Talents. Jesus uses the Parable of the Ten Virgins to tell the Apostles, and by extension all of us reading scripture today, to be ready for His return at the end of the world. To more easily understand it, think of humanity/us as the ten virgins, and Jesus as the bridegroom. You can read that parable here.
Next, Jesus tells the Apostles the Parable of the Talents, as a way to encourage them to use their gifts and abilities for the good of others. Take from this whatever interpretation you will. But I think it’s a way to not only encourage us to use our gifts for His glory, but to warn us against being lazy. There’s a link to that parable here.
This is where Jesus’ final path to the Cross is truly set in motion. Why is Holy Wednesday (or as it’s sometimes known, Spy Wednesday) important? On this day, Judas Iscariot, one of the Apostles, struck a bargain with the chief priest Caiaphas, and most of the other religious leaders to hand Jesus over to them. The price? Thirty pieces of silver.
I couldn’t imagine doing something like that if I had physically seen Jesus. And not only seen Him, but been called by Him to join. I know Judas’ betrayal was necessary to our salvation. But I don’t get how someone who had seen all the miracles, learned all the teachings, and been loved by God Himself, could do what Judas did. This has to rank as the greatest betrayal in human history. Although if Judas hadn’t done it and stayed loyal to Jesus, He may not have been crucified, and certainly wouldn’t have fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah 53, a foretelling of his crucifixion. Without Judas turning against Jesus, we wouldn’t be saved.
On Holy Thursday, we remember three things in particular: The Last Supper, Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet, and His command to love one another. While each day of Holy Week is important, the Easter Triduum (the three days before Easter Sunday) commemorate the passion, crucifixion and death of Jesus.
I’ve always thought Holy Thursday is when Jesus begins to show the true beauty of His message to humanity: If we claim His death as payment for our sins, and turn toward Him and away from our old ways, we’ll share eternal life with Him in Heaven.
Holy Thursday was where Jesus instituted the first Eucharist. That is, where He first used bread and wine to commemorate His sacrifice. This is why you see communion wafers and wine in Catholic churches, or bread and grape juice in other Christian churches. It’s a remembrance of Jesus’ death. You can read the Last Supper narrative here.
While The Last Supper is the most powerful, and visible part of Holy Thursday, Jesus washing the Apostles’ feet is no less important. There are several things to learn here. Back in Jesus’ day, a lot of people did not have shoes or sandals. So you can imagine everyone’s feet got extremely dirty, as most walked barefoot. The feet were the dirtiest part of the body, and foot washing was usually a task reserved for servants or slaves. The lowest people on the totem pole. It was a dirty job. Imagine for a second though, God in human form, on His knees with a towel wrapped around His waist, washing the dirtiest part of someone’s body as an act of humble servitude. That was radical and unheard of back in the day.
I do not know if churches that aren’t Catholic commemorate the Washing of the Feet. But I do remember one Holy Thursday, my dad and I were both chosen to have our feet washed by the priest. It was a humbling experience. As I meditated on what it meant, I got a little choked up. While he was washing my feet, I thanked the priest, a man named Father Xavier, and he simply looked up at me and grinned. He’s a wonderful man. I will always remember that Holy Thursday.
Jesus used washing the feet of the Apostles, to show that we should all be servants to one another, saying, “Do you not understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
By His washing of the Apostles’ feet, Jesus shows us that we should humbly serve others in all areas of life, rather than look to be served. Whenever we do this, we become more like Him 🙂
After this, Jesus predicts Judas’ betrayal, as well as Peter’s denial, and then says one of the most memorable things. A cornerstone in terms of what it means to follow Him. Jesus says. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This sounds like such a simple command to follow. But it is extremely hard to consistently put into practice. Nevertheless, it is the command Jesus gave the Apostles. And it is the command He gives all of humanity to this day.
After washing the feet of the Apostles, and giving them the commandment to love one another, Jesus withdraws to the nearby Garden of Gethsemane. This is where true, human fear overtakes Him. He realizes what is going to happen to Him. He is going to die the most horrible, painful death imaginable. I imagine Jesus was in tears while He is asking God to spare Him from His crucifixion, saying, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me. Still, not my will. But your will be done.”
As if to receive God’s answer to whether or not He’ll be spared, Judas arrives with a band of soldiers and Pharisees, and kisses Jesus on the cheek in order to identify Him. He is then taken away, and after he is questioned by Caiaphas and the other religious leaders, Jesus spends the night in a prison cell. I can’t imagine the thoughts going through His mind, and the fear in His heart as He was in shackles. All for you and I. It makes me sad. The innocent Lamb, being held for slaughter because of our wrongdoings.
This day always makes me emotional. On Good Friday, we remember Jesus’ crucifixion. On that first Good Friday, Jesus endured unimaginable agony. Not only was He beaten within an inch of His life, He also had a sharp crown of thorns jammed onto His head, and was forced to carry an extremely heavy crossbeam on His shredded back nearly 600 yards. Only to be nailed to it and left to hang there until He finally gave out.
I couldn’t imagine being crucified. I wouldn’t be able to breathe, and I would’ve been forced to either hang there, or prop myself up on my wrists while there are nails in both my hands and feet, which would cause absolutely AWFUL pain. And this would’ve gone on for DAYS until my body finally decided to give out on me, which would come as sweet relief. I can’t imagine the pain Jesus endured physically. And not only did He endure this pain, He endured unimaginable spiritual pain as well. God abandoned Him during His time on the Cross. God turned His back on Jesus.
As a substitute for our sins, Jesus felt what people who go to Hell feel: There is no hope. No light. No love. Constant fear, sadness and darkness. The people who are in Hell do not feel anything but pain as a result of not wanting to be with God during their lives. It’s as if God says, “I’m sad you don’t want to be with me. I created Heaven for you. But I can’t make you love me. You have the free will to make your own choices. And now in death, you can go your own way, just like you wanted. Suit yourself.” Jesus felt this separation. So much that He cried out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
After enduring the pain, anger from God and wrath meant for us and our sins, Jesus finally gave out, and said, “It is finished.”
In the midst of all this pain and sorrow though, something miraculous happened. The temple veil was torn from top to bottom! So what, you say. It’s just a piece of cloth. You’re right. BUT it’s what the veil represents that makes this a miracle. While we may be able to ask Jesus for forgiveness now after His sacrifice for us, In His time, only the priests who went into the temple past the veil, were allowed to perform sacrifices and ask for forgiveness from God on behalf of everybody. They also had to routinely do it. God routinely held their sins against them.
However, After Jesus’ death, God sent a message with the tearing of the Temple veil: “The price has been paid for your sins. One innocent man, the only innocent being on earth, has died for every wrong thing you’ve ever done. You put Him there with your sins. But now you can approach me yourself, and ask for my forgiveness. You no longer have to have a priest go to me. You can ask for it yourself, and it will be given to you through Jesus’ sacrifice. Heaven is open to you all because of Him.”
You can watch the tearing of the veil below:
I still always have issues wrapping my head around everything. That’s how big the sacrifice Jesus made on Good Friday was. But He did that for all of us. All we have to do is believe in Him, learn from Him, and live as He would want us to live. I hope I’ve done a good job of explaining everything up to this point.
Holy Saturday is the final day of Holy Week. On this day, we remember when Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. We also commemorate what’s called the Harrowing of Hell on this day. Simply put, after His death, Jesus descended into Hell and freed all the righteous people that had been condemned there since the beginning of time.
But wait, you say. I thought only evil people went to Hell. Why would God allow righteous people to go to Hell? God does not want to see any righteous people suffer. Honestly, God doesn’t want to see ANY people suffer, because we are all His creations. He loves us all more than we can imagine and takes joy in those of us who turn to Him and follow Him.
But because of the sins and imperfection of all of humanity, no one could be with God unless they were perfect. God is complete holiness, justice and goodness. All humans (including you and I) are sinful creatures. No matter how good and honorable we are by the world’s standards, we are always imperfect by God’s standards since we have always sinned and stumbled somewhere. We have earned Hell by our sins. That’s what we deserve. But luckily for us, that’s where Jesus comes in! Because He is perfect, He was punished in our place as the perfect sacrifice.
The Harrowing of Hell on Holy Saturday symbolizes the reconciliation of the righteous to God through Jesus’ sacrifice. It also shows Jesus’ complete reign over everything. He rules next to God in Heaven, we look to Him for protection and guidance here on Earth, and even in Hell, the Devil and his demons have to acknowledge Jesus’ kingship.
I can only imagine the sadness of Jesus disciples though. Their Lord had been arrested, and had died in the most awful way. All of them except for John, Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene ran off and hid. They were scared, defeated, and completely crushed. Their spirits were broken. Jesus was gone. Forever.
Or so they thought. Until one bright Sunday morning…