A brief history of Easter Holy Week
By Victor Parachin
Easter spells out beauty, the rare beauty of new life. ~ S.D. Gordon
Without the resurrection, Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation. ~ John MacArthur
We cannot give up in the face of evil. God is Love and he has defeated evil through Christ’s death and resurrection. ~ Pope Francis
In many churches, the week before Easter is called “Holy Week,” the last week of the 40-day season of Lent and the week preceding Easter. In Holy Week, we focus on the last week of Christ’s life, remembering especially His suffering and resurrection. Here is a brief history of Easter Holy Week.
Palm Sunday was a high point in Jesus’s life and ministry. (See Matthew 21:8-9) Just as an American president is greeted by crowds waving American flags, Jesus was greeted by enormous crowds waving palms cut down from nearby palm trees. The New Testament welcoming crowd was our equivalent of a ticker-tape parade for a returning hero. On Palm Sunday, Jesus was treated as a great dignitary. However, fame is fleeting. In less than a week, Jesus was abandoned by everyone, including his own disciples.
Holy Monday and Tuesday: The cleansing of the temple at Jerusalem supposedly took place on Holy Monday. It is also the day when Jesus reprimanded the money changers. The Holy Tuesday is the day when the famous incident between Jesus and Pharisees supposedly took place, where an attempt was made to get Jesus to commit blasphemy by asking him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-40) The Pharisees were Jesus’s harshest critics claiming he broke Sabbath laws by healing people and gleaning corn to eat (Luke 13:14, Matthew 12:1-2).
Spy Wednesday: This is the day when Judas Iscariot, a disciple of Jesus who betrayed him told the chief priests where they could find Jesus. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is reported in Matthew 26:14-16: “Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me, if I hand him over to you?’ So, they counted out for him 30 silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word ‘mandatum’ meaning mandate or commandment. It was on Thursday that Jesus gave us a new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Good Friday is a misnomer because it was really a “bad” Friday—the crucifixion day of Jesus. Originally, the day was called “God’s Friday” but somehow became lengthened into Good Friday. Some, however, hold to the view that “Good Friday” refers to the good gift of salvation brought out by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Many churches still hold a three-hour service on Friday, representing the three hours Jesus hung on a cross. Such services revolve around Christ’s seven statements made from the cross.
Commenting on Good Friday, New Testament scholar William Barclay says: “Love always involves responsibility and love always involves sacrifice. And we do not really love Christ, unless we are prepared to face His task and to take up His Cross.” Similarly, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn observed: “No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.”
Holy Saturday evolved in the church after the fourth century. Prior to that time, only Easter was recognized as a holy or special day. However, during the fourth century, all the days of the week prior to Easter were established as holy days. Some churches reserve Holy Saturday as a traditional time for baptisms. Spanish archbishop Isidore of Seville, recommended Christian
s spend this night in prayer: “We spend the night before Easter in vigil because of the coming of our King and Lord, so that when the time of his resurrection comes, we may be found awake, and not sleeping.”
Easter Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection, is the most important day of the church year. The date varies from year to year because the Council of Nicaea (325) determined that Easter would be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. (There are two times during the year when the length of day and night are equal: the vernal equinox and the autumnal equinox). The word ‘Easter’ is probably derived from the Goddess of Spring, Eostre. Many congregations hold an annual Easter sunrise service. This comes from the fact that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” first learned of Christ’s resurrection “at dawn on the first day of the week.” (Matthew 28:1)
Holy Week events are incorporated in this inspirational prayer written by British clergyman, Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667): “Grant, O Lord, that in your wounds I may find my safety; in your stripes, my cure; in your pain, my peace; in your Cross, my victory; in your resurrection, my triumph; and a crown of righteousness in the glories of your eternal kingdom.”