In one sense, there’s nothing special about “Holy Week.” Just another sequence of eight days each spring — nothing is intrinsically holy about this Sunday to Sunday that moves around the calendar each year.
Of course, there is no order from Jesus or his apostles to mark these days for observance. Paul, for one, would be quite happy for us to partake, or not. “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteem all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Clearly, the celebration should not be pressed upon the conscience of others.
Celebrating Holy Week is not an obligation, but it is an opportunity. It is a chance to walk with the church, throughout time and throughout the world, as she walks with her Bridegroom through the most important week in the history of the world. It is a chance to focus our minds on, and seek to intensify our affections for, the most important and timeless of realities.
While not mandating the observance, or even suggesting it, the New Testament does give us indirect reason, if we’re looking for it. The final eight of Matthew’s 28 chapters are given to this one week, along with the last six of Mark’s sixteen and the final six of Luke’s 24.
“Celebrating Holy Week is not an obligation, but it is an opportunity.”
Most significant, though, is John. Ten of the Gospel’s 21 chapters — essentially half — deal with the final week of our Lord’s life, his betrayal, his trials, his crucifixion, and his triumphant resurrection. Even Acts, which then narrates the life of the early church, returns to the events of Holy Week with frequency (see, for instance, Acts 1:15–19; 2:22–36; 3:11–26; 4:8–12, 24–28, among others).
Indeed, it could even be said that all the Old Testament anticipates this week, and the rest of the New Testament reflects it in theology and practical living.
So, without any arm-twisting or conscience-pressing, I would encourage you to consider how you might make the most of this week. These are some of the darkest and brightest days in the history of the world, and they are rich with soul-sustaining food and life-clarifying vision.
In the chaos of our increasingly fast-paced and hectic society, Holy Week is a reminder to pause and ponder, to carefully mark each day and not let this greatest of all weeks fly by us like every other.
Perhaps pick a time each day — alone or with family or housemates — to slow down and savour what was happening during the Passion week some two thousand years ago. Consider reading through one (or a couple) of the Passion narratives from the Gospels:
- Matthew 21–28
- Mark 11–16
- Luke 19–24
- John 12–21
Block out several minutes. Find a comfortable place to sit. Seek to quiet your soul, and pray that God would meet you in the events and significance of this week. And spend a few moments in prayer after you read and turn the truth Godward in adoration of Christ. Receive this week with thanksgiving, and make it holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:5). You may want to make it memorable with candles or some other special flair.
And, of course, there’s the opportunity of the daily services of our church. These present a great opportunity to share day by day with others making this journey of remembrance and life. Details of all the services are on the website or in the Holy Week leaflet.
If you’d like a specific biblical text to serve as a prayer for this week, here’s an idea that God would make the prayer of Ephesians 3:16–19 increasingly true of us this Holy Week —
“that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Jesus’s step-by-step journey to Golgotha is a glowing revelation of the extent of his love. He loved us “to the uttermost” (John 13:1) in going all the way to the cross for us, with every bruise, every puncture, and throb and stab of pain. And it is during Holy Week that we see most profoundly how deep the Father’s love for us. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
May God make this to be for you a week of being newly grounded in the love of Christ, so plainly on display from the resolve of Palm Sunday, to the ultimate sacrifice of Good Friday, to the triumph of Easter Sunday. And may you freshly know the love of Christ, in all its breadth and length and height and depth — and wonder upon wonder, be filled with all the fullness of God.
Canon Simon Butler
Download the Holy Week schedule: Holy Week 2017