Holy Week Introduction (2018)


When an occurrence becomes repetitive in our life we are often desensitized to its reality.

Remember when your shoes were brand new? You kept looking down at them, all nice and clean, but somewhere down the line, they lost their luster. Over time your shoes became part of the routine of your daily, repetitive life.

Easter is our annual spring holiday, and for the most part, we gather with family and friends. We go to church, dressed in festive fashion, and hear about Jesus rising from the grave for the salvation of mankind. We are moved to some degree by the worship and the message, we then go on our way to whatever family function we have planned.

Yet, in the midst of our traditions, in the midst of our repetitive lifestyle, there is a reality that’s more than just words on a page. The reality is…

Jesus really did live.

Jesus really did suffer.

Jesus really did die.

Jesus rose from the grave.

Jesus is alive.

And our response to this reality has real implications.

This daily devotional this week is designed to take us along Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the events that took place all the way up to His death and resurrection. Tomorrow we will look at the events of Palm Sunday.


History of Holy Week

In the first century, the early Christians celebrated every Sunday in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus. By the second century, they established a particular day for the celebration of the resurrection, which was connected to the Jewish Passover. Their observance began at sundown on Saturday evening. They called it the Night of the Great Vigil, a time of remembrance and expectation that lasted throughout the night so they could sing “Alleluia” at dawn on Easter morning. 

By the fourth century, it became customary for people to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to celebrate what was called the “Great Week,” which included Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. 

Over time, the practice of observing Holy Week spread throughout the Christian world, with prayers, historical re-enactments, and special liturgies. During the Middle Ages, the celebration of the Easter Vigil gradually fell out of practice. The important days of the week were Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.


Holy Week FAQs

Who decides the date of Easter?

In 325, the Council of Nicaea decreed that Easter would be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. It can occur as early as April 22 or as late as April 25.

Why use the word “Passion” to describe the suffering of Jesus?

The word “Passion” comes from the Latin word for suffering. When referring to the events leading up to the death of Jesus, we capitalize the word Passion to differentiate from the modern meaning of the word with its romantic overtones.

Why do we call it “Good Friday?”

There’s not a clear answer for this. Some think “Good Friday” probably evolved from “God’s Friday” in the same way that “Good-bye” evolved from “God be with you.” The word “good” is sometimes used in the Bible in the sense of “holy.” So the term Good Friday might be derived from some olden expression such as Holy Friday. Or it could be because what appeared at first to be a tragedy was in fact a triumph -- because by Jesus’ death on the cross He purchased our salvation. 


Holy Week Customs


Palm crosses: These are made to commemorate the palm branches laid down before Jesus as He entered jerusalem.The easiest way to make a cross from palms is to cut two pieces of the palm, arrange in the shape of a cross, put a thumbtack in the middle, and attach the cross to a doorway or a bulletin board. 

Housecleaning: In many cultures the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week are designated as days for vigorous housecleaning in preparation for Easter. This custom probably evolved from the Jewish custom of ritual cleaning before Passover.

Coloring eggs: Decorating eggs was a symbol of rebirth at springtime for the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Persians and the Chinese. Christians adopted the colored egg as a symbol of new life which comes with the Resurrection.

Sweet breads: In many cultures, Holy Week was traditionally a time for baking sweet breads, cakes and pastries that would be served on Easter Sunday.


New clothes: From the time of the early Christians, the newly baptized wore white garments made from new linen. In medieval times, it became a tradition for people to wear new clothes on Easter Sunday, symbolizing the “new life” that comes with the Resurrection. 

Easter lilies: The tradition of buying Easter lilies during Holy Week for use as decorations in homes and churches came into practice in the 1800s. The white flower is a symbol of purity and new life that heralds the resurrection of Jesus.

(Our Holy Week Guide posts originally appeared on our blog last year.)

What are your favorite Easter traditions?