For Christians, we are about to enter the holiest week of the Christian year, aptly known as Holy Week. During Holy Week, Christians mark the events that took place in the last week of Jesus’ life. We begin with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the head of a peasant parade hailing his arrival. As the week progresses, we gather with Jesus and his disciples for the meal commonly known as the Last Supper. We watch in horror as Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tortured and then crucified. We sit in anguish with his friends in the midst of their shock and horror at Jesus’ death. And finally, we celebrate the miracle of resurrection and new life at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.
We begin on Palm Sunday (March 28th, this year). On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg have described Palm Sunday as a day of two processions. They write:
One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus road a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class. They had journeyed to Jerusalem from Galilee, about a hundred miles to the north, a journey that is the central section and the central dynamic of Mark’s gospel. Mark’s story of Jesus and the kingdom of God has been aiming for Jerusalem, pointing toward Jerusalem. It has now arrived. On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. 
Pre-pandemic, many churches distribute palm branches to those who gather for worship. We wave our palm branches and declare, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” This year, in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, churches are worshiping in a variety of ways. At St. Thomas, we’ll gather outside on Saturday evening and over Zoom on Sunday morning. Parishioners have been invited to pick up palm branches at church before the Sunday morning service.
In our individual devotions during Holy Week, many Christians read from John’s Gospel about the events that happen after Jesus’ triumphal entry. On Monday, we read John 11: 1-12. On Tuesday, we read John 12: 20-36. And on Wednesday, we read John 13: 21-32.
This brings us to Maundy Thursday (this year, April 1). Maundy Thursday remembers the last supper that Jesus ate with his friends before his death. The day gets its name from the Latin word mandatum or mandate. It comes from Jesus’ command (mandate) that his followers, “love one another as I have loved you.” You can read the whole of the Maundy Thursday story here.
One of the key moments on Maundy Thursday is when Jesus does something quite unexpected for a great teacher. Before Jesus and his companions gather to eat, Jesus wraps a towel around his waist and washes his disciples’ feet. Normally this task would have been done by a servant. Instead, Jesus humbles himself to take on this role – and teaches every Christian the key role that service to others plays in the Christian life.
Good Friday (this year, April 2) remembers the day that Jesus was crucified. It’s probably the most somber day in the Christian year. It seems counterintuitive to call a day that was filled with torture, suffering and death “good.” But Christians believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is ultimately a repudiation of death, evil, and sin. Worship on this day is somber and reflective. We pray. We contemplate the cross. And we share in the sorrow of Jesus’ death (even as we know what his first followers did not – that resurrection is coming).
On Holy Saturday morning (this year, April 3), Christians sit with the grief of Jesus’ death. Again, we know that Resurrection is coming, but has not yet arrived. Many Christians read of Jesus burial by Joseph of Arimathea in Matthew’s Gospel.
As the sun sets on Holy Saturday, Christians gather for what is known as the Great Vigil of Easter. From the earliest days of the Christian Church, Christians would gather in the dark on the night before Easter. A new fire is kindled, and an ancient hymn called the Exsultet, which sings of God’s glory would be sung. They would tell the stories of God’s saving acts in history – how God has always acted for justice and new life. Those who have been preparing for baptism were baptized. And as the sun rose on Easter morning, the first call and response of, “Alleluia, the Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!” is heard. Most churches that celebrate an Easter Vigil now, begin at sunset, though I have participated in an Easter vigil that began in the dark at 4am on Easter Sunday.
Finally, on Easter Sunday (this year, April 4), we celebrate the unthinkable news that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Each of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) tells the story a little differently, but they share remarkable consistency. And while there was no video camera to tell the story of how the resurrection occurred, we can see its truth in the transformation of Jesus’ first followers. In the coming days and weeks, they’ll undergo a profound transformation. They move from being frightened deniers of Jesus (like Peter after Jesus arrest) who are afraid and locked away (see John 20: 19-31) to fearless evangelists for the way of Jesus Christ (see Acts 2: 1-21).
The span of these eight days that stretch from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday are truly my favorite days of the Christian year. In them, we walk a road that includes hope, community, betrayal, death and new life. If you’d like to learn more or experience one or more of these services, you are welcome to join us at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean (via Zoom – links will be on our website on Monday March 29) or any of the Christian churches that are part of Tysons Interfaith. Click on the logos here to be connected to the congregation’s website.
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.
 Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), pp. 2-3.