Yesterday was Palm Sunday, one of the highest days in the church calendar, the Sunday before Easter when we mark our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem for the week of his passion, death, and resurrection. These eight days from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday have long been called “Holy Week” and observed with utmost reverence and serious joy by Christians throughout time and around the world.
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.
We have no mandate from Jesus or his apostles to mark these days for particular observance. Paul, for one, would be quite happy for us to partake, or not. He writes, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems 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. As we’ll see soon in our Colossians study, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16).
Opportunity, Not Obligation
So, let me be clear: celebrating Holy Week is not an obligation — however, it is an opportunity. It is a chance to walk with the church, throughout time and around 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, 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.
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.
Seize the Week
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 savor what was happening during the Passion week some two thousands years ago. Consider reading through a Holy Week devotional, like Your Sorrow Will Be Turned to Joy, which will be available today as you exit — or even better, 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.
You may want to make it memorable with candles or some other special flair. And of course, as a church we’re trying to make it special not only with today’s Palm Sunday focus, and next Sunday on Easter, but also with the Maundy Thursday service at 7pm Thursday night.
Whatever aids you take up for your soul this week, let me just register the reminder to look through the stuff to the Savior. His step-by-step journey to Golgotha during Holy Week 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. It is during Holy Week that we see most profoundly how deep the Father’s love for us.
Let’s pray together.
Prayer of Consecration and Confession
Father, we praise you for the demonstration of your love on display in these climactic events in the life of Christ we’ll commemorate this week. Awaken our dull souls to the magnificent exhibition of your love that is our focus in these days.
Make the prayer of Ephesians 3:16–19 increasingly true of us, even this week, that we “being rooted and grounded” in the love of Christ, we “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 all knowledge, that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Father, we confess our knowledge and experience of your love is often weak — not because you haven’t made it clear, but because our hearts are cold and the eyes of our hearts are dim. We are prone to assume your love rather than be astounded by it. We are inclined to ignore your love rather than be inspired by it. We tend to suppress your love instead of be shaped by it. We confess that none of us respond as we should to the marvel of your love.
And so we ask that this Holy Week you would newly ground us in the love of your Son, so plainly on display from the resolve of Palm Sunday, to the ultimate sacrifice of Good Friday, to the triumph of Easter Sunday. Make us to freshly know the love of Christ, and be filled in some new measure with your fullness, O God.
And to fill us with your fullness, we know that means being emptied of our selves and our sins, which we now confess to you in the quiet of this moment. . . .