The end of Lent approaches with the culmination of Jesus’ life that started in Advent with the Annunciation of his Birth. It moved through the celebration of his Birth at Christmas. The arrival of the Three Magi signaled Jesus’ revelation to the Gentile World. Lent foreshadowed Jesus’ death. This is culminating in the events of Holy Week, which we will discuss day by day.
Palm Sunday, Sunday of the Passion
The Sunday of the Passion is also called Palm Sunday. Everyone knows Palm Sunday because that commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding a donkey and greeting by joyous crowds waving palm branches and spreading them in front of him as if he was a conquering hero.
Then the service takes a dark turn when the Passion Gospel is read. This is the retelling of the events from Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, to his trial before the Sanhedrin, to his scourging by Pontius Pilate, to his crucifixion at Golgotha. The Gospel is usually read by different people taking the different parts. The entire congregation takes the role as the mob that shouts for Pilate to release Barabbas and crucify Jesus. It is a powerful reminder that the crowd in the first century was no different than we are today.
Tenebrae is an ancient service that combines the monastic services of Matins and Lauds. The word “Tenebrae” is from the Latin word for darkness because the service is marked by the extinguishing of 15 candles until finally one remains. The 15 candles are held in a triangular holder called a hearse. This last candle represents Christ. It is hidden towards the end of the service when a loud noise is made. This noise, or strepitus, represents the earthquake that occurred on Good Friday when Jesus dies on the cross. The single candle is returned to its place and everyone departs by its light.
The tone of this service is very dark and at the end of the service you should feel as if you also were in the tomb with Jesus.
Maundy Thursday is also called Holy Thursday. Maundy comes from the word “Mandatum” or commandment because at the Last Supper which is commemorated on Maundy Thursday, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment “that you love one another as I have loved you”.
The service is accompanied by foot washing which Jesus also did for his disciples as a concrete example of servant leadership.
This service ends with the congregation reciting Psalm 22 while the altar is stripped. If the altar cross cannot be removed, it is draped in black.
The end of the service is also accompanied by a vigil that begins at the end of the service and continues to the beginning of the service held in the evening of Good Friday. This vigil requires members of the congregation to sign up in one-hour increments to watch with Jesus. The is re-enacting the roles of Peter, James and John who fell asleep while they were supposed to be watching with Jesus immediately before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Good Friday is the most solemn fast day in the Christian Church because it marks the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus. Many Christian pilgrims travel to Jerusalem to walk the Via Dolorosa or Way of Sorrows to remember the last moments of Jesus who walked with his cross to Golgotha where he was crucified and died. His scourging made him so weak that Simon of Cyrene was drafted by the Romans to carry the cross for Jesus.
Every Friday is marked as a smaller reminder of Good Friday which is why many of us grew up with the rule of “no meat on Friday.”
Many churches also offer the Stations of the Cross which worshipers can follow at any time. The Stations of the Cross or Via Crucis recount the Via Dolorosa for those who cannot get to Jerusalem. At each station, the worshiper prays and reflects on the particular event.
The Stations of the Cross are:
- Jesus is condemned to death
- Jesus carries his cross
- Jesus falls for the first time
- Jesus meets his mother, Mary
- Simon helps Jesus carry his cross
- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
- Jesus falls for the second time
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
- Jesus falls for the third time
- Jesus is stripped of his clothes
- Jesus is nailed to the cross
- Jesus dies on the cross
- Jesus is taken down from the cross
- Jesus is laid in the tomb
Holy Saturday is a day of pause. On this day, Jesus is dead in the tomb. Some believe this is when Jesus harrows hell. The harrowing of hell is where Jesus goes to hell, which is simply the abode of the dead and not a place of eternal torment as is currently believed. Jesus preaches the Gospel of the Kingdom and frees the imprisoned souls who lived and died before Jesus’ earthly existence. The Eucharist is not celebrated on Holy Saturday. There is a very short and simple service that marks the day.
If the simple Holy Saturday is not observed, a much more festive Easter Vigil can be celebrated. This service is a long service that begins with the lighting of the new fire because Jesus is the Light of the World. The service retells the history of salvation from the beginning to the death of Jesus. Seven lessons are read with appropriate anthems in between. Then there are baptisms. This service is the traditional time from the ancient church when new members, called catechumens, were baptized and brought into the full fellowship of the church. Also, notorious sinners, after their penitence during Lent, were restored to the fellowship of the congregation. After the lessons and the baptisms, the first Eucharist of Easter is celebrated.
Why is this acceptable on the night before the actual day? In the Jewish reckoning of days, the day begins at sundown and not at midnight as is the current Western custom.
Easter Sunday is the most important day of the Christian calendar. This is the day when Jesus rose from the dead thus conquering death and sin once and for all. If there was no resurrection, the Christian Church has no purpose. By Jesus’ act, we are all saved from our sins. All we have to do is believe it and live into this promise.
Traditionally, because the day is so joyous and because we have completed our repentance and self-examination during Lent, the confession of sin is not used at this service as it is for other Eucharist celebrations.
Easter is so important for Christians, it is celebrated every week on Sunday, the first day of the week. This is why Sundays do not count in the 40 days of Lent. They are all little Easters.
The season of Easter lasts for 50 days until the Feast of Pentecost. Ten days before Pentecost (and 40 days after Easter so it falls on a Thursday), we celebrate the Ascension where Jesus who made numerous post-resurrection appearances to the disciples ascends into heaven in their presence. Jesus tells his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Advocate.
Christmas Creches and Easter
So how does all of this relate to a site about Christmas Creches? We have used our Christmas Creche to begin to tell the story of Jesus. It begins in early December with the start of the season of Advent. This is considered to be the beginning of the church year. The event is the Angel Gabriel’s visitation to Mary to tell her that she has been chosen to bear the Christ child. It continues through Christmas with the birth of Jesus where Jesus takes on our human flesh. We then experience Jesus’ manifestation to the Gentiles in the form of the three Kings or Magi as well as his earthly ministry. We engage in our own self-examination in Lent, and observe and re-enact Jesus’ last week during Holy Week. You can use the different characters of your creche to reflect on their relationship to Jesus so that you can reflect on your own.
After Pentecost, we enter into a long period of Ordinary Time. This is where we must live our own lives in the promise of Jesus. Then the year will cycle back into Advent.
Thank you for reading this. I hope that you’ve gotten something out of this reflection on Holy Week. If you have any comments or want to continue the conversation, please comment.