Holy Saturday, Holy Friday, Holy Thursday, Holy Week - Holy Cow! What is all this holiness stuff about? Yesterday didn't really seem to be any different than the day before, or the day before that, or the day before that. Why are these days any different than any other; why do we call these days and this week "holy?"
Perhaps the first order of business is to understand what the word "holy" actually means. There is the song, "Holy, Holy, Holy"; there are references in scripture to a "holy" God and the Apostle Peter, even refers to us as a "holy people." It seems odd to refer to us in the same terms as God. But maybe not if we come to understand what "holy" is really all about. The word "holy" as referred to in scripture actually means "separate," "set apart" or "different." It derives from the Hebrew word kedushah which means "separateness." Saying God is "holy" and saying we are "holy" is simply reminding us that God is "set apart" from everything, God is "other than" anything else in our experience or our knowledge. Referring to us as holy, Peter is reminding us, the people of God, that we too are "set apart" for worship and service of our creator. We are a holy people in that we are different that those around us in our love and obedience to the God who brought salvation in Jesus Christ. Saying we are a "holy people" means that God has "set us apart" for him.
Holy week, then, becomes a week that has been set apart from the rest of our year, a week that is different than all the rest in that we, as followers of Christ, are called to set this time apart in special worship and reflection of the events in the life of Jesus that transpired this week, as he walks obediently to his death - a death that will bring the forgiveness of humankind.
Think about what has happened this week beginning with the waving of palm branches and the singing of Hallelujahs on Palm Sunday. Before the palms have even all hit the path, Jesus is weeping over Jerusalem knowing that even amidst all this fun and excitement and joy, the mood is quickly going to turn and there will be no more singing of praise, no more laughter and dancing and celebration. Many traditions actually remove the Alleluias and Hallelujahs from their liturgy during Lent in recognition of this darkening mood surrounding the last week of Jesus' life. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey - symbolic of a king entering a city in peace.
But things in Jerusalem didn't stay peaceful for very long. Jesus enters the temple where he witnesses the money changers desecrating the temple, distorting the true worship of God. Peace doesn't seem to have been what was on his mind as he drives them out shouting that they have made his father's house a den of thieves. Afterward, he and his disciples travel back to Bethany for the evening, probably to stay with his friends Mary and Martha. On his way back into Jerusalem the next morning, hungry, he walks over to a fig tree that is covered in leaves but finds no figs. He curses the tree which withers and he looks to the disciples and reminds them that through him in prayer they have the same power.
This event begins a series of lessons Jesus teaches that day - parables and stories to help the people who are listening understand what he is all about and why he has come and who he is. Great parables about talents and giving our widows mites and being ready for what is to come; about living a life in love. Jesus knows this is his last opportunity to really be able to teach the people but it seemed that the more he taught, the more people began to leave and the angrier the religious authorities became. Until Wednesday comes and one of the disciples decides that Jesus is just too far off track and must be stopped - and so Judas goes to the officials and for 30 pieces of silver agrees to turn Jesus over to the authorities. As Jesus knows he has been betrayed, he goes back to Bethany where he is anointed by Mary, an act that no one except Jesus really understood at the time.
Thursday was the day of the Passover meal and Jesus wanted to spend this last evening with his closest friends, with the ones who had traveled with him and ministered with him for the last three years. But even then the disciples were arguing over greatness when Jesus tried to teach them what following him was really all about as he knelt down and washed their feet. He then shared the meal with them, setting apart the bread and the wine to symbolize his broken body and shed blood and charging them to do this to remember him whenever they gathered. We remember this time in our Maundy Thursday services where foot washing and communion are practiced. But on that evening, after the meal, Judas gets up and leaves to complete his betrayal of Jesus. Jesus and the disciples leave to go up on the hill where Jesus begins to pray - praying for the steadfastness of his disciples and the unity of all his followers and for himself.
Judas shows up with the Temple army and Jesus is hauled in front of the court, lied about and convicted, turned over to the Roman authorities where he is beaten and crucified - a day we call Good Friday. Jesus dies that day at the moment of the slaughtering of the Pascal lamb. He is then lowered from the cross and buried. Holy Saturday is the day of darkness when Jesus is in the grave. For centuries this day has been a day of prayer. In the early church, the entire congregation would pray throughout the day and through the night until the celebration of the Resurrection at sunrise Sunday morning. Today, many congregations practice a tag team of prayer as people come to the sanctuary to pray one at a time, a half hour or so each so that prayer is being lifted up throughout the day and night. Some churches open their doors for people to come by and pray at their convenience. Regardless of the tradition, this Holy Saturday is a day to be set apart to pray and reflect on the obedience of Jesus Christ - obedience unto death.
The events of this week triggered the most important event in all of human history - the salvation of humankind in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is indeed a holy time, a time set apart and those who follow Christ are called to make this week truly holy, to set this time apart to remember the events that gave them new life in Christ.
(The opinions of this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Inter-Mountain, the Randolph County Ministerial Association or the author's church affiliation.)