Have you ever come across the term "Holy Week" and wanted to know more, but didn't know where to begin?
If you're like me, you didn't grow up in a church or denomination that observed each of the days of this week. Just for you, here's a guide to what Holy Week is, the days celebrated, and some ways you can observe it.
Holy Week is the last week of Lent, a period of fasting and preparation for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. This week is among the most significant seven days on the Liturgical Calendar. From Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday, churches everywhere are making preparations.
Every Christian sect, denomination, and church has developed its own practices and observances. However, many Christians are only familiar with Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday, and maybe Good Friday. Yet Holy Week has so much more to offer!
There are many opportunities for Christians to reflect on what Christ did during the week of His crucifixion. And there are just as many opportunities for ministers to lead their people this week in reflection and observation of Christ’s love. This is especially so for churches that have also been on a journey through the season of Lent in anticipation of this week.
I’ve listed below the name of each day, a little information about what it means, and suggestions for how to use that day as a chance to lead your people in observation and worship.
This day is spent in remembrance of Jesus traveling to Bethany and raising Lazarus from the dead, foreshadowing His own resurrection a few days away.
This day is not as well known or widely celebrated as the rest of the days of Holy Week, but there are records of its observance as early as the 7th and 8th centuries. Lazarus Saturday is observed mostly among Eastern Orthodox churches. Even if this day is new to you, there is a lot our Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ can teach us.
The focus of the day is two-fold:
Even if this is not a day your members are used to observing or celebrating, you could share a message on social media or record a video. Use the resurrection of Lazarus as an illustration of what Jesus will do for each of us.
Sometimes known as Passion Sunday, this day reflects on the moment Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as the people of the city greeted him by laying palm branches and coats on the ground while shouting “HOSANNAH”. These very same people would be shouting “CRUCIFY HIM” just a few days later.
This is probably one of the biggest events on your church's calendar. I'm sure you already know what your church will be doing for this Sunday. Below are a couple of suggestions to round out the details of your plans.
This service should be a joyous occasion, so consider choosing worship music that is upbeat and gets people out of their seats. Help your people step into the shoes of the Israelites that greeted Jesus that day.
Many churches try to include a reading or sermon of the whole Passion narrative. People in the building might only attend this service and the following Sunday. This is a chance to offer everyone present the whole story of the crucifixion.
Also known as Fig Monday, this day of Holy Week features Jesus cursing a fig tree for not bearing fruit, causing it to whither. Jesus also drives the moneychangers out of the Temple and addresses challenges to His authority.
If you are a pastor or ministry leader, you could livestream a brief video of you reading Matthew 21:12-27. Perhaps encourage viewers to light a candle and sit in silence, reflecting on Jesus declaring that faith can move mountains.
Some believers eat dried figs as part of their routine for the day, reflecting on the judgment coming for all those who reject Christ.
This is the day Jesus shared the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and the parable of the talents. He also speaks eight “woes” against the Pharasees as well as delivers what is known as the Olivet Discourse.
The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is often reflected upon for Tuesday of Holy Week. The theme of this day is vigilance, making sure we are all prepared for the coming of the Bridegroom.
You could send a message to your members encouraging them to read Matthew 23:1-25:30 alone or together as a family. Then prompt them to ask Jesus to help them remain vigilant and ready for His return.
Also called Holy Wednesday or Good Wednesday. This was the day that Judas’ scheme to betray Jesus was formed after he met with the priests. The name comes from the fact that Judas was a traitor or “spy” among the disciples.
This was also the day a woman approached Jesus as He dined with His disciples and anointed His feet with oil and dried them with her hair. Jesus defends her actions.
In many churches, if they have candles lit, they extinguish all of them, leaving the sanctuary in total darkness. This is to reflect the darkness that would soon cover the earth at Jesus’ crucifixion.
You could write a message on social media or broadcast a brief livestream encouraging your people to light a few candles and read Luke 22:1-6 and Matthew 26:1-16. Then ask them to extinguish the candles and spend time in prayer thanking Jesus for His sacrifice. Also, prompt them to reflect on the difference between the woman anointing Jesus and Judas plotting to betray Jesus.
Many Christians also choose to fast on this day, spending the day thanking Jesus for the suffering He was soon to endure, and accepting that their discomfort from hunger is a small taste of the pain Jesus experienced.
Thursday is the day of the Last Supper. This is when Jesus used bread and wine to illustrate His body being broken and poured out, establishing "The Lord's Supper". This is also when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and commanded them to follow His example.
The name comes from the Latin word “mandatum”, which means “commandment”. This is taken from John 13:34, where Jesus commands His disciples to love one another.
This day is a unique opportunity to love and serve your members. If you are able to meet in person, wash the feet of a few of your members and have them do the same for others present. Afterward is a good time to share communion.
If you are not able to meet in person, instruct your members to gather as a family and have the parents wash the feet of the children. This is to model humility and servant leadership. Then they can spend time taking communion together.
If you and your members are interested in taking your observance on Thursday even further, you could participate in a Passover Meal.
Besides Resurrection Sunday, this is the most significant day of Holy Week. This is the day Jesus suffered immeasurably out of His endless love for us. This is a chance to humbly commemorate His prayer in the garden, betrayal and arrest, mock trial, torture, being rejected over Barabas, carrying His cross, and crucifixion.
There are a number of ways to reflect on this pivotal day. I’ve listed just a few ideas below:
I highly recommend you communicate with your leadership team and your members and develop ideas for how your church can best participate in Good Friday.
This is the day that commemorates Jesus’ burial. Black Saturday is typically seen as a somber day where we mourn the death of our Lord.
Broadly speaking, most churches do not hold ceremonies or activities during the day. However, in some Eastern Orthodox churches, a service might be conducted just like a funeral to commemorate the death and burial of our Savior.
One way to make this day meaningful to your members would be to encourage them to spend time putting themselves in the shoes of Christ’s followers. For them, this was a day of doubt and fear. The resurrection was yet to occur and everything they assumed about the role Jesus would play in their liberation was shattered.
You could point your people toward reflecting on their own doubts and spending time in prayer over them.
Also called The Great Vigil of Easter, this event occurs just after sundown Saturday evening before Resurrection Sunday. The reason for this is because ancient Jews viewed sunset as the beginning of a new day. A full day was measured from sunset to sunset. So while it is still canonically Saturday, sunset marks the liturgical beginning of Resurrection Sunday!
This event is often held as a candlelight vigil. Many churches around the world meet in a darkened sanctuary to hold candles and sing hymns about the coming resurrection.
While the mood is typically somber and introspective, there is also room for a feeling of anticipation. Though the disciples didn’t know it yet, something new and magnificent had begun that would radically change the world. Quiet reflection and a sense of excitement come together during this vigil, preparing us to receive our risen Savior.
If your church isn’t meeting together in person, you could direct your members to gather around the dinner table and light candles while spending time pondering the miracle of resurrection. Then encourage them to share with one another what resurrection means to them and spend time in prayer thanking God for their new life in Him.
Christ is Risen! The tomb is empty! Death has lost its sting, and eternal life is now a reality for all those who are in Jesus.
You and your church likely already have traditions in place for this day. You don’t need a software company telling you how to go big on the biggest Sunday of the year! I speak for everyone here at ChurchTrac when I say we will be joining you in spirit celebrating the resurrection as one body.
All of this barely scratches the surface of the full depth and richness of each day of Holy Week. Do yourself a favor and spend time this year reading further resources or talking with friends from Christian denominations that have a long history of observing each of these days to learn more.
The ways I’ve suggested to observe each day are neither required nor exhaustive. Feel free to research what other churches and denominations do for each day or even come up with your own ideas.
My hope is if you are a church that doesn’t have traditions involving some of the days listed above that you would feel inspired to use them as opportunities to minister to your people and point them toward what Jesus has done for us.