What Is Holy Week?

Christians around the world will begin observance of the holiest of weeks in the Christian calendar - Holy Week.  Like many of our feasts, some of the history of Holy Week has been forgotten, as have the rites and rituals observed.  Why do people get palms on Palm Sunday?  What is Maundy Thursday all about?  Why do the symbols of lambs, eggs and flowers surround Easter?

Historically, Holy Week or Easter Week as some call it, is the remembrance of the time that Jesus of Nazareth joined with his disciples to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover, was arrested, tried and executed.  This week culminates in the holiest of holy days, Easter - the day of the resurrection of Jesus.

Symbolically, Holy Week is filled with imagery, the meaning of which has been forgotten by many.  Palms have long been a symbol of life, rebirth or resurrection. They are used on Palm Sunday as foreshadowing for Easter Sunday. Maundy Thursday gets its name from the new commandment to love one another that Jesus gave his followers who had gathered for the Passover feast. (Maundy comes from the Latin for "command.") Symbols of this day include the washing of feet - a tradition in the Middle East, a sign of hospitality after the journey to someone's home; bread and wine - symbols of the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before his death; silence - believers who go to Maundy Thursday services leave the church in silence, a symbol of the fear and silence shown by the disciples after Jesus' arrest;  the cross, three nails and draping of purple cloth are all found on Good Friday - these all symbolize the death of Jesus, who was crucified.  The purple cloth is symbolic of royalty as well as mourning. ("Good" Friday comes from the obsolete use of good meaning holy, not defined as the opposite of bad, as we use the word now.)

Finally, Easter morning arrives and followers not only appear in new spring outfits, but churches and homes are decorated with spring flowers, lambs, bunnies and eggs.  Why? All of these symbolize new life, rebirth.  Believers wear new clothes as an outward sign of renewing their faith. The flowers, baby animals and eggs are ancient symbols of the renewal of life or rebirth.  Butterflies are also shown at this time of the year, symbolizing resurrection. 

May all those celebrating Holy Week find true connection to the sacred as well as with each other. May the blessings of Easter follow all throughout the year to come.  May we all be blessed with renewal of mind, body and spirit.



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