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Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Holy Week are one continuous liturgy called the Triduum Domini—the Three Days of the Lord. Beginning on Maundy Thursday, and culminating on Saturday night at The Great Vigil, this liturgy dramatizes and reveals the great passion of our Lord for the redemption of the world.
The crisis of the Triduum drama unfolds on Good Friday evening. We meditate on how Jesus died: resolute in obedient love, merciful to a helpless criminal, forgiving his tormentors and mockers, providing a caregiver for his mother, mindful to the end that his dying was ultimately a self-offering into the hands of his heavenly Father.
Veneration of the Cross brings these meditations into focus.
On Good Friday, no Eucharist is celebrated. Bread and Wine consecrated on Maundy Thursday is brought to the still-bare altar. We partake of the Body and Blood in solemn gratitude, knowing that by his wounds we are healed.
Again, no benediction or postlude concludes the service, for the Triduum is not yet complete.
The Great Easter Vigil is the dramatic climax of the Triduum liturgy. It unfolds in four parts that move from the shadows of death into the light of resurrection.
Holy Week includes the most intensive and extensive liturgies of the Christian year. The five liturgies we will celebrate this Holy Week are Palm-Passion Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Great Vigil of Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Some Christian communities do more, others do less. But all recognize the special place that the events of Holy Week hold for Christians and indeed for all human history.
At its best, liturgy reveals and dramatizes patterns of spiritual realities that enliven, identify, mature, and unite us together in Godward faith, hope, and love (Hebrews chapters 2, 10, and 12 anchor this understanding of liturgy for us scripturally). In words (spoken, heard, prayed, sung, confessed), in symbols (crosses, colors, cups, candles), in gestures (crossing, bowing, standing, kneeling, peace-giving), in forms (patterns of words, service-flow, movements, seasons)--we’re involving our whole humanity in worship of the Triune God. From the standpoint of Christian liturgy, then, the services of Holy Week provide unique opportunity to enter afresh into the “contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby God has given us life and immortality” through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Holy Week is the most decisive week in all of human history seen from the standpoint of divine sovereignty. In Revelation 21:5, we hear God’s joyous and resolute purposes for our sin-stained world: “I am making all things new!” God’s eternal purposes unfold in time, and what we now call Holy Week stands as the pivot point of those eternal purposes.
In this week, all that matters most in human life—relationships, devotion, authority, timing, priorities, understanding, loyalty, beauty, giving, community, responsibilities, promises, freedom, leisure, creativity—all this and more was irrevocably enfolded into God’s unstoppable work of “making all things new.” And we see that “New” in God’s purposes always extends and deepens patterns first revealed in the “old creation.”
Palm Sunday marks a turning point in unveiling a New Kingdom. Jesus had opened his public ministry proclaiming the arrival of God’s reign. Until the point of Palm Sunday, Jesus was content to have the Messianic character of that Kingdom remain a mystery. On what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus made things crystal clear—he came as the promised Messiah, son of David, son of God. The New Kingdom had come, the Kingdom of Our Lord and of His Christ.
See Matt. 20:29 – 21:17 and Luke 19:28-44
Holy Monday reveals a New Urgency. Jesus enters the temple and reveals a white-hot zeal for the grace of God. As he drives commercial exploitation out of the court of the Gentiles, he proclaims the heart of God for all humanity—my house, my home, will be a place of prayer—a place of drawing near and being heard—for all the nations. The New Urgency, the new priority, in the new creation will be for prayer, not sacrifice.
See Mark 11:12-25
Holy Tuesday unveils New Teaching as the already amazing Rabbi stuns all challengers. Having already shaken the categories and confidence of the leading influencers of his time and place, Jesus engages in what we might call a “Wisdom smack-down.” Jesus answers all questions, all challenging scenarios: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God”; “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living!”; “Love God… and love your neighbor…on these two commands hands the entire law and prophets.” Then, the coup de grâce: “David calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” (see Luke 20). Then follow a flood of warning parables and private teachings on the end of the ages.
See Matt. 22-24 & Luke 21.
Holy Wednesday (aka “Spy Wednesday”) gives us a glimpse of New Anointing alongside New Treason (Matt. 26:1-14). On this day, a turning point unfolds for at least two disciples, ultimately coming to signify the choice all humans must face in Jesus Messiah. Believing Jesus’s earlier declarations that he must suffer and be killed, Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus) anoints Jesus in advance for his coming burial. Tangled in a web of conflicting desires, Judas Iscariot chooses the path of betraying Jesus to the ruling authorities. One makes a costly act of hope in anointing Jesus—valuing Jesus above all else, even in his dying. The other makes the act of ultimate treachery that will come to define the core of any other human act of sin—rejecting God and neighbor in exchange for one’s own designs.
See Matt. 26:1-14; Mark 14:1-11; John 12:1-11
Maundy Thursday brings New Community, New Commandment, and New Covenant. In the poignancy of the Passover meal, Jesus defines the New Community: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:25-26). Even more profoundly, Jesus declares: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Both the community and the commandment only make sense in light of the New Covenant, instituted in the Bread and Wine of his Body and Blood (Matt. 26:26-29). The framework of New Creation relationships is laid out ahead of time: a community of mutual service, characterized by self-giving love, founded in a covenant of atoning-sacrifice.
Explore the passages noted above.
Good Friday reveals New Access to heavenly realities. Conquering death by his own death, Jesus enters and transforms human suffering. He enters Hell as Liberator, and enters Heaven as High Priest. The New Testament epistles explain the implications of the events the gospels describe: Hebrews 10 can be seen as explaining Matthew 27:51-53; Colossians 2 as explaining Luke 23:32-46; 1 John 5 explaining John 19:31-37; and many other passages besides. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 4:25-5:2). See especially Hebrews 10 and 12
Holy Saturday discloses New Rest. The Sabbath day of rest was established to recall both God’s completion of the first creation and God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Sabbath Rest is transformed in the grave of Jesus. Having laid down his life for all—past, present, future—and having yielded up his spirit to the Father, Jesus rests. Deliverance from Slavery to death and sin has been achieved. Awaiting resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus rests. New Creation is about to begin. Jesus’s death transforms death for those who die in him (see Romans 6). This New Rest is not limited to one day in seven, but is a Rest that can now be entered any day that is called “Today”.
See Hebrews 4; Col. 3:1-4; 2 Cor. 4:7-18
Resurrection Sunday—the unexcelled Day of Days—marks the dawn of New Creation. More glorious than a creation out of nothing, this is a Creation that transforms and remakes the dead and broken first-creation. Where possibility and then sin-death-blighting-life characterized first creation, fulfillment and grace-Life-out-from-death characterize the New Creation. This day anchors the declaration of Revelation 21”—I am making all things new!” See 1 Cor. 15:20-26, 35-58; 2 Cor. 5; Rev. 1:4-8, 12-18.
Revel in the ever-New gifts Jesus inaugurated in the week we celebrate as Holy Week!