There are different ways of marking time. The most common is in intervals of years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds. Another, perhaps more charming way, is a child’s tendency to count by how many more “sleeps” they have until the long-awaited vacation or visit. For students or teachers, time is marked by intervals of 9 or 12 weeks, broken up by vacations, and marked by the lack of classroom time.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel are given feasts as ways not only to keep time but to remember the mighty works of God by their appearance every year. The church through much of its history has similarly ordered its days and seasons. It has constructed its yearly rhythms around the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

This week, beginning with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter, is unarguably the height of the church’s year, and in its latter half (Thursday - Sunday) we meditate on Christ’s self-sacrificial descent into death and glorious reign in resurrection. The church calendar sets aside these four days so that we might tell His story to ourselves in time, remembering in our bodies and souls the good news of God’s love in Jesus. (If you would like an accessible timeline with the corresponding Scriptures for all of Holy Week, click here.)

Thursday of Holy Week recalls Christ’s two commandments given to His disciples during their Passover meal.

The first is the “new commandment” which Jesus embodies before He instructs (John 13:34). Knowing His hour was coming, Jesus “laid aside his outer garments…and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:1-5). Initially, His disciples were scandalized, but Jesus assures them that they will soon understand and calls them to wash each other’s feet (John 13:14-15). After this humble and self-sacrificial service, Jesus instructs His disciples to love each other precisely as He has loved them (John 13:34).

The second is the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:14-23). In eating the Passover with His disciples, Jesus instructs them to eat the bread as their Lord’s body and drink the cup as their Teacher’s blood. Jesus calls for this to be done in remembrance of Him, the fulfillment of the Passover “in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16-19).

Friday of Holy Weekoften called “Good Friday,” retells the betrayal, sentencing, shame, and crucifixion of Jesus. After being betrayed by His friend, Jesus is forcefully taken before the high-priest and then the governor (John 18:1-28). Under Pontius Pilate, Jesus is interrogated, flogged, humiliated, and is eventually handed over to be crucified (John 18:28-19:16). Bearing His own cross, Christ is taken to Golgotha where He is crucified as a common criminal (John 19:18-19). On the same day, Jesus is taken down and buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb (John 19:38-42).

This narrative is the very core of our salvation, God’s ultimate act of self-revelation as God who is God with us and for us. The apostle Paul describes this decisive event as the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). This Friday, we set apart a day to meditate on Christ’s journey to and upon the cross because we know it is the power of God amidst the horrors of sinful humanity which He willingly endured for our sake.

Saturday of Holy Week is a day of silence which the Scriptures do not fill with exposition. The scandal of the cross sits for this day as it looks like evil reigns in victory, and God has given His only Son over to sin’s death-dealing hand.

It is amidst the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday that God’s marvelous light burst through on Easter Sunday. For at early dawn on the first day of the week, the women went to see the tomb:

“And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” (Matthew 28:2-3)

The angel then tells the women not only is Christ risen from the dead, but that they can go see Him. They “departed quickly with fear and great joy…And behold, Jesus met them” (Matthew 28:8). They stood before Him, talked with Him, and heard His voice. Jesus who was crucified now lives, breathes, and speaks to His friends.

Can you imagine?

Paul proclaims the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection saying, 

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (Romans 6:8-10 NIV)

Perhaps as we move through this weekend, although there is much to say about this unbelievable display of God’s love in Jesus, we with the Psalmist can take a few moments to be filled with awe at “[God’s] wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy” (Psalm 65:8).

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate the Lord’s resurrection, may, by your life-giving Spirit, be delivered from sin and raised from death; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
(The Collect for Easter, The Book of Common Prayer)