Next week begins the most significant week of liturgical commemorations in Christian tradition, Holy Week. Liturgical churches (churches that worship following a biblical church year calendar and a prescribed sequence of worship or liturgy) commemorate the week between Palm Sunday and Easter through intensely beautiful and spiritually moving services that bring to mind the true significance of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover (Palm Sunday), the supper he shared with his disciples (Maundy Thursday), Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane as he awaited his arrest (The Good Friday Vigil), Jesus’ crucifixion (Good Friday), the Passover from ultimate darkness into light - celebrating our redemption (The Great Vigil of Easter), and the resurrection of Christ (Easter Day).
Holy Week begins with the story of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem as he and thousands of other Jews poured into the holy city of Jerusalem for the great Passover festival. Spirits were high as Jews brought their unblemished lambs for sacrificial slaughter at the altar of the temple, commemorating the historical day when Jews obediently smeared their doors with the blood of an unblemished lamb, so that God would “pass over” their homes when he inflicted the plague that killed their slave owners, the Egyptians. This saving act convinced the Pharoah to free them and allow Moses to lead them out of Egypt into the Promised Land.
When Jesus’ followers and the crowd heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, the one who had been healing the sick, making blind people see, even bringing Lazarus back from the dead, they lined the streets to welcome him. Many were convinced that the Messiah was indeed here, the new Moses who would come to complete their freedom! The parade was loud and exciting, with shouts of hosannas, and “Hail, King of the Jews!” Though Jesus arrived in a humble way, not on the back of a grand horse, but on the back of a donkey, the crowd was determined to exalt him and make him into their preconceived notion of the Messiah. The Jews still did not understand that Jesus’ kingdom was not what they expected, but a much more significant one. Upon his arrival at the temple Jesus became infuriated with the salesmen who had set up shop inside the temple and were using the occasion to make a profit by selling unblemished lambs, souvenir trinkets and anything else they could come up with to take advantage of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who had come for the festival. In an act of frustration, he turned over their tables and angrily chastised them for profaning the sacred space of the temple with their money making schemes. From that point on, the drama intensifies The Pharisees see that Jesus has become a danger to them and plot his death. This man Jesus has too many followers and is claiming to be directly connected with God. Many Jews are even convinced that he is the long awaited Messiah. This was not only blasphemous in the eyes of the priests, but a huge challenge to their power. They felt that if they didn’t do something quickly, the great Jewish tradition with its carefully constructed laws, along with their power and influence as leaders soon would become a shamble.
Jesus, seeing that the end is near, gathers with his disciples, humbly and lovingly washes their feet, and breaks bread with them. He indicates that the Passover lamb is no longer a symbolic sacrificial animal, but indeed Jesus himself. “This is my body, given for you...” From this moment on, this new sacrament, the bread that he was breaking with them would become his own body, the Lamb of God. The wine no longer would bring to mind the sacrificial lamb’s blood shed at slaughter on the altar of the temple, but Christ’s blood that soon would be shed for their redemption. “This is my blood shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.” He promises them that their relationship will not end here. He then tells Judas, who has succumbed to bribery to betray Jesus’ whereabouts to the army of the high priests, to go and do what he has to do. Following the meal, Jesus retires to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He asks his disciples to accompany him, to stay awake and pray with him. They go with him, but gradually, each of them falls asleep, still not able to comprehend Jesus’ imminent danger and the unimaginable events that lie ahead. Jesus prays to God, asking God to take this cup from him. His prayers are so intense, in fact, that he sweats blood. Yet, in spite of his fear, in spite of his grief, Jesus submits to God’s will.
As Jesus expects, the army comes to the garden to arrest him. The disciples awaken from their sleep to see Jesus being taken away by force. In the late night and wee hours of the morning, Jesus is handed over to the religious leader and deemed guilty of breaking Jewish law. He is then handed over to the Roman authority, Pontius Pilot, to be judged and put to death under Roman law. Pontius Pilot is reluctant to carry out this brutal crucifixion on a man that has clearly broken no civil laws. Pilot does not see that it is his place to carry out the laws of the Jews and cannot see why he should be involved with all this. But the high priests convince him that Jesus is a threat to Roman leadership, claiming to be the King of the Jews. Pilot continues to question Jesus but gets no answers that can help him save his life. He sends him out to be brutally beaten, thinking that perhaps this would satisfy the priests and get Jesus to succumb to questioning that would save his life. But Jesus would not allow himself to be beaten into submission. He would not justify to them or anyone else who he is, nor would he be bound by earthly politics to renounce his messianic relationship with God. If this meant death, then Jesus knew that he would have to die. The crowd that had welcomed him and proclaimed him King of the Jews saw that their own lives could be endangered if they continued to follow him and rapidly turned on him. The idea of his Messiahship was obviously a very dangerous one, and in their minds certainly not worth pursuing.
His death was the most brutal of all executions, saved for the worst criminals of the day. After being brutally beaten, a crown of thorns was made and placed on his head in order to mock this King of the Jews. His clothes were removed and lots were cast for his seamless garment. He was forced to carry a heavy crossbeam up the hill to Calvary, the crossbeam to which his own hands would be nailed. There are seven points along this journey to Calvary and including Christ’s death that are commemorated by liturgical churches as the Stations of the Cross.
Since the Feast of the Passover was upon them, they ordered that the execution of those being crucified be expedited and the bodies removed from the crosses. Those who were not yet dead had their legs broken so that they would suffocate and die more quickly. Since Jesus was already dead, the soldiers merely stabbed him with their swords to assure that he was indeed dead. They removed his body from the cross and put him in a donated burial tomb, placing a heavy stone in front of the burial entrance.
In Christian tradition, this is known as Holy Saturday. At some point during the night, Christ crossed over from death back into life. This is celebrated as The Great Vigil of Easter, when Old Testament lessons are read, commemorating when God continually rescued his people from death, ultimately culminating in Christ’s passing over from death to life and assuring us of our ultimate salvation.
On Easter Day, the story is read of Mary Magdalene going to Jesus’ tomb to properly clean and anoint his dead body with precious oils. She is shocked, and horrified when she arrives and discovers that the stone to the tomb has been rolled away and Jesus is nowhere to be found. She is sure that someone has defiled his grave and taken his body. She weeps at this ultimate sacrilege and defilement of her friend’s death.
But Jesus appears to her and asks her why she is crying. She, thinking he is a gardener, explains that someone has come and stolen his body. Now she cannot even do this simple act of love for him. She is totally distraught. Can they do any more to make this horror complete? But Jesus simply says her name, “Mary,” and she immediately recognizes who this man is. He is risen!
For those of the Christian faith, Easter is the ultimate holy commemoration, the moment when God’s ultimate sacrifice has been made for the people he loves and they are restored to God’s redeeming grace. It is a beginning, it marks a new journey of faith in Christ, a renewed commitment to take up the cross and follow him.
St. Patrick’s will offer Holy Week services, beginning this Sunday (Palm Sunday) at the 10 a.m. morning worship. On Thursday (Maundy Thursday), at 6 p.m., the commemoration of the Last Supper will conclude with the overnight vigil in a chapel set up in the parish hall. All are invited to come and pray during the night, remembering Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane awaiting the arrival of the soldiers. On Friday, at 5:30 p.m. an organ recital of solemn sacred music will be offered by organist Sally Neel, preceding the 6 p.m. Good Friday service. On Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., The Great Vigil of Easter, a beautiful and dramatic service of readings, music and Holy Eucharist, will celebrate the journey from darkness into light. These services will culminate at 10 a.m. on Easter Day with the celebration of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. A nursery is provided for the Easter Day service.
On Easter Day, children are invited to arrive at 9 a.m. for an Easter egg hunt on the church grounds. Those attending the Easter service are encouraged to bring fresh flowers to adorn the cross, signifying new life in Christ.
St. Patrick’s is located at 225 S. Pagosa Blvd. For more information about St. Patrick’s or about Holy Week services, call 731-5801.