In one sense, there’s nothing special about “Holy Week.” Just another sequence of eight days each spring — nothing is intrinsically holy about this Sunday to Sunday that moves around the calendar each year.
We have no mandate from Jesus or his apostles to mark these days for particular observance. Paul, for one, would be quite happy for us to partake, or not. “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
Clearly, the celebration should not be pressed upon the conscience of others. “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath” (Colossians 2:16).
Opportunity, Not Obligation
Celebrating Holy Week is not an obligation, but it is an opportunity. It is a chance to walk with the church, throughout time and throughout the world, as she walks with her Bridegroom through the most important week in the history of the world. It is a chance to focus our minds on, and seek to intensify our affections for, the most important and timeless of realities.
While not mandating the observance, or even suggesting it, the New Testament does give us indirect reason, if we’re looking for it. The final eight of Matthew’s 28 chapters are given to this one week, along with the last six of Mark’s sixteen and the final six of Luke’s 24.
“Celebrating Holy Week is not an obligation, but it is an opportunity.”
Most significant, though, is John. Ten of the Gospel’s 21 chapters — essentially half — deal with the final week of our Lord’s life, his betrayal, his trials, his crucifixion, and his triumphant resurrection. Even Acts, which then narrates the life of the early church, returns to the events of Holy Week with frequency (see, for instance, Acts 1:15–19; 2:22–36; 3:11–26; 4:8–12, 24–28, among others).
Indeed, it could even be said that all the Old Testament anticipates this week, and the rest of the New Testament reflects it in theology and practical living.
Seize the Week
Without any arm-twisting or conscience-pressing, I would encourage you to consider how you might make the most of this week. These are some of the darkest and brightest days in the history of the world, and they are rich with soul-sustaining food and life-clarifying vision.
In the chaos of our increasingly fast-paced and hectic society, Holy Week is a reminder to pause and ponder, to carefully mark each day and not let this greatest of all weeks fly by us like every other.
Perhaps pick a time each day — alone or with family or housemates — to slow down and savor what was happening during the Passion week some two thousands years ago. Consider reading through a Holy Week devotional — or even better, one (or a couple) of the Passion narratives from the Gospels:
Block out several minutes. Find a comfortable place to sit. Seek to quiet your soul, and pray that God would meet you in the events and significance of this week. And spend a few moments in prayer after you read and turn the truth Godward in adoration of Christ. Receive this week with thanksgiving, and make it holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:5).
You may want to make it memorable with candles or some other special flair. If your church, or another in town, does a Maundy Thursday or Good Friday service, that presents another opportunity.
A Prayer for Passion Week
If you’d like a specific biblical text to serve as a prayer charter for this week, here’s what I’m asking for myself and my family: that God would make the prayer of Ephesians 3:16–19 increasingly true of us this Holy Week —
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
“Jesus’s step-by-step journey to Golgotha is a glowing revelation of the extent of his love.”
Jesus’s step-by-step journey to Golgotha is a glowing revelation of the extent of his love. He loved us “to the uttermost” (John 13:1) in going all the way to the cross for us, with every bruise, every puncture, and throb and stab of pain. And it is during Holy Week that we see most profoundly how deep the Father’s love for us. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
May God make this to be for you a week of being newly grounded in the love of Christ, so plainly on display from the resolve of Palm Sunday, to the ultimate sacrifice of Good Friday, to the triumph of Easter Sunday. And may you freshly know the love of Christ, in all its breadth and length and height and depth — and wonder upon wonder, be filled with all the fullness of God.
For Holy Week 2016, we are publishing a series of fresh meditations, one each for Palm Sunday and Easter and two each on the other six days. Also, our new devotional book, Your Sorrow Will Turn to Joy, provides morning and evening readings for Holy Week and is available for download, free of charge.