Understanding the Holy Week traditions

  • Published
  • By Chaplain, Capt. Anthony M. Davy
  • 509th Bomb Wing Chapel
Spirituality is most commonly defined as the ability to maintain beliefs, principles and values which come from religious, philosophical, or human values. The maintenance of these ideals is imperative to balance in life and providing foundation and stamina to withstand the storms of life.

For the Judeo-Christian traditions, Passover and Easter are very important times of the year and each tradition celebrates with much attention and fervor. The next few paragraphs will attempt to provide a general understanding of the Jewish celebration of Passover and the Christian observance of Lent and celebration of Easter.

Passover is observed by the Jewish Faith tradition. It is a celebration of the emancipation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. The term Passover is used in reference to the last of the 10 plagues, ordained by God, to bring about the freedom of God’s people. The 10th and final plague was the death of all of the firstborn in the land of Egypt. The Jewish people were given a means for the angel of death to pass-over their homes, thus sparing their children and ensuring their freedom.

Experiencing this plague broke the hardened heart of the Pharaoh and, finally, he heeded Moses’ famous words to, “Let my people go.” Sundown begins the Passover celebration, sending the Hebrew people hurrying out into the darkness, not having time to even let their bread rise. A mainstay of the Passover observation is eating a seder meal with components of four cups of wine (celebrating newfound freedom), eating matzah (unleavened bread representing humility), bitter herbs (commemorating endured slavery), and recitation of the Haggadah (retelling the Exodus story).

The eight day holiday is split into two parts: the first and last two days are all-out holidays. During the middle four days, called Chol Hamoed, most forms of work are permitted. It is interesting to note that the few weeks prior to the Passover, Jewish families search their homes to rid it of chametz, (leavened grain), or anything made from it. This sounds similar to the Christian observance of Lent, where Christians give up non-essentials.

Easter and Lent are celebrated by Christians, especially in the Catholic and “high-church” or liturgical traditions; however, all of Christendom recognizes these times in the Church Calendar Easter, or Resurrection Sunday (the day Jesus Christ arose from the dead), culminates in a period of 40 days of fasting and reflections called Lent. The week leading up to Resurrection Sunday is the capstone event of Lent, called Holy Week.

In order to understand Holy Week, one must know the purpose of Lent. Lent is a time of reflection, when celebrants pause to remember what is important while eliminating things that are not essential -- in order to bring some clarity back to our purpose as Christians. Holy Week ends that 40-day period, serving as another opportunity to reflect, remember, and recalibrate one’s life.

Palm Sunday begins the week and represents the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover. It is celebrated with palm branches being waved. Christians proclaim “Hosanna,” lifting him high with their praise, mirroring him being received as a hero/king.

Maundy Thursday is the time where Christians remember the Last Supper. During this meal Jesus gathered his disciples and gave them advice and instructions. “Maundy” comes from a Latin word, meaning “command.” Many churches have a last supper and possibly a foot washing to follow Christ’s example of servitude.

Good Friday is the time when we remember the Passion and execution of Jesus Christ. Christians call it “Good,” even though it seems quite horrific, because it represents the necessary sacrifice which results in the goodness of God given to humanity in salvation via grace.

The Saturday of Holy Week is called the Great Vigil of Easter. The service begins at night – in darkness. Candles are lit and scripture readings and music lead the story of relationship with God. Christians remember Christ, his importance and necessity for lives of wholeness and purpose. At this point, Lent is complete and Easter begins! The lights come on and the hidden things in darkness are gone. Christians celebrate new life and resurrection.

Resurrection (Easter) Sunday is the culmination of Holy Week. This is a day marked with celebration and joy. Many churches begin the day with an Easter Sunrise Service to commemorate the early arrival of Christ’s followers at the tomb, only to find it empty. The Pastor or Priest says, “He is risen!” The church replies, “He is risen, indeed!” The resurrection of Christ fulfills prophecy and validates the message of the Bible that his sacrifice was made for the redemption of sin.

Practicing/remembering these events brings strength and community for those of the Judeo-Christian faith traditions.

The Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB) Chapel have several offerings for the Catholic and Protestant communities. If you are interested in participating, please visit the Whiteman AFB Chapel Facebook page for the full listing of events, or contact U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. James McConnell or Staff Sgt. Ronald Murray III at the Chapel Annex at 660- 687-3652.