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Concern: You're At Church A Lot During Holy Week...How Strange



Stained Glass of Mary holding JesusIt may seem strange to many that those in the Catholic and Orthodox Traditions (and to some extent certain high-church Protestant churches) go to Church so much during Holy Week.

Between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday we celebrate Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. On Maundy Thursday, we celebrate Jesus' institution of the Last Supper and his mandate (where the term "Maundy" comes from) that we should love one another as he loves us. On Good Friday we solemnly recall Jesus' suffering and bloody death. It is customary to fast that day, in order to participate in Jesus' own suffering, by denying our bodily desires just as he did. Finally on Holy Saturday, we recall Jesus' time in the tomb, and the despair of the followers of Jesus. It is on Saturday night that we begin the Great Vigil of Easter. In the early Church they celebrated the Vigil beginning at night, and then continued until the dawn when the newly baptized received their first communion around the time that Jesus was resurrected. Thus, Holy Week is a busy and involved time period.

So yes, Holy Week is very busy for Catholics and Orthodox. In fact, given that the week contains events that comprise the heart of the Christian faith, then it should be busy. In the ancient Church the entire lives of Christians revolved around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christians risked death, torture, and humiliation in order to worship Jesus and celebrate his life. Today we often find that even though we give lip service to the importance of our faith, Christian worship still takes a back seat to most secular endeavors. Family get-togethers, jobs, TV time, meetings, and a whole host of other things stop us from worshiping Jesus. There is nothing wrong with these great things, but nonetheless, they can distract us from Christ.

Many probably secretly wonder why God expects them to even worship Him on Sundays, seeing how modern life is so crowded with all-important events like soccer practice and piano recitals. However, in the early Church, Christians' lives were based around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and thus the feasts of the Church trumped any secular engagement that might occur. In many ways, our culture wishes to dumb down meaningful events, and make things easier to do. In this type of culture, Holy Week celebrations are usually the first to go.

Holy Week is challenging. It is time consuming. In a way, it separates the men (and women) from the boys (and girls). It is, in our modern culture, difficult to fast, to attend a 2-3 hour vigil on a Saturday night, and to spend three evenings at Church in a row. However, Jesus' life was challenging, and following Him sometimes requires a lack of comfort as well. In fact, the mild discomfort we may face in our rich, Western culture is nowhere near the discomfort Jesus and his early followers often faced.

It is very easy to be passive, and to simply talk about Jesus and not actively follow and worship Him. To live as Jesus did, and worship Him within a local church community, is more difficult. However, for the early Church, Holy Week was the key celebration of the year, and the high point of their lives in Christ, culminating in the feast of the Resurrection, called Easter or Pascha.

I guess that many of us give accolades to the resurrection with our lips, but do we show it in our lives? Yes, the devotion required for Holy Week is strange from a secular standpoint. Why would anybody give up all that time to worship a guy who lived 2000 years ago? As Christians, however, such worship and celebration is not strange at all, because Jesus has not merely lived, but is alive and risen today! As those who are born from above in Christ Jesus, we see secular culture as "strange," because having been given the gift of the Holy Spirit through Baptism, our entire lives are oriented around Jesus. Therefore giving our time to celebrate and worship Jesus, even when it is not convenient, is the normal response to God's love for us.

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Last updated 03-22-2016