According to the gospel writers, the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection took place during the last week of his life in Jerusalem. This week began on the Sunday that Jesus rode into the city in triumph and ended with his resurrection a week later. In the Christian calendar, this week is known as ‘Holy Week’ and it is the last week of Lent. In some churches there are daily services held during Holy Week, others will focus on the main events:
On Palm Sunday, Christians remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In some churches small crosses made out of palm leaves are given out. These are a reminder that although Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph, he was soon to be put to death. In some churches, worshippers join in a procession at the end of the service.
The word ‘maundy’ comes from the Latin word ‘mandatum’, meaning an order or command. It reminds Christians of the words Jesus said to his disciples on the day before he was crucified: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus also gave a practical demonstration of this love by washing the feet of his disciples. This was an act of humility and service and Christians try to remember their duty to serve others on this day. In some churches, the priest or minister will wash the feet of a person in the congregation as a sign of their duty to serve the people of God.
In the past the king or queen of England would wash the feet of the poor, but now they give out special coins called Maundy money to elderly people. The Pope still washes people’s feet at a special Maundy Thursday service.
Maundy Thursday is also important because this was when Jesus instituted Holy Communion at the Last Supper. After this, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before his arrest. To remember this, some churches will hold a prayer vigil during the night of Maundy Thursday.
For Christians of all denominations Good Friday is the most solemn day of the year. It is when they remember Jesus’ death on the cross. It may seem strange that a day of such sadness is called ‘good’, but Christians believe that on this day Jesus showed the greatest possible goodness by dying for the sake of sinful humanity. Some Christians will attend church or spend time in private prayer between 12 noon and 3pm, the time Jesus was on the cross.
A tradition in Roman Catholic churches is to visit the fourteen Stations of the Cross. These are statues or pictures representing the last events of Jesus’ life and his journey to the cross. They are situated around the church. Worshippers make their way from one station to another, kneeling at each scene, reciting the appropriate prayers and reflecting on what Jesus went through on their behalf.
This was the day when Jesus’ body was in the tomb. In the Roman Catholic Church it is a day of quiet anticipation. An Easter vigil service is held on Saturday night.