Lent began over five weeks ago on Ash Wednesday. Over the course of this week, Christians around the world will re-enact and remember the days leading up to Christ’s death and resurrection. This journey towards the cross began on Palm Sunday with a commemoration of Jesus entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. The people who confessed and praised him as the Savior King later cry out, “…crucify him, crucify him!”
On Monday and Tuesday, Jesus returned to Jerusalem from Bethany and purified the Temple, fulfilling prophecies from the Old Testament (ex. Malachi 3:1-5). In Jerusalem, tensions continued to run high between Jesus and the religious rulers. Wednesday of Holy week is traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” because the enemies of Jesus were watching him closely and looking for an opportunity to capture him. On this day, the anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany is juxtaposed with the tragic betrayal of Judas.
The most striking worship celebrations of the Christian church happen every year at the end of the Lenten season. There is no greater contrast between darkness and light than the eclipse and glory that were experienced by Jesus’ disciples between the Last Supper and Easter morning. For centuries, Christians have marked the progression of these events through worship. They reenact these bedrock events to honor Christ, celebrate salvation, and grow in the way of Jesus through imitation and reflection. This period of time in the Church’s calendar has traditionally been referred to as the Paschal Triduum or “The Three Days.”
On this day, Jesus commemorated the Passover meal with his disciples, an observance of God rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt. In celebrating this observance, Jesus was pointing to the new covenant he would make with God’s people, rescuing them from spiritual slavery to sin and death. Before the meal, he washed the feet of his disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper (Communion, Eucharist, Mass). In so doing, our servant King provided a means of grace and an example for us to follow. Christian participation in these practices reflects upon the new command of Jesus to, “Love each other as I have loved you.”
Good Friday is a reminder of the darkness experienced by Christ on our behalf. Out of true death, comes true life. His death and resurrection comprise the mysteries at the very heart of the Christian faith. On this day, Christ became the, “…Paschal (Passover) Lamb of our salvation, by whose blood we have been purchased unto God as His own consecrated people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood. Christians today gather at the foot of the cross with Mary the Lord’s Mother, the beloved disciple John, the repentant Mary Magdalene and her several companions, the confessing Centurion and all others who have, down through the ages…been made holy by the redeeming act of the God who loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”
This is officially the last day of the Lenten fast. There has been some controversy as to what exactly happened on this day, but the profound symbolism of Christ resting in the tomb while humanity waits for the resurrection runs deep in Eastern and Western Christian traditions. On this day, we wait for his resurrection and rest in prayer, by meditating on his passion, death, and descent to the dead.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, also has been a traditional symbol connected to Holy Saturday. In Western Catholic tradition Mary represents the entire Church on Holy Saturday, “As she awaited in faith for the victorious triumph of Her Son over death on the first Holy Saturday, so we too wait with Mary on the present Holy Saturday.” This prayerful waiting has been called the “Ora della Madre” or Hour of the Mother.
God does not redeem from afar. The Word descended into our humanity; the Lord descended into the depths of our suffering; Christ descended into the very realm of death itself in order to set free its captives. There is life in the midst of death because love dwells in it. Thanks be to God.
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