Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday – I heard these terms growing up, but they weren’t really part of the faith tradition I was raised in besides Easter, which we said we celebrated every Sunday throughout the year. Prayers for Holy Week didn’t really occur to me when I was younger. The Christian calendar and using the seasons and special days to mark a celebration of our faith is something I picked up later in life. If you want to know my personal story about that, it’s at the bottom of this post.
I find that marking each day leading up to Easter is much more meaningful than just having a celebration on Easter Sunday itself. How do you do that?
Let me suggest two ways. There are many others possible and we’ll explore those in future Easters, but for this year I have been featuring Journey with Jesus and praying through Matthew’s gospel, so the prayers for Holy Week this year are all from Matthew.
Two ways to pray during Holy Week
First, if you want to follow our current podcast you can pray through Matthew 27 (the crucifixion) this week. This allows you to meditate on the crucifixion and its layers of meaning throughout the week. Just make sure you are subscribed to our podcast in iTunes or follow it on Spotify or your favorite podcast player (it’s on Youtube too) and you’ll be set to get each episode. The schedule is: Monday – “Ruler” (Matt 27:11-19); Tuesday – “Crucify” (Matt 27:20-31); Wednesday – “Curses” (Matt 27:32-44); Thursday – “Forsaken” (Matt 27:45-49); Friday – “The Earth Shook” (Matt 27:50-54); Saturday – “The Tomb” (Matt 27:55-66); Sunday – “He has Risen!” (Matt 28:1-6).
The second way is to keep up with each day in Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem leading up to the crucifixion on Good Friday and the resurrection on Easter Sunday. In other words, you read about what is happening on the day of the week that it happened. If you want to do that, you can read the passages yourself or you can listen to the podcast episodes that lead you through this. Here’s a suggested plan:
Monday – “Love” (Matt 22:34-40); Tuesday – “My Words” (Matt 24:29-35); Wednesday – “Bethany” (Matt 26:31-13); Maundy Thursday – “Real Prayer” (Matt 26:36-39) and/or “Seized” (Matt 26:50-56) and/or “Condemned” (Matt 26:57-68); Good Friday – “Crucify” (Matt 27:20-31) and/or “The Earth Shook” (Matt 27:50-54); Saturday – “The Tomb” (Matt 27:55-66); Easter Sunday – “He has Risen!” (Matt 28:1-6).
With coronavirus and social distancing, this year is unlike any other and I feel strongly we need to find a deeper meaning in our faith in God and also connection to others at this time. I hope praying the prayers of holy week together will help you do that now.
(more below – my personal take on the Christian calendar)
My personal encounter with the Christian calendar
Now, if you’re still reading and want to hear the rest of my personal story I’ll try to share it briefly. In my early twenties I lived and worked in Singapore working with students there and also serving local churches as a Bible teacher. I had a small prayer group with a few other guys that helped me grow deeper in my faith and also explore more of the Christian spiritual tradition.
I got married in 1993 and my new bride and I flew from Singapore to the US and spent time in San Francisco. Besides it being our honeymoon, it was also the week leading up to Easter and I recall two things that made an impression on me. One was a devotional book for Lent and Easter that my wife and I read together by Eugen Drewermann called “Dying We Live”. The other was a visit to Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill, the Episcopal Gothic cathedral church in downtown San Francisco. I recall a crucifix draped in a purple cloth and the outline of a labyrinth on the floor. It was beautiful and contemplative and made me reflect deeper on my faith.
I had been aware of the Christian calendar for a little while, but this was my first experience of it on a personal level. I decided to anchor more of my days and my life lived in time to the central truths and mysteries of the Christian faith as a young man in my mid-twenties.