I grew up with Holy Week.

As a life-long Episcopalian, Holy Week was a natural part of my upbringing. Just as all the seasons of the church were.

But really Holy Week wasn’t a week. It was a couple of days. For me, Holy Week meant just Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

After a season of Wednesday night potlucks, we’d do a service Thursday night and then a three-hour ecumenical service with the Lutherans, Catholics, and Congregationalists on Good Friday. Then we’d come back Sunday morning for Easter.

I’m sure millions of others have had that strange sense of having this one week marked off, only to really acknowledge it a couple of times toward the end.

This was even weirder when I was older and read through the gospels.

Suddenly, the sense of what those two days (Thursday and Friday) specifically mean shrank as the story grew.

Reading about Jesus challenging the authorities in the Temple two days in a row, gathering for blessing, Jesus offering up some of the most central teachings we take for granted in the midst of being challenged by temple authorities…this isn’t small stuff.

And before I go on, this is the part which blew my mind: these teachings in the Temple in the middle of Holy Week is Jesus on fire. He’s spitting flames and we throw these up in the middle of summer like they’re nothing. But these are the last teachings, the important moments, the everything the disciples have left of Jesus.

None of it is filler.

And what we’re going to remember through our liturgical practice (a literal enacting of a corporate remembering) is not what Jesus left us with, but only the Last Supper and the Passion.

The Crowds

The other disembodied experience at the beginning of Holy Week is the practice of hearing both the Palms and the Passion. This is a liturgical expression which causes no small amount of anxiety for me. But it also is a liturgical act of cutting Holy Week out of the story.

Like Jefferson cutting the mystical elements out of his Bible, well-meaning liturgists and church people have snipped up our Holy Week and stripped it of its most telling parts. And worse: the why.

Why the crowds greet Jesus on Sunday and then seemingly shout for his crucifixion on Friday.

Of course, they’re different crowds. But we wouldn’t know that.

And worse, the terrible theology which has sprung up insisting they’re the same, putting the words “crucify him!” into the mouths of the congregation, calling us to see our sin without even touching on how we got to that point is spiritual malpractice.

Even the idea that the central part of the gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus and not the revealed Word of God in the flesh is born out of our small-minded need to shrink the gospel down to its smallest bite.

Many of the ones who bristle at the idea of distributing ashes on a street corner at the beginning of Lent see no trouble in offering a gospel as small as a pair of sous vide egg bites or as portable as a cake pop.

Holy Week is Tough

I get it. Holy Week is tough. It’s hard to get it all in. We’re busy. People don’t get Good Friday off, let alone the whole week.

But this isn’t just the sinfully lazy response of our church to a tyrannically ill-focused people. It’s the truth that even if they took Good Friday off and showed up at noon, they’d still miss a good half of the story. And in John, two-thirds!

Our liturgical practice has helped people know part of their story, but not the color and context around it.

When Mel Gibson started filming a movie about the Passion, he was rightly criticized, not only for his source material and approach but for its lack of context. But the criticism only sat on the fact that he was telling the Passion without Easter. For me, the greater sin is there was no Holy Week!

What We’re Doing

In my own liturgical practice, I encourage others to join me in honoring each day of Holy Week. That we gather each day to read another part of the story so that we come to the Passion with the whole context. That we wrestle with all that Jesus was teaching and doing.

We do morning prayer on Monday through Thursday at 8:00 am before the Triduum begins Thursday night.

And this year, I invite you to gather with me on Friday night for a worship event, called Absence. With hints of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, this unique liturgy will be an opportunity to stop and contend with that strange time post-Passion and pre-Easter. A time of uncomfortable confusion, but one which hopefully invites us to slow down and listen.

However you mark Holy Week, I encourage you to take in the whole story. Not just the part where Jesus dies and then shows up again.


Grace and Peace,



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[This article was originally published at drewdowns.net]