Holy Week, for the Christian faith, is the last week of the season of Lent before the celebrations of Easter Sunday, running from Palm Sunday to Holy Saturday. It is a time to commemorate, reflect upon, and reenact, specifically, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, though many liturgies expand that practice to include his entire ministry. Find some Holy Week resources for your family here (kids activities, crafts, recipes, etc.).
Holy Week refers to Jesus’ last week on earth as a man. These seven days are called Holy Week because without the crucifixion, there would have been no Resurrection Sunday. Had Christ not hung on the cross, taken on our sins, and defeated Satan’s power, His rising again would not have been as meaningful. We wouldn’t be singing hymns about it. The New Testament probably wouldn’t have been written. And no one would have eternal life.
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By reading select Scriptures each day, you can follow the life of Jesus during Holy Week. Even though you know how the story ends, you shouldn’t jump ahead in your mind, but put yourself in the moment each day, seeing through the perspective of the disciples, of Jesus, of the Roman soldiers, and if you dare, of Judas. Live it as it unfolds.
Below is an outline for your Holy Week devotions and daily reflections. Begin each day with a prayer for understanding and clarity. Ask the Lord to reveal himself to you through your reading. Next, read the appropriate scriptures slowly. Take a few minutes to process what you’ve read. Reflect on what it teaches you about the character of God as revealed through Jesus Christ. What did you learn about God? What did you learn about yourself? Reflect on your reading throughout the day. Let it seep into your soul and transform you from the inside out.
Saturday (evening before Palm Sunday)
Jesus arrives in Bethany, on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives, to stay with friends (Lazarus, Mary, and Martha) where He has dinner and is anointed by Mary. Soon, a crowd gathers.
Holy Week Scripture Reading: John 12:1-11, Mark 14:3-9, Matthew 26:6-13
Reflection: Why did so much of Jesus’ ministry happen around tables? In what ways can meals shared together become enacted grace, community, and mission.
Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter Sunday)
On Palm Sunday, the disciples make preparation for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a borrowed donkey, an event that has come to be known as His Triumphal Entry. This account was a fulfillment of prophecy about the coming Messiah. This is traditionally known as Palm Sunday because people laid the branches in His path. He arrived to much celebration, but it was the beginning of the end of his human life. Later, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem (which He will do again Tuesday afternoon). Some Gentile God-fearers, in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, learn of His arrival and desire to meet with Him. Jesus enters the Temple court itself before retiring to Bethany for the evening (Mark 11:11).
Holy Week Scripture Reading: Zechariah 9:9, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:20-36
Reflection: How, and under what circumstances, did Jesus come into your life? If Jesus were to examine the temple of your body this day, would He recognize it as a vessel of pure devotion/worship to Him? (Romans 12:1-2)
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According to Mark, the curse of the fig tree event likely occurred in two stages on Monday and Tuesday morning. Matthew compresses this two-day event (Matthew 21:18-19, Mark 11:12-14). Jesus asserted his authority by cleansing the Temple court of its commercial atmosphere, throwing out anyone and everyone who was doing business inside the Temple complex. Even though Matthew places this scene immediately upon His arrival in Jerusalem, Mark’s account indicates that it occurred Monday morning (Mark 11:15-18, Matthew 21:12-13, Luke 19:45-46). The Jewish leaders were enraged by this display of power and authority.
Holy Week Scripture Reading: Isaiah 56:1-8, Luke 19:41-48
Reflection: Think about your body as the temple. What does Jesus need to clean or eradicate to be truly honored?
The lesson of the fig tree was continued (Mark 11:20-26, Matthew 21:20-22). Jesus teaches at length in the Temple court, largely concerning His own authority and judgment upon the religious leaders for discouraging the people from worshipping Him. The Temple leaders challenged Jesus by putting him to the test, raising a number of theological debates with him and questioning both his teaching and his God-given authority (Matthew 21:23-22:45, Mark 11:27-12:44, Luke 20:1-21:4). Again, Jesus weeps for Jerusalem before going out to the Kidron Valley to teach His disciples at the Mount of Olives, a small mountain just 3/5 mile east of Jerusalem. With a spectacular view of the Temple, Jesus delivers a prophetic overview to His disciples of the near and distant future. Due to the location, this challenging text is often called the Olivet Discourse.
Holy Week Scripture Reading: Luke 20:1-21:36, Psalm 118:19-27, Psalm 110
Reflection: Have there been times when Jesus’ truth has seemed harsh to you or hard to follow? In what ways has following Jesus cost you something in this world?
While we know that Jesus taught in the Temple every day, it is unclear from Scripture what body of teaching took place on Wednesday (Luke 21:37-38). The Jewish leaders continue to get riled up by Jesus’ teachings. The tipping point comes when a woman honored Jesus by anointing him with really expensive oil (Mark 14:1-9). Clearly, Wednesday was a day of wicked plotting on the part of the religious leaders in Jerusalem (Mark 14:1-2, Matthew 26:3-5, Luke 22:1-2). The plotting was not simply earthly, however, for Satan seizes upon the unbelief of Judas (Luke 22:3-6, Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11).
Holy Week Scripture Reading: Mark 14:1-11, Matthew 26:1-16
Reflection: What are some of the ways that Jesus’ authority collides with religion, legalism, and/or political powers? In what ways can moralism deflect from the saving gospel of Jesus Christ?
Maundy Thursday (the Day of the Last Supper)
Jesus shares the Passover meal (Last Supper) with His disciples and washes their feet as an example of humility and servant leadership. John’s account provides a lengthy section of teaching, as well as what has become known as the High Priestly Prayer (John 17:1-26). The church marks this evening as Maundy Thursday due to John 13:34: “a new commandment I give” (mandatum is Latin for “commandment”). After Jesus’ lengthy Upper Room Discourse, He then leads His disciples out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Here He would be betrayed by Judas and arrested by officers of the Temple, accompanied by a small band of Pilate’s soldiers (after midnight), and brought before the authorities as His night-time trial begins. Meanwhile, in the courtyard below, Peter denies Jesus three times.
Holy Week Scripture Reading: Isaiah 50:4-10, Luke 22:7-23, John 13:1-14-31, Luke 22:39-62
Reflection: Scripture says that when we take the Lord’s Supper together, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26). How often do you approach a shared meal together as a proclamation of the Lord’s return?
Friday (Good Friday)
On this day, Judas dies (Matthew 27:3-10). Jesus first meets with Governor Pontius Pilate privately (Matthew 27:11-14, Mark 15:2-5, Luke 23:2-7, John 18:28-40). Pilate sends Jesus to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (region across the Jordan), and murderer of John the Baptist (Luke 23:8-12). Several years earlier, Pilate had instituted a custom of releasing an imprisoned Jew at Passover as a means of courting favor among the people (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:13-25, John 19:1-16). Jesus is crucified and, at 3:00pm, dies. Contemporary historian, Josephus, writes that this was the typical time for the evening sacrifice (Matthew 27:27-56, Mark 15:16-41, Luke 23:26-49, John 19:16b-37). The body of Jesus is buried before sunset by a wealthy member of the ruling council, Joseph of Arimathea (perhaps a city in Ephraim), along with Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin (Isaiah 53:9, John 19:38-42, Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56).
Holy Week Scripture Reading: Psalm 22:1-18, Luke 22:63-23:56, John 19:1-37
Reflection: Consider the suffering that Christ endured for you on the cross. He took all of your sins and absorbed the punishment for the wages of your sins (Romans 6:23). What kind of response does that warrant from you today?
On Saturday, Jesus lies alone in the tomb. Scripture is mostly silent about this day, though we do know that the chief priests and the Pharisees campaigned for Pilate to secure the tomb with guards so that the disciples couldn’t take the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:62-66).
Holy Week Scripture Reading: Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53:1-12
Reflection: As you prepare for Easter worship, think of what Jesus is doing for your sake even though you can’t physically see Him.
On Easter Sunday, a couple of women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint him for burial, but when they arrived, he wasn’t there. The tomb was empty, and an angel greeted them with the news that Jesus was alive. The women hurried back to tell the others, and Jesus surprised his grieving disciples by showing up in their midst. Jesus appeared in His glorified body to well over 500 people during a 40-day period (Acts 1:3, Matthew 28:9-10, John 20:11-18, Luke 24:13-48, John 20:19-23, Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:9-18, John 20:24-29, 21:1-23, Acts 1:3-8, 1 Corinthians 15:5-8).
Holy Week Scripture Reading: Luke 24:1-53, John 21:1-19, Matthew 28:16-20
Reflection: Awaken with a song in your heart. He is Risen! In what way did Jesus restore Peter after Peter had denied Him three times? What was Jesus’ affirmation to Peter (John 21), and His mandate for us (Matthew 28)?