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DEVOTIONAL: A week in the life of Jesus: Understanding Holy Week

Christianity designates this past week as Holy Week. Here is what it's all about.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week and Jesus' final journey to the cross. Some ceremonies begin with the blessing of the palms and/or a parade of children. It is traditionally thought that children provided a key role in the event because adults would have been severely punished by the Romans for shouting a politically charged "Hosanna" (translated: "Save us now") toward someone they thought might be trying to overthrow the Roman Army that occupied and controlled the city of Jerusalem. Jesus rode in on a donkey (a symbol of peace) rather than a horse (a symbol of war).

Holy Monday

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. The law provided guidelines for making sacrifices for one's sins. Only certain money could be used in the temple, so there were money changers taking advantage of religious pilgrims, as well as sellers of overpriced animals to be sacrificed. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it 'a den of robbers.'"

Holy Tuesday

The cleansing of the Temple on Holy Monday caused the Pharisees to question Jesus' right to do "these things." Jesus had not received His authority from the religious leaders, so they wanted answers. Attempts were made to force Jesus to state that He had divine power from God. Then He could be charged with blasphemy. Knowing their motives, Jesus agreed to answer their questions. Jesus weeps for the city of Jerusalem, his heart pierced by Israel's lack of faith.

Spy Wednesday

Spy Wednesday gets its name because this is the day on which Judas betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin. Because Judas is thought to be sneaky, his actions conjured up the image of a spy. The synoptic gospels all include an account of the betrayal. This is how the Gospel of Luke recounts the events:

"Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present" (Luke 22:3-6).

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday is the day when Jesus celebrated his final Passover with His disciples (the Last Supper). Before the meal, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in an extraordinary display of humility. He then commanded them to do the same for each other. "Maundy" is a shortened form of mandatum (Latin), which means "command." He said to his disciples:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34).

Jesus set a new and higher standard for the definition of love. Jesus sacrificially met His followers' deepest need — that of new spiritual life and the forgiveness of sins. He even loved His enemies, and He calls us to show love to those who don't appear to deserve it.

Good Friday

Even though Jesus was cruelly scourged, compelled to carry a cross, and was tortured and executed by crucifixion, Christians call it "Good Friday" because they acknowledge that Jesus took the punishment for the sins of the world and died to benefit us who have sinned.

Holy Saturday

Various Christian traditions remember and celebrate Holy Saturday with many names and different forms. Many recall it as the time when Jesus was in the tomb or descended into hell. It is frequently celebrated by fasting and/or keeping a prayer vigil until Easter morning.

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Go to church see, hear and celebrate the resurrection!

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