All kinds of things. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and ends a week later with the Great Vigil of Easter Saturday night. At least that’s how I’ve always defined Holy Week. Some may beg to differ, but that’s what makes the world go round.
- Holy Week is holy because in it we mark, over and over again, the last days and hours of Jesus’ life. Anyone who has ever sat with someone at the end of life knows what a holy time that is.
- Holy Week is holy is holy because it is full of holes, porthole windows into places that most of us otherwise never get to go, connections between our story and the great story, between the ordinary things we live with (bread, wine, towels, water, words, candles) and the extraordinary.
- Holy Week is holy because it is “set apart.” Even if I weren’t a fan of all things liturgical, I’d probably celebrate Holy Week because time to step out of the ordinary into the extraordinary is such a precious gift.
- Finally, Holy Week is holy because it makes Easter Easter. As a colleague writes: “Our experience of the joy of Easter…is so much more full when we have joined the Church in making the pilgrimage through the preceding days of Holy Week.”
Where I come from, we talk a lot about Holy Week as a journey. In keeping with the travel metaphor, imagine you’re calling up Rick Steves on NPR. Your question: I only have time to go to one service this week. Which one should I go to? Only one? If you can only go to one service, it needs to be the Easter Vigil on Saturday night. At my church it starts at 8 pm at 2800 SE Harrison Street in Portland, Oregon. There you get the Whole Story, from Genesis to Resurrection. (And after a generous helping of the Bread of Life, we’ll even make you an omelet and pour you a glass of something bubbly.)
Let’s say your query is this: I want the whole thing. The whole thing. I don’t want to smell the incense and the lilies until I’ve sat with Jesus in the garden, and meditated at the foot of the cross. Find an all-night vigil somewhere on Thursday. Find a place to listen to the Seven Last Words on Good Friday afternoon. If you’re into things ancient and simple, find a Good Friday Proper Liturgy. (Funny name, serious service.) Some churches have those at 7 am or noon on Good Friday. The one at my church is at 7 pm. Dark and solemn as a tomb.
Be present. Enjoy every minute of it. Keep it holy. Report back.