Many Christian denominations have established special Holy Week traditions connected to the Easter message of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. However, palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Teaching Tuesday, Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday are traditions not commanded in the Bible.
Palm Sunday is the day that begins the week. In biblical times, palms were a symbol of triumph and victory. John 12:12-13 tells us that people waved them in front of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before His crucifixion. What a king would ride on indicated much about his status and purpose. A donkey was an animal of peace, and a horse was an animal of war. Jesus came on a donkey showing the focus of His earthly ministry. Interestingly, this was prophesied some 500 years before Christ’s birth (Zechariah 9:9).
Romans 14:5-8 reminds us that even though some people consider one day or week more sacred than another, that should not be a source of division or conflict. Instead, the Bible tells us to remember Christ’s sacrifice to free us from sin and guilt and His resurrection conquering death. The teachings of Jesus are very different from any other religious system on the planet, and that difference is what Christ calls us to focus on.
In John 13:34, Christ calls us to obey a “new commandment” – to love one another. The Greek word is “agape,” referring to a unique form of love that tells us to consider all humans as having immeasurable worth. In John 13:3-10 Jesus calls His followers to have an attitude of service, and He sets the example by washing His disciples’ feet.
Holy Week traditions are well intended, but we must not allow them to distract us from hearing and following the actual teachings Christ gave. Our culture tends to focus on Easter eggs, new clothing, and sumptuous meals while neglecting Christ’s instructions for living. Christ opposed legalism and the failure to love and serve. Every day, we must celebrate what Christ’s sacrifice has done for us. We need to live out “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father,” visiting “the fatherless and widows in their affliction,” and “keeping ourselves unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
— John N. Clayton © 2023