Holy Week 2022: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Holy Week 2022
It has been known by many names through the centuries. It has been called the Great Week, the Week of Forgiveness and the Week of the Holy Passion. We know it simply as Holy Week.
We know from early writers that Holy Week originally incorporated the last Sunday in Lent, but this part of the calendar shifted as the commemoration of Palm Sunday became normative. As a result, Holy Week proper begins on Monday. Most of the structure and ceremonies of Holy Week appear to have their origins in fourth century Jerusalem. As the persecution of the Church abated, pilgrims gained access to the city and left accounts of what rapidly became traditional rites associated with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil. These rites were, in a very real sense, enactments of the Passion of Christ which took place in the very places associated with his death and resurrection. In a very short time, these practices and rites spread beyond Jerusalem to almost every part of the Christian world.
Throughout the centuries, it is as though Christians have felt the need to mark Holy Week with signs and symbols that point to not only the solemnity of our remembrance of the Passion, but also to the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Take for example the service known as Tenebrae which some of you know or have experienced. Originally, it was not a single service, but referred to the services of Matins and Lauds sung on the preceding evening of the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Holy Week. It had its start in monastic communities. The name refers to “darkness” and alludes to the ancient extinguishing of lights, one by one, in the course of the service. In its original form, fifteen lighted candles were arranged on a special stand. Fourteen of the candles (seven on each side) represent the eleven apostles, the Virgin Mary and the two women who were with her at the Cross. A single candle at the top or center of the stand represents Christ. Originally, the Office psalms were sung and at the end of each psalm a candle was extinguished indicating the flight and/or mourning of the apostles and the women. One by one the candle flames die until only one remains burning. The single burning candle is reverently taken from the stand and placed behind the altar to symbolize Christ in his tomb… but it is not extinguished as death has no dominion over him, even in the grave.
Now, Christians around the world, and in varied traditions, have altered or adapted the service of Tenebrae to suit their own circumstances. Similarly, the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday or the three hour watch service on Good Friday culminating in the stripping of the altars have been adapted and used to help us in our observation of Holy Week.
This year, however, many of us will be back in church for this Holy Week having been absent the previous one or two years owing to the pandemic. This year we will be remembering the isolation, the fear and, in all too many cases, the mourning for those we have lost. Yet this is not the only shadow cast over Holy Week this year. Ukraine is bleeding. War crimes are taking place and are shown on our television and computer screens in real time. There is the threat of an expanded war and the fear of resort to chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by the Russian Federation with retaliation in kind by the West.
During this year’s Holy Week, the faces of those murdered in Bucha and the haunted eyes of refugees are images that merge with the scenes from this last year of those struggling to breathe in hospital ICUs.
I’m afraid that if I attend a Tenebrae service this week, the extinguishing of the candles one by one may be more than I can handle emotionally.
Yet, I believe that this is precisely where Holy Week meets us in our lives. Just as in that first Holy Week when the apostles and the women knew fear, confusion, displacement, isolation and mourning, there is still one light that has not been extinguished.
The hope of Easter and Resurrection remains.
Interesting article. I learned a lot about the faith and various historical practices that I have never had access to. Well I guess technically I have had access but rather had no knowledge or experiential reference regarding. I have been the product of an Evangelical education that disregards many traditional or historical practices as “dead religion” or something akin to superstition. All the while I am coming to realize that some sort of speculative esotericism is given prominence.
Sadly, I have to admit that I probably will not attend church this week as I have become accustomed to not going anymore but more so because I have no idea where I fit in (understand I use that term very loosely. I should probably explain myself better but I don’t have the time or energy). Sometimes I feel like a ship without a rudder but I know that is not entirely true because I still have the one indistinguishable light to guide me through a seeming aimlessness.
However, in the interm I am grateful that your article has given something to aspire towards in my inner life this week- deliberate reflection on the gravity of what is the Pinnacle of our faith. Hope your on the mend. Keep on!
Shawn, I would pass on Eugene Peterson’s advice “Go to the nearest small church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months”.
There are problems. Huge problems. But we still need community.
I would echo Josh’s advice…
Yes, I’m on the mend. Two major surgeries in six weeks set me back a little…
I tried saying “Happy Holy Week” to people. That went over like a cob in a hog wallow.
Josh and Duane,
I appreciate the concern and advice. I know your advice is sound and reflects a shepherd’s heart. I have done that many times and it just has not ended well, amiably sure but the years have taken their toll on me.
The last time I stayed for six or seven years only to have another cycle of promises go unfulfilled in much the same way it did the two churches I attended and served at before that. The first was nearly ten years, the second three years though I was not promised as much as the first and most recent. I am no longer the young and ambitious (I use that word lightly) man I was twenty-four years ago when I started my journey of faith. I was wide-eyed and full of excitement. Yet, little by little much of that has died (to be clear I am not referring to my faith as Christ is the sole remaining vestige that remains).
Frankly, I am tired of perpetually chasing the carrots dangled in front of me (trust me this needs a lot of clarification as it is extremely vague). I have simply settled that the supposed gifts and calling I was told I had may have been offered with good intent but unfortunately the inability of it to materialize simply confirms that not only was I misled but they were wrong (this is cryptic but a clue nonetheless). Years ago I had my “joy and fun and seasons in the sun” but much of that eclipsed long ago. There are too many layers and nuances to unpack.
I just don’t have the energy to continue this post. Maybe I will continue later or maybe I won’t. I will say that while let down, disappointment, abuse, abandonment, and so much more are part of why I do not have much desire to attend church anymore there is a physiological component as well.
I appreciate any prayers anyone may offer on my behalf. I am also comforted to know that there are people, though we may never physically meet, who are looking out for my best spiritual interests. Maybe that is something to reflect on during Holy Week 2022.
Also, glad to hear you are on the mend though I do not envy what you are going through. I genuinely hope that in your suffering you are drawn closer to Christ. May His Resurrection be an all consuming reality.
Shawn, I understand, and I did not mean to heap guilt upon you. Keep the faith however you can, brother. Its a tough world we live in.
Josh, brother I did not sense any attempt at guilting but rather the heart of a pastor who desires a that a wandering sheep return a flock, any flock and enjoy the fruits of Christian fellowship. It is something I sorely miss. I do have my wife who is quite a wonderful source of it. Us sometimes when I write or think out loud as I try to sort things out. It is a tough world but I am tearfully, joyfully reminded of the lyrics of a Keith Green song,
“Well, nothin’ lasts
Except the grace of God
By which I stand in Jesus
I’m sure that my whole life would waste away
Except for grace by which I’m saved…”
I dunno/Maybe I’m off base but I have been pretty consumed with the atrocities taking place in Ukraine. Been in prayer, talking with others, wishing I could do more. This Passion week, My heart breaks at the injustice and the inability to stop it. But for one week, or a few days, while I will still pray for Ukraine, , I just wanna focus on my Savior and rejoice thru that his sacrifice death was conquered.
But that’s me
This week always brings me back to the Gospels, Christ’s suffering, His triumph over death, and the great love He has for me, His child-a love I did not deserve. I’ll be translating the Good Friday/Viernes Santo service, praising my Savior for His love for me, knowing that Resurrection Sunday is coming!
“If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”