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The 411 on Holy Week Words

2013 easter wpc blog(Warning: The content about crucifixion is for mature audiences.)

benedictus qui venit!  Huh?

I was in an airport recently and overheard people talking in a different language. I couldn’t understand a single thing.  Then it struck me: Often faith language can seem like a foreign language to many people.  And during called Holy Week this can be amplified 7-fold.

So here’s some helpful info on the major words used starting Sunday so we’re not wandering around lost in an alien airport.

Holy Week
The word “holy” means something that is set apart from the ordinary for God’s special purposes.  So Holy Week is a time that, in a way, stands outside of time and normal routines.  The reason Christians wear crosses around their necks is because we believe that what God did there is the decisive event in history.  French philosopher Rene Girard contends that enlightenment can only come from the cross.  Holiness. Life-change. World change.

Palm Sunday
This is the Sunday before Easter and officially starts Holy Week.  People wave palms to celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem before his death and resurrection. In John 12:13  it says: “they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord– the King of Israel!”  At the time, people waved palms during parades.

Hosanna
Speaking of which, this means “help (us)” or “save (us)”!

Passion
It means “suffering”; and during Holy Week (sometimes called Passion Week) it more specifically refers to the story of Jesus’ suffering in God’s plan for redemption.

Maundy Thursday
Don’t you mean “Monday”?  That’s what I thought when I first heard it!  But “Maundy” is from the Latin phrase “mandatum novum,” meaning “new commandment.”  So on Maundy Thursday Christians gather for services that celebrate a few things including: 1) The original Last Supper; and 2) the “new commandment” he gave to his followers to “love one another. Just as I have loved you.” John 13:34. Feet washing.

Eucharist
This is one of the words used for Communion or The Lord’s Supper (an act that remembers Jesus’ death and sacrifice).  Literally it means “thanksgiving” or “gratitude.”  The bread is symbolic of Jesus’ body being broken for us, and the wine of his blood being shed for us. As it says in Isaiah 53: 5: “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”

Good Friday
This is the day Jesus was crucified.  So why is it called “good”?  One explanation is that the word “good” comes from “God,” so it’s “God’s Friday.”  On that day Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world.  That’s good news for us all!  Hence: good news Friday.  Some traditions refer rather to it as “Black Friday” to emphasize the serious and sacrificial nature of what happened.  This is the day you’ll see some people having cross parades through the streets.

Crucifixion
This was an ancient way of executing political criminals.  Many crucifixions happened and they were ruthless, not only for their physical pain (and torture during and sometimes before), but because they were public mocking/shaming rituals.  Most commonly nails were used to fix the body to the cross.  The feet were most likely not stretched all the way down but fixed higher on the beam so that the knees were bent.  Brutal.  After a while because of the weight of the torso, the arms dislocate, causing the lungs to fill with blood.  You start to drown.  If you need air, you have to stand up (remember the knees are bent), but you have to stand (in a cruel way) on the nails through your own ankles.  Birds and prey lurk while crowds watch.

Resurrection & Easter
Resurrection is quite miraculously Jesus being raised from the dead.  This is God’s statement of Jesus’ innocence, and climactic victory over the powers of sin and death.  And Easter is the day it happened!  If there’s no Easter, there’s no Christianity.

So… Back to the start.  What does “benedictus qui venit” mean?  It means “blessed is he who comes”!

May your Holy Week be set apart from the common; be soaked in deep remembering and thanksgiving for when and how it all changed, and for how it continues to change us and the world. Big God=Big Love.

Holy Week for Christianity is like blood for veins.

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