WEST ORANGE, NJ - Just as Passover is an important observance on the Jewish Calendar, Lent and Holy Week are perhaps the most sacred for Christians of all denominations across the world.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for forty days (not including Sundays). Just as Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and nights prior to the start of His ministry, this is a time for Christians to repent, fast, and prepare for the coming of Easter. Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means "spring." Many denominations require members to not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. (Note: the information contained in this article reflects Lent in Western Christianity, and not Orthodox Christianity.)
Holy Week is the final week of Lent (ending on Holy Saturday) and leads up to Easter Sunday. It begins on the Sunday before Easter with Palm Sunday, which celebrates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem for Passover, and ultimately, the crucifixion. Churches everywhere hold processionals with palms to acknowledge Jesus' arrival. Palm Sunday is also called "Passion ('to suffer') Sunday" and many denominations read the "Passion" or story of Jesus' betrayal by Judas, His arrest and torture, and ultimately His death.
Maundy Thursday is also known as Holy Thursday. The word 'maundy' means 'mandate' and speaks of the commandment Jesus gave to His disciples to to love one another humbly and to remember his sacrifice. It is long held that the Last Supper (probably a Passover meal) was held on this night, following the act of Jesus washing the disciple's feet. After the meal, Jesus and the disciples traveled to the Mount of Olives,and into the Garden of Gethsemane ("the place where olive oil is pressed"), where Jesus prayed and struggled with what was about to happen. He was arrested at Gethsemane and taken to the home of Caiphas, the High Priest. Many churches celebrate this solemn day with foot washing services, communion, and acknowledgment of their sin. The altar is also stripped to represent the stripping of Jesus' garments.
Good Friday is the most solemn of days, which depicts the suffering of Jesus, from His beating and torture, to the long walk to Calvary (also known as Golgotha, or 'place of the skull'), His crucifixion, and His burial in the tomb.
Scriptures record the death of Jesus at about 3:00 pm. Many churches will hold services at this time, altars shrouded in black. A common service is the 'Stations of the Cross' which may re-enact the steps Jesus took to the cross via readings and reflection. Communion is usually not held, and Good Friday is a day of deep mourning, grief, and somberness.
On Holy Saturday, services like the Easter Vigil may be held after sundown. Scripture verses and meditations are utilized so that Christians can contemplate the darkness of a world without a future and without hope apart from God and his grace.
On Easter Sunday, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, churches around the world celebrate with altars dressed in white, lilies, songs of praise, the ringing of bells, and much joy.
Although the many denominations celebrate in slightly different ways and families, who generally gather for an Easter meal afterwards, develop their own traditions, the acknowledgement of Jesus' death and resurrection to provide life and a bridge to God for all men remains a common denominator in the season of Lent and its journey to Easter.
The Alternative Press wishes all Christians observing Holy Week a blessed Easter.