As I write these words, it’s a beautiful spring Monday afternoon here in Boulder, Colorado. It’s also Holy Monday, March 29, 2021. Holy Week began yesterday as always with Palm Sunday. Jesus’s followers, although technically they were ahead of him, waved palm fronds and threw down their coats and cloaks to cover the dusty dirt road to Jerusalem to honor the way for him and his borrowed white donkey. Fortunately, the committee in charge of naming religious holidays wisely decided against calling the start of Holy Week Coat or Cloak Sunday...
Tomorrow will be Holy Tuesday followed by Holy Wednesday. Then comes Maundy Thursday, as it is called by Lutherans and Episcopalians and possibly some other mainstream Protestant denominations. Catholics stick with Holy Thursday. Germans call it Green Thursday, and make sure to eat something green on the day. So why “Maundy”? It honors the day when Jesus gave his Twelve primary disciples “a new commandment,” namely to love one another as he had loved them. And in the Elizabethan English of the King James Bible, where one doesn’t just believe in Jesus but on him, “commandment” was spelled and probably pronounced “commaundment.” In many Christian churches, this mutual love is ritually symbolized by the clergy and sometimes parishioners washing the feet of fellow church members just as Jesus had washed the feet of his Twelve.
As a kid, well before I became a Christian in March, 1967, I couldn’t figure out why the Friday in Holy Week was called Good Friday. After all, wasn’t that the day in which Jesus was crucified? And to a little Jewish kid just as the Holocaust was winding down, that didn’t seem all that good to me. Later of course I learned that the paradox of Jesus’ Crucifixion is that it led to his miraculous Resurrection and his role as Savior of whoever believed in him, not just his early-First-Century Jewish followers. In other words, what looked like a defeat was really a victory. The Passion of Christ and Passion Week brought up similar linguistic problems for the younger me. Where was the passion, the little me wondered, in a week ending in suffering and death? But in Latin passio means suffering, and that’s where the Christian term comes from. During Holy Saturday according to tradition Jesus, now in spirit form, goes down to Hell and, well, raises some, a bit of spiritual-house cleaning known as the Harrowing of Hell. Then on Easter Sunday—Easter by the way, per the wizards of Google, comes from the pre-Christian English goddess of spring, Eostre—Christ, body and spirit, is no longer in his burial cave. As faithful Christians around the world will again aver on that day, many this year on Zoom: “He is risen. He is risen indeed!” And in this spirit, may all of you readers, Christian and non-Christian alike, be blessed by the renewal of life called spring and the blessings symbolized by Christian Holy Week.