Reminder, Reenactment, or Remembrance?
Holy Week is such a beautiful, profound experience. I’m sure some see it as a beautiful reminder of what Jesus did for us, and for our salvation. Others may enjoy what they see as a “reenactment” of the Passion of the Christ, similar to how history buffs hold reenactments of battles of famous wars.
For us, Orthodox Christians, Holy Week is neither just a reminder, nor is it a sentimental reenactment. It is remembrance, in the truest sense of the word. We are remembered with the reality of Christ’s love and sacrifice (as in the opposite of dismembered). While it may not be good English, it’s good theology. We once again are joined to the reality of His saving acts. We don’t just remember it in our minds; we experience it.
And it is precisely because these are His saving acts that makes our remembrance crucial. How can we try to love with Godly love, to follow His way or to take up our crosses if we don’t first witness His love, watch how He goes and be present as He takes up His Cross?
And this is why we call it Holy Week. The holiness is not just in what happened 2,000 years ago. The first Holy Week was holy for that reason. Holy Week 2017 is ONLY Holy if we make it so. Holiness is that which is set apart, treated as special. This is why your priest nagged you for the last few months to take Holy Thursday and Holy Friday off as much as possible, so that it could be literally set apart, and set apart for the things of God.
Holy Wednesday is Holy when we come to receive the healing of our soul and body in the Sacrament of Holy Unction.
Holy Thursday is Holy when we take our places at the Lord’s Table in the Upper Room, amazed as He washes our feet and enlivened as He offers us His Body and Blood as the Food of Immortality, in the Liturgy of Holy Thursday morning. It is Holy when we come back to church at night to hear the 12 Passion Gospels and attempt to accept the reality of all Christ offers us through His longsuffering Passion.
Holy Friday is Holy when we clear our schedules as much as possible, holding vigil at the foot of the Cross during the Royal Hours from Noon to 3 PM (30 minute services held on the hour during that time), by fasting (taking nothing by mouth, especially during the hours of His Crucifixion), and praying. We will be there to lovingly receive His Body from the Cross as Joseph and Nicodemus remove Him and lay Him in a new tomb at the Holy Friday Vespers at 4 PM. That night we join our hearts and voices to theirs as we sing Lamentations at 7 PM. Those of us that are able will stand for the rest of us and take a shift for an hour so that vigil is kept all night. We will hear His words from the Gospels echo in the Church and in our hearts until Holy Saturday’s Liturgy.
Holy Saturday will be Holy when we see the Church still in dark purple and hearing the prophecies of Christ’s Resurrection from the Old Testament, then see it fulfilled with the thrill of singing “Arise O God, and judge the Earth!” cloths and vestments change to white, bay leaves and rose petals fill the air in triumphant victory. All this, of course, is a prelude to the Holy Saturday night Pascha service, where the light “that is never overtaken by night” disperses the darkness of sin and death and God’s people proclaim to the world that “Christ is risen!”
Holiness is not a reminder or a reenactment—it is joining with the One Who is Holy. We recognize His presence when we set aside as what is normal and are open to that which is sacred, eternal, and heavenly. May we decide to do more than call this week “Holy Week.” May we make it Holy.