Faces on Faith: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Tenebrae and Pascha
Words matter. Holy Week is upon us, and with it, Christians use many words to describe significant events of that final week of the earthly ministry of Jesus. For many, those terms are meaningless, but for others they stir emotions of gratitude and praise.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. It was on that day that Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey with the crowds waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna!” They also threw their garments in the street before him as he entered. The procession had the markings of the arrival of a hero or king. The word “hosanna” means “save us.” The crowd was looking to Jesus to bring hope, salvation and freedom from oppression.
Maundy Thursday confused me for many years, even as a young Christian. I thought people were saying, “Monday Thursday” and just weren’t sure if they were getting the day right. Maundy is derived from the Latin word for mandate or command. Jesus gave only a few commands during his three years of ministry, but it was on Thursday night in the upper room, as he shared the Passover meal with his disciples that he gave a command. He washed the disciples’ feet (much to their surprise) and commanded them to do the same. From that command came generations of Christians with a heart to be servants to others.
Friday, the day of the crucifixion, is often called “Good Friday.” Christians see it as good because it is the day Jesus gave his life for us on the cross. He took the sins of the world upon himself so that we could be forgiven. As Paul wrote in Romans, “God demonstrated His great love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Good Friday is also called, “Tenebrae.” Tenebrae simply means darkness or shadows. As Jesus died on the cross, darkness fell upon the earth for three hours. Often Christians pause on Good Friday, or Tenebrae, looking past the darkness to the light of Easter.
“Easter, also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday, is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.” (New World Dictionary) The term Pascha points back to the Jewish Passover celebration, which Jesus had been celebrating with his disciples. It is also referred to as the “Passion” of Christ, demonstrating fully the heart of God in both the crucifixion and the resurrection.
While many look to Easter as a time for bunnies, eggs and bonnets, Christians celebrate the greatest gift of all: eternal life through God’s son. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him, will not perish, but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Happy Easter!
Dr. Daryl Donovan is the senior pastor at the Sanibel Community Church.