Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter
Catholic and Protestant communities celebrate Palm Sunday. (The Orthodox Christian community celebrates later as they follow the Julian calendar.) This marks the beginning of Holy Week, historically the most sacred time of year for Christians.
Palm Sunday recalls an event in the Christian Scripture (The New Testament) of Jesus entering into Jerusalem and being greeted by the people waving palm branches. For Christians, it is a reminder of the welcoming of Jesus into our hearts and of our willingness to follow him.
The service on Palm Sunday also includes a reading of the Passion, that is, the story of the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. In today's church, great care is given to make sure that the story of the death of Jesus is not presented in an anti-Semitic manner. Jesus' death is seen by Christians as salvation and as a reminder of how prophets are often killed when they stand for justice and peace.
Holy Thursday (sometimes referred to as Maundy Thursday after the Latin mandatum or command to love one another) is a day when Christians commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus. In some traditions, there is the washing of the feet of various members of the community to recall a gesture of Christ at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of his disciples. This is a sign of the need to do more to love one another and to serve all people, especially the poor.
Good Friday is a solemn day on which Christians recall the death of Jesus and its promise of hope and new life. In some traditions a wooden cross is set up and people spend time meditating before it.
Other people make the Stations of the Cross a devotion that recalls the journey of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) in Jerusalem to Calvary where he was crucified. (In Jerusalem the place of Christ's death and resurrection is commemorated inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.)
Many Christians keep this devotion but also see in the suffering of Jesus a reminder to be more concerned for the suffering of people in today's world. For many Christians, this day is also a day of fasting and penance.
Easter Sunday is the greatest feast in the Christian calendar. While our society puts a major emphasis on Christmas, no other day is traditionally as sacred for the Christian community as Easter. This is the day Christians commemorate the resurrection of Christ.
In some traditions, the services begin the night before with the lighting of a new fire and the blessing of a large Easter candle. Water is blessed and many are baptized. But for all Christians, this is a day to renew one's faith.
In the Catholic Church, there is a sprinkling of all people with the newly blessed Easter water as a sign of renewal of our baptismal commitment. In many Protestant communities, Easter is celebrated at a sunrise service early on Easter morning.
Easter usually ends with festive celebrations with special foods and Easter delicacies.