Column: Welcome Holy Week into your life this year

We are about to enter what Christians call Holy Week. Jewish people will be entering their Passover celebration around the same time. Holy week began on March 18 and ends on Easter Sunday, March 31. It is not by accident that Passover and Holy Week coincide. Remember, Jesus was a Jew, and on Thursday, before he was crucified, he celebrated the Passover Seder with the Apostles. Christians call this Holy Thursday for what he did that evening with the Apostles.

A Seder is an organized program of prayers, food, education, storytelling and singing celebrating Passover. An entire ritual of the Seder celebrates the Jewish People’s freedom from the tyranny of the Egyptian pharaoh. Jesus will eat the Passover with his disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. It is with great solemnity and with much symbolic importance, for on this night, he will institute a new way of worship and kinship with his people.

The Passover is symbolic of the freeing of the Jewish people from slavery. It is told using food at the meal. Unleavened bread, bitter herbs, lamb shank bone and a combination of nuts and herbs symbolize the Egyptian exodus. Jesus was eating the Passover meal on that special Thursday night. He was to be the Sacrificial lamb; again, the lamb in the Old Testament was the preferred sacrifice for the people’s sins. He will be the ultimate gift to God for our sins. This will happen on the next day, Good Friday.

In the Upper Room of that evening, Jesus gave us a great gift, often not well understood and overshadowed by the terrible drama of the next day. Jesus takes the bread at the meal, unleavened bread, and breaks it, giving it to his disciples. He says, “This is my Body to be given up for you, take and eat. Next, he took the cup and said,” This is my blood; take and drink.” For Christians, this is a very important gift; almost all Christian sects have a communion service. For Catholics, it is called the Eucharist; the bread and wine used at the Last Supper are found in every Mass. Other denominations have similar services that honor the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is just an extension of and built upon the Jewish Passover meal, commemorating Moses’ flight out of bondage into freedom. “I can only imagine the disciples’ amazement and lack of understanding of what was happening. Then Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me.” He, in short, asked us to come to his table and, in the simple form of food, to enter every human person gathered. He sees each of us as individuals as guests at his table. He uses our ordinary humanness to visit, strengthen and listen to our needs.

Food is what we need to live. Every human being must eat and drink to stay alive. Our culture has a national obsession with what we eat and what good it does for our bodies. Jesus offers us the Bread from heaven, Himself. He comes to us as an individual. He welcomes us to his table and takes us into His arms. He uses our ordinary needs in a spiritual gift of communion to strengthen us, speak to us and hold us as close as possible to Him in this ordinary life. This is the Jesus who is on his way to great suffering, rejection and execution. He was thinking about us and, on Holy Thursday, leaves us himself in humble bread and wine. When we go to Communion as a Christian, it is a personal visit from Jesus and a joy to a humble heart. Jesus becomes the Lamb of ancient sacrifice, given for our selfishness and self-centeredness by our choices. He is the connection and fulfillment of the promise made by God to Abraham and Moses, liberating the Jewish people from Egypt and bringing them freedom. By his cross and resurrection, he sets us free, gives us a pathway to live a good life, and, as the troubles of daily life come our way, a place to rest and hope. On Easter Sunday, he will liberate us from death.

Welcome Holy Week into your life this year with prayer and recognition of Jesus’s sacrifice and his gift of himself in humble food. See this week as a time to walk with him to the sorrows of Calvary. Pray for a world that has forgotten him as the key to peace and compassion for all human beings.


Kathleen Carlton Johnson, Ph.D., is a hospice chaplain.


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