What to do with Holy Week? How can it be really special this year? How can Holy Week increase the faith and devotion of your members and guests? It is obvious something powerful needs to take place, but what and how?
Holy Week is a gigantic part of the Christian message: We should find ways to help our people understand what Jesus is doing this week, and bring Holy Week home to them in ways they will always remember. Here are some ideas to help you plan for a powerful Holy Week at your church:
- Pump up the interest
Prior to Holy Week, plan the events that will fill it up for your people and publish a special flyer or poster to announce all the events. Put the flyer in the bulletin two weeks before Holy Week. Replicate the flyer in the church newsletter and on the church website and social media page.
- Make Palm Sunday special
In the southwest we have lots of palm trees, so we decorate with palms in the patio and in the Sanctuary. In truth, any leafy green branch will do, only John mentions palms. Consider having children process with small branches or perhaps even the choir mightl process with branches as well.
An effective strategy, if you have good weather, is to gather people outside the sanctuary for the Call to Worship and hand out branches to everyone to wave as they enter the sanctuary.
Palm Sunday was a huge parade for Jesus and the Disciples: Keep the atmosphere party-like and positive. Remember the theme of this day is that Good is coming to Confront Evil; and, on this strange occasion, the visitor had more fans than the home team.
- Resist making it Passion Sunday
I realize that the common Lectionary now calls this day Palm/Passion Sunday and one option is to read the whole passion narrative from the cycle gospel. In 2016 reading the Lukan Passion narrative (Luke 22:14-23:56) will take at least ten minutes with a competent reader.
To me, the only reason to read the whole passion on Palm Sunday would be because you don’t expect anyone to connect with the gospel again until Easter, so you better get them ready now. If you do Passion Sunday then you enter with shouts of Hosanna and exit with a dead and buried Jesus. Keep Palm Sunday!
- Connect the people with the events of Holy Week
Find a devotional for Holy Week that you can pass out to the congregation. This would walk them through in Jesus’ footsteps every day of Holy Week. Or pick one Gospel to emphasize each year. This will allow you to look at the differences as you walk the week with Jesus from different perspectives: The money changers, the arguments with the Priests and Pharisees, preparation for Passover, the Last Supper/Passover and betrayal, trial and crucifixion, the vigil, resurrection.
Make Holy Week come alive for people and you will deepen their understanding of how much Jesus loves them, how important it is for Jesus to change the taxes of the Temple into the mandate of mercy.
- Celebrate the Passover
Jesus chose the Passover meal to institute his new communion. Most people have little understanding of the Passover and why Jesus did what he did and said what he said, which are all rooted in this major event in Judaism.
If you have never hosted a Passover, fear not – it is pretty easy to do. I’ve included a modified Haggadah in the Resources section of the website. (Click Here) You can download it and modify it to suit your needs. Remember to download the instructions. (Click here)
Some people tell me that Christians should not celebrate the Passover that it might be offensive to some Jews. But over the years I have invited many Rabbi’s to share the meal with us. Plus, some of our households were Jewish and Christian couples and they loved the meal. I’ve also enjoyed having neighborhood Jews come to our Passover because the date worked better for them than the local Temple, and they were very appreciative of the invitation and the welcome. Jesus was a Jew, and he celebrated Passover with his best friends and family. He made it a central part of our faith. Not to mention that this meal is Passover, should be more offensive to the Jews. My experience is that once people understand what we are doing, they love it.
- Make Good Friday Great
Good Friday is the set up for Easter. To attend on Easter Sunday without feasting on Thursday and weeping on Friday is like showing up for dessert and not being there for the appetizer and the main dish. Good Friday is the main dish; Easter is the amazing dessert.
Create a magnificent worship event. Read the seven last words of the cross. Have great music, only use the best readers, consider adding slides of artist depictions of the events, consider having dramatic poetry readings.
Consider a Tenebrae – ending in complete darkness and silence as the Christ candle is taken out of the sanctuary to return on Easter morning. When people encounter the full suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on Good Friday, it affords them an opportunity for greater celebration on Easter.
- Make Easter Magnificent
Pull out all the stops! Things to consider:
- Easter Lilies – or Native Flowers – or Spring bouquets
- Have a sunrise service somewhere that allows you to actually see the sun rise
- Have a breakfast at the church – for free! (baskets for donations)
- Have an Easter Bread reception – perhaps cultural breads from different countries.
- Have an Easter Egg Hunt before or after worship. (Every child gets a bag to put eggs into that already has an Easter message about your church with an invitation to come back, and the details about the next children’s event you will be holding at the church.)
- Get extra greeters, a whole team of people prepared to really welcome new people
- Have gift bags for first-time attenders with information about all your ministries. Don’t hand them out in worship, but have a table set up so everyone can see and announce it during worship.
- Preach a great joyous sermon and take the afternoon off!
Pastors must make Holy Week special. Our task is to deepen the faith of the followers, to make real disciples for Jesus Christ. The single best opportunity to do that is Holy Week. Don’t miss it!