9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week

The following is a repost from here:


9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week by Joe Carter, an editor for the Gospel Coalition

Holy Week is the week before Easter, a period which includes the religious holidays of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Here’s what you should know about the days that commemorate the Passion of Christ:

1. Holy Week observances likely began in Jerusalem in the earliest days of the church, though the term first appears in the writings of fourth century bishops, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, and Epiphanius, bishop of Constantia. Holy week does not include Easter Sunday.

2. The first recording of a Holy Week observance was made by Egeria, a Gallic woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 381-384. In an account of her travels she wrote for a group of women back in Spain, Egeria describes the Palm Sunday she observed in Jerusalem:

. . . all the children who are [gathered at the top of the Mount of Olives], including those who are not yet able to walk because they are too young and therefore are carried on their parents’ shoulders, all of them bear branches, some carrying palms, others, olive branches. And the bishop is led in the same manner as the Lord once was led.

3. Because of the difficulty in some parts of the world of procuring palms for Palm Sunday, leaves from yew, willow, olive, or other native trees are frequently used. The Sunday was often designated by the names of these trees, as Yew Sunday, or by the general term Branch Sunday.

4. An archaic and infrequently used name for the Wednesday before Easter is “Spy Wednesday”, named for Judas’ becoming a spy for the Sanhedrin.

5. Maundy Thursday is the day before Good Friday. The term “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word mandatum (commandment). The term refers to the commandment given by Jesus at the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

6. The historical origins of the “Good” in Good Friday remain unclear, though some entomologists believe the term “good” is an archaic form of “holy.”

7. In Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, Holy Saturday commemorates the “harrowing of hell,” the time between his Crucifixion and his Resurrection when Christ is believed to have descended into hell. Some Protestants, however, don’t believe that Scripture warrants believing the claim, found in the Apostle’s creed, that “[Christ] descended into hell.” As John Piper says, “there is no textual basis for believing that Christ descended into hell.”

8. In Medieval Europe, Christians would abstain from eating eggs and meat during Lent. Eggs laid during that time were often boiled to preserve them and were given as Easter gifts to children and servants. Some traditions claim the Easter egg is symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus, with the shell of the egg representing the sealed Tomb and cracking the shell representing the Resurrection. Christians in the Middle East and in Greece painted eggs bright red to symbolize the blood of Christ.

9. The Christian scholar Bede (673-735 AD, aka, the Venerable Bede) claimed in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre, a pagan goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Later scholars, however, claim that the term derives from the Anglo-Saxon word “oster”, meaning “to rise” or for their term for the Spring equinox, “Eostre.”


This entry was posted in Athanasius, Easter, Fasting, Good Friday, Hell, John Piper, Lent, Palm Sunday and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to 9 Things You Should Know About Holy Week

  1. Simon says:

    Piper didn’t like the harrowing of hell. But it’s there and believed universally by all Christians before the Reformation. Who is more likely to be correct? I take the earlier Christians personally. I think they are in a far better position to know what Apostolic teaching consisted of. The Creeds are there for us to proclaim, not to edit!

    • Jon Hughes says:

      On this subject, what do you guys think of the notion of post-mortem opportunities to repent, based on verses like 1 Peter 3:19-20; 4:6? I realize that it’s not very ‘evangelical’, and am aware of how these verses are usually explained in commentaries – but wanted to know what you thought.

      • TC says:

        Simon, on this matter, I differ with Piper and others. I say keep “He descended into hell.” I’ll more on this later.

        Jon, yes, it’s not very “evangelical” as you must it, and I believe for good reasons. I really dont’ think these verses are teaching such. Besides, we need to take the full weight of Scripture into consideration here, the obscure in light of the plain.

        I still hold to the fact that a person opportunity to either receive or reject lies this side. What purpose then is evangelism? What purpose then to get saved now, if I can wait until after to be saved, if I can live in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, and so on?

  2. Jon Hughes says:


    I wouldn’t set much hope either on the person who rationalizes within himself that he can live in debauchery and get saved later. That would be a very dangerous place to be.

    But what about a young Indian woman who gets gang-raped on a bus, and then thrown off to die in a ditch? She grew up in a rural village, got married, and had children – but was never in a position to hear and respond to the gospel. Of course there’s an urgency to fulfil the Great Commission, but it didn’t help her at time she went to meet her maker. Are we to pronounce in a scholastically detached manner that she went from that bus to eternal conscious torment so that God can be glorified in her damnation?

    Not for me. I hold out hope. Those verses in Peter give me hope.

    • TC says:

      Lon, it’s a tough one for me too. In the end, however, I only follow where the text leads, and in the process, I respect your conclusions as well. At any rate, as we both know, God is the final arbiter in these matters.

  3. TC says:

    Jon, indeed. But it all depends on who is reading the texts in question. 😉

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