The week beginning on Palm Sunday and leading up to Easter Sunday is often called “Holy Week.” Because the date of Easter changes each year (it is the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs after or on the Spring Equinox, thus always between March 22 and April 25), the date of Holy Week also changes. Over the years, Christians have remembered another day (though not often in the Protestant tradition) that occurs just before the start of Holy Week – the day of the Annunciation. Let’s examine what Annunciation Day is, and why it is something to remember.
The word “annunciation” is connected to the word “announcement.” Annunciation Day is when the angel Gabriel visited Mary and announced that she would bear Jesus; since this announcement would be nine months before the birth of Jesus (remembered on December 25), March 25 serves as this day. We can’t be sure December 25 is the exact day of Jesus’s birth or if March 25 is the day of the announcement of his birth (or that Jesus was in his mother’s womb for exactly nine months, not being born earlier or later than the due date). However, these dates are appropriate to remember Jesus’s conception and birth, respectively. Just as we have the hope of Christmas right around the time when the days are darkest but begin to get new light, March 25 is around the beginning of Spring, when we start to see new life emerging in nature and the darkness of winter is ending.
This day can also serve as a reminder that Jesus’s earthly life did not begin the day he was born but at his conception; he was alive in the womb. This connection led Pope John Paul II to declare March 25 as the International Day of the Unborn Child. While there is no requirement or obligation for us to mark it the same way, it does seem a fitting day to pause and pray for unborn children in our world. We often think of the announcement to Mary in the midst of the Christmas story, but the presence of this day nine months before Christmas Day is a reminder that Jesus’s birth did not involve Mary and Joseph for a few weeks, but for the normal timespan of a child. Standing on the heels of Holy Week, this day can serve as a reminder that the truth of the cross and resurrection stands over Jesus’s life from its very beginning.
As we move into Holy Week beginning on Palm Sunday, I want to give a quick overview of the events that occured throughout this week, using the Gospel of Mark since it is unique among the Gospels in essentially giving a day by day account. Perhaps you want to take the time each day this week to read what happened (though Tuesday is a bit longer than the rest and Wednesday is pretty short!).
Psalm Sunday (Mark 11:1-11)
Jesus enters Jerusalem on a colt with his disciples as the crowd put their cloaks and palm branches on the road and cry out for Jesus. Jesus then goes to the temple, looks around, and returns to Bethany, where he stays during this week.
Holy Monday (Mark 11:12-19)
As Jesus travels from Bethany to Jerusalem, he sees a tree that looks like it is bearing fruit but actually has none (11:12-13). He then says that no one will ever eat from this tree again (11:14). When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, he halts traffic in the temple and drives out those who were buying and selling, overturning the tables of the money changers and pigeon vendors (11:16). Jesus defends his actions by quoting the Old Testament, saying that the people have distorted the purpose of the temple since it was no longer a place of prayer but now a place of commerce (11:17). These two events (cursing the fig tree and making a mess of the temple) are connected, as Jesus shows that the temple rituals are like that fig tree – all “show” but no real fruit. The fig tree will no longer grow fruit, and Jesus will replace the temple sacrifices with the sacrifice of his life. After all this, Jesus and the disciples leave the city (11:19) while the chief priests and scribes look for a way to get rid of Jesus without causing a commotion (11:18).
Holy Tuesday (Mark 11:20-13:37)
On the way to Jerusalem, the disciples notice the tree that Jesus cursed withered overnight (11:20-21). Jesus uses this occasion to teach his disciples about faith and prayer (11:22-25) and then goes to Jerusalem where the authorities try to trick Jesus with various questions (11:27-33, 12:13-34). Jesus answers them wisely, leaving them speechless (12:35-37), and warns the people about the way the scribes and religious leaders sought honor and took advantage of widows (12:38-44). He also tells a story about a master who sends out his “beloved son,” but that son is rejected and killed – something that points to Jesus’s death as the Son of God sent to his people (12:1-12). Jesus also speaks about his future coming and the need to be ready for him (chapter 13).
Holy Wednesday (Mark 14:1-11)
As the religious leaders are plotting to kill Jesus (14:1-2), a woman comes to the house where Jesus is staying in Bethany and anoints his head with oil (14:3-9). This odd event is preparation for Jesus’s burial (see 14:8). At this time, Judas decides he will betray Jesus (14:10-11).
Maundy Thursday (Mark 14:12-72)
Jesus celebrates the Jewish festival of Passover with his disciples for his last meal with them. At this meal, Jesus uses the bread and wine to teach his disciples that his body would be given for them and his blood spilled for them, establishing the practice of communion (14:22-25). Jesus then predicts that Peter will deny him (14:26-31) and goes to a garden to pray with his disciples who fall asleep (14:32-42) – the other disciples aren’t any better than Peter! While praying, Jesus is arrested (14:42-52) and then brought before the Jewish officials for an unjust night trial (14:53-65) in which they seek to find charges against him, even though they are false (14:55-59). While Jesus stands firm in the face of taunting from high-standing Jewish officials, Peter crumbles, denying that he knows Jesus to a servant girl (14:66-72).
Good Friday (Mark 15:1-47)
Jesus has his trial before the Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate, who tries to release Jesus but is forced by the crowd to have Jesus crucified (15:1-15). Before he is crucified, Jesus is mocked and beaten (15:16-20), so badly that someone needs to help him carry his cross (15:21). The mockery continues as Jesus is on the cross (15:22-32). Jesus dies at 3 PM (15:33-39), with his death accompanied by a darkness in the sky (15:33), the splitting of the curtain in the temple (15:38), and the realization of a Roman soldier that Jesus is the Son of God (15:39). Several women witnessed Jesus’s death and watched Joseph of Arimathea prepare his body for burial and place it in the tomb (15:40-47) – they know where he is buried.
Saturday is a day of rest…and then on Sunday morning comes the discovery that the tomb is empty!. Jesus is risen – he is risen indeed!
May this Holy Week remind you of the work of your Holy Savior to make you holy!
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