We find ourselves in the middle of Holy Week, leading up to the highest of all Christian holidays. And you thought it was Christmas. In this time I’ve been reflecting on the benefit of semi-liturgical remembrances, like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the like. Growing up in a temperamental, fundamental church we avoided liturgy like the plague and I’m slowly being introduced to aspects of the “church calendar”.
There is a movement, perhaps partly inspired by Jehovah’s Witnesses, to not honor certain days as special or “holy”. “Every Sunday should be like Easter,” one might say. I can see where this idea can come from. Maybe it’s a resentment of the so-called “C&E” Christians or maybe it’s a reaction to the ever-increasing commercialization of Christmas. I can see that, but I’m becoming more convinced that we need these holy days to focus our minds on aspects of the Gospel and to remember.
Remembering Holy Week
What do we mean by “Holy Week”? What make a day or week holy? I think what first comes to mind is an idea of righteousness or sinlessness. So I shouldn’t sin during holy week, right? Well, yes and no. You shouldn’t sin during this week, but you also shouldn’t sin any other time so that doesn’t help. The holiness of holy week is much more like the sense that a holiday is a “holy day”, that is it is set apart as a special time.
Our modern holidays carry the biblical idea of a special time of remembrance. Whether it’s Memorial Day, MLK Day, Mothers’ Day, Black History Month, what have you, we are encouraged to set aside time to remember and reflect upon very specific aspects of our cultural history.
We don’t have a biblical mandate to remember holy week, as it were. However we can look to a similar idea that comes from the most famous of Old Testament passages, the Ten Commandments.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Exodus 20:8
The Relationship of Remembrance to Holiness
Think of a “secular” holiday like MLK Day. Would the day change depending on your level of reflection on the man and his work? If you didn’t ever think about him that day you’d still get the day off perhaps, but the tone of the day would be very different than if you did. Maybe instead you listen to one of his speeches or watch a special documentary. Then you can reflect on the historical context of his work and look forward to the future realization of the dream.
If you don’t remember then it’s still a day off, but it’s not different from an average Saturday. If you do remember it’s an opportunity to reflect on our own cultural moment and perhaps seek areas to improve. Quite a different holiday.
In the biblical example, the people of Israel are commanded to “remember the Sabbath day” and the logical connection to the next phrase “to keep it holy” isn’t necessarily obvious. This translation doesn’t over-interpret it for us, so we have to think about the various options for this infinitive phrase, “to keep it holy”.
It could be an example of the explanatory use of the infinitive. You could translate it, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” That is, the way that you remember is by keeping it holy.
It could be either showing purpose or result. The first would say that we remember “in order to keep it holy”. The second would say that we remember “so as to keep it holy”. In one the remembrance has the aim of making it holy. In the other the remembrance directly results in the holiness of the day. The distinction is subtle but there is a difference.
Which comes first, the holiness or the remembrance? In this case the day was made holy initially by God himself and the people are commanded to continue the holiness by remembering. This seems to be much more of the purpose or result sense. We must remember or else the day won’t be different. If we act as if the Sabbath (whether Saturday, Sunday, or a floating weekly observance) is just any other day, that is, if we ignore the command to remember it then the holiness or separate-ness of the day is gone.
Interestingly it is the holiness that also causes our remembrance, or at least it focuses it. If we didn’t have MLK Day then I probably wouldn’t think about the Civil Rights movement that often really. How many of us would honor a yearly time to take stock and thank God and others for everything if we didn’t have Thanksgiving?
In the same way we are invited by church liturgy to enter into a state of intentional specific remembrance during this week. If we don’t remember than the separate-ness of the week is gone. If we scoff at “holy week” we are in danger of our memory fading entirely. If every day is a holiday than no days are holidays.
Remember this week. Remember Christ’s mission, his life and death, his sacrifice and his subsequent glory. Remember your sinfulness and his loving grace. Remember slowly and deliberately through the week. Reflect on individual ideas rather than the big picture. Remember to keep it holy and keep it holy that we might all remember.