From its earliest days, the church has celebrated Christ’s journey from death to life with a liturgical observance known as the Triduum or Great Three Days, which begins Maundy Thursday evening and concludes on the evening of Easter Sunday — the liturgical day being reckoned from sundown to sundown. In one continuous celebration encompassing three consecutive days, the church remembers Christ’s saving acts and experiences his presence in the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. In a sense, these liturgical celebrations together constitute a three-act play.
In Act One, Maundy Thursday, Jesus’ actions reveal that discipleship means crossing the boundary from selfishness to servanthood. In the liturgy we read how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as a symbolic enactment of his new command, “to love one another as I have loved you.” We share the meal of bread and wine so that, having become one with Christ, we might share ourselves with others in love and service. We strip the altar as a further reminder that Christ was stripped of his dignity on the cross and that our servanthood involves humility and self-denial.
In Act Two, Good Friday, our Lord’s servanthood reaches its zenith. On the cross Jesus became the lamb who was slain for sinners. There he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4). There he revealed the Father’s love and became the living way into the “sanctuary” (Hebrews 10:19-20) that is communion with God the Father.
Good Friday is not a funeral service for Jesus. Rather, it is a celebration of the triumph of the cross. In the Saint John Passion, Christ goes to the cross wearing the purple robe, unlike the gospels of Matthew and Mark in which the robe is removed from Jesus before his journey to Calvary. In John’s gospel Jesus is the king on his way to enthronement, for it is on the cross that God’s power is revealed and God’s enemies (sin and death) are defeated. Because God raised the crucified One, the cross is now a symbol of how God triumphs in and through our acts of service and self-sacrifice.
The third and final Act of the Great Three Days, the Resurrection Our Lord, is the grandest expression of our crossing the boundary from sin and death to new life with Christ. The singing of the hymns, the reading of scripture, the preaching, the waters of baptism, the bread and wine of communion, the prayers all point to the Easter proclamation: The tomb is empty, for Christ is risen! Like Mary Magdalene, we experience the risen Lord. Sadness and weeping come to an end. We now begin a fifty-day feast that lasts until the day of Pentecost. On that day we will commemorate the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit, the one who guides and sustains us until we pass from this world to the next.
During Holy Week you are encouraged to set aside time to meditate on Jesus’s final days before his passion, death on the cross, and glorious resurrection. These last days — Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter — are known as the Great Three Days.
Monday, March 29
PRAYER OF THE DAY: O God, your Son chose the path that led to pain before joy and to the cross before glory. Plant his cross in our hearts, so that in its power and love we may come at last to joy and glory; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
READINGS: Isaiah 42:1-9 God’s servant is endowed with the Spirit in order to bring light and justice to the nations. Psalm 36:5-11 “All people take refuge under the shadow of your wings” (v. 7). Hebrews 9:11-15 Through the blood of Christ rather than an animal sacrifice we are liberated from our sins and promised eternal life. John 12:1-11 Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with costly perfume, a foreshadowing of his death and burial.
Tuesday, March 30
PRAYER OF THE DAY: Lord Jesus, you have called us to follow you. Grant that our love may not grow cold in your service, and that we may not fail nor deny you in the hour of trial, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
READINGS: Isaiah 49:1-7 The servant brings the good news of God’s victory to the ends of the earth. Psalm 71:1-14 “From my mother’s womb you have been my strength” (v. 6). 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 The cross reveals God’s true wisdom, power, and source of true life. John 12:20-36 Knowing that his hour has come, Jesus announces that his death will be an exaltation.
Wednesday, March 31
PRAYER OF THE DAY: Almighty God, your Son our Savior suffered at human hands and endured the shame of the cross. Grant that we may walk in the way of his cross and find it the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
READINGS: Isaiah 50:4-9a The servant expresses absolute confidence in his final vindication, despite being abused. Psalm 70 “Be pleased, O God, to deliver me” (v. 1). Hebrews 12:1-3 By way of the cross Jesus has blazed a trail for our salvation. With faithful perseverance, we follow in his footsteps. John 13:21-32 At the last supper, Jesus identifies Judas Iscariot as the one who will betray him, and sends him on his way.