Preparing for Easter through Holy Week

Easter at the Huntsmans.  The closest that we have been able to come up with for an Easter version of the Nativity!

Easter at the Huntsmans. The closest that we have been able to come up with for an Easter version of the Nativity!

I am convinced that if it were not for commercial and cultural factors, Easter would be more important to us than Christmas. As President Hinckley noted, Christmas is only significant because of the miracle of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and his glorious resurrection:

  • “There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Dec. 2000, 2).

The term “Easter” only appears once in the King James Bible, at Acts 12:4, where it is better translated as “Passover.” In fact, the scriptures nowhere enjoin us to celebrate the birth, death, or resurrection of Jesus as holidays per se, although we are commanded to remember him through ordinances and in our own testimonies. In that sense the days on which we remember and celebrate Christmas and Easter are not as important as the events themselves. Indeed, for Christians every day should be Christmas. Likewise, we remember and honor the suffering and death of Jesus every week with the sacrament, and the fact that we celebrate the sabbath on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, means that for us every Sunday is Easter!

Nevertheless, with Palm Sunday, the week before Easter, much of the Christian world enters into a period of reflection and, ultimately, celebration known as “Holy Week.” Each of the events chronicled in this last week cast light on Jesus’ true nature as the Son of God, and reviewing them deepens the faith of believers in his matchless love. While the LDS community does not formally observe Holy Week, the period from Palm Sunday to Easter morning present a wonderful opportunity for believers to use the scriptures to reflect upon the last days of our Lord’s earthly ministry.

In the bustle of day-to-day life, it is useful to employ holidays to refocus our attention and our thoughts and, most of all, celebrate together and with friends of other faiths the events we all value. For some years now, my family and I have benefited spiritually by using the gospel accounts of the Savior’s last week as the focus of our family and personal scripture study. It is a great way to truly celebrate Easter!

It is hard to decorate for Easter as much as we do for Christmas, but shouldn't it attract similar attention?  Here on our piano is an olive wood depiction of the Last Supper that I got in a tourist trap in Bethlehem.

It is hard to decorate for Easter as much as we do for Christmas, but shouldn't it attract similar attention? Here on our piano is an olive wood depiction of the Last Supper that I got in a tourist trap in Bethlehem.

Some of you are used to my penchant for spiritual autobiography, but let me give a brief history of my love for the Easter holidays.

I grew up singing in my mother’s ward choirs, year after year, and even before the scriptures took the most prominent place in my understanding of the Savior and his mission, I was touched by sacred music that recounted the events and rent my heart.

I fell in love with the Bible when I was in high school.  Moving to Tennessee and being immersed in the Baptist Bible Belt probably helped.  Perhaps that is where I picked up a bit of my “evangelical” flair.  I did not always agree with my Protestant friends in details of doctrine, but I was always moved by their commitment and love of Jesus Christ.  Later as I become more of a student of history, I became more “high church” in sentiment as I became attracted to the liturgical patterns of the older, more traditional Christian communities.  I came to appreciate their use of the calendar, seasons, and scriptural events as teaching tools.  All the while I was gaining a greater witness of and a deeper commitment to the restored gospel, and my LDS mission, my deepening love of temple worship, and a growing interest in the scriptures as an avocation brought me again and again to the focal message of the gospel: the good news that Jesus Christ has made salvation possible through his salvific suffering, death, and resurrection (see 3 Nephi 27:13–15) and that the restoration had brought a new level of meaning and authority to that message.

When I was serving as an LDS bishop, I came up with a Easter week reading schedule for my ward, hoping to help better prepare myself and the ward members for the commemoration of the Lord’s sacrifice and resurrection.  It was a fairly simple affair and arose from the kind of gospel harmonization that I now tend to avoid in my studies.  Still, it focused me on the pivotal events of the Savior’s last week and gradually became an important part of my personal and family scripture study.

I have always loved Christmas and its attendant celebrations.  Suddenly I realized that my observance of Easter was rather pale by comparison, and I threw myself into trying to make it a similarly meaningful holiday for me and my family.  About this time my background in Classical Studies was drawing me closer and closer to my eventual move from Classics to Religious Education at BYU.  My chairman at the time had me teach a Greek class on the Pauline epistles that whetted my appetite, but it was when I taught a second NT Greek course, this time on the writings of John, that my interest became a love affair.  I devoured all the NT scholarship I could find and became, at that time, particularly attracted to the works of Father Raymond Brown, an ordained Roman Catholic priest who also served as the president of the Society of Biblical Literature.  I caught a vision of what I aspire to be someday myself: both a Christian and, to some extent, a scholar.

In the end, however, my interest was not so much textual and scholarly as it was a matter of the heart.  My friend Craig Jessop once had me explicate a piece “Ave Verum Corpus” for the Choir before we began to rehearse it.  It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, but as I talked about the image of Mary holding her son’s body on her lap I grew quite emotional. Craig kindly said afterward, “Eric has a passion for the Passion.”  That is something, along with being a good husband and father, that I want to be remembered for, if for nothing else.

Since that time my Easter studies, which I made available to friends and family via email and eventually a website, have grown and grown.  As some of you know, a much-simplified version of them appeared in last April’s Ensign as a short (and necessarily edited) article entitled “Reflections on the Savior’s Last Week.”   I have made the longer version of these materials available, revised and expanded from previous years, on the web as a little booklet entitled Easter Meditations: Readings, a Chronology, Reflections, and Images of the Savior’s Last Days and Hours.  I will be posting excerpts from this study up through Easter, hopeful that they will help others in appreciating and celebrating this special season.

5 comments for “Preparing for Easter through Holy Week

  1. We see on the ‘nacle every year moaning and grumping that we don’t celebrate Easter very well, and plans for piggybacking on some other church’s Easter celebration in lieu of attending LDS services. I love that you have so many ideas for developing Easter devotions and customs as individuals and families that aren’t dependent upon what other people do — or don’t — do, and that so many of them require serious mental and spiritual preparation rather than the mere outward signs of, say, getting up early to attend a sunrise service, however symbolic and celebratory that may be.

  2. A passion for the Passion! I love that. What a wonderful comment.

    Thanks very much for the work which has obviously gone into your “Easter Meditations,” and I look forward to the excerpts from it. As Ardis suggests, a lot of us are always looking for ways to strengthen our connections with Easter (and the Christian liturgy in general), so making your reflections available will be very helpful. (We have fairly elaborate Easter celebrations around our house already…but we don’t do them on Easter. Since most of the more material aspects of the historical seasonal traditions find their origin in celebrations of spring, rather than Christ, we’ve chosen to move them all to May Day. The first few years we did a “Spring Egg hunt” on May 1 the girls found it odd, but now they love it, and the younger ones don’t know anything different.)

  3. Thanks for this Eric, I’m excited to read more.

    Off-topic: Could you give us any update on the BYU New Testament Commentary?

  4. Craig, you would need to contact the individual authors to get an update on the BYUNTC. I only have secondary involvement with two of the projects, John Hall’s Epistles of John commentary and Kent Brown’s commentary on the Gospel of Luke. John’s team finished an translation of the epistles, and I assisted him in writing grammatical portions of the commentary, but he has had a number of pressing projects and other concerns that have taken his attention since then. Kent drafted most of his Luke commentary and I reviewed about half the chapters for him, but then he was called on a two-year missionary stint as the associated director of the BYU Jerusalem Center. He is scheduled to return this summer, and I am sure that the BYUNTC will be his first priority.

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