I recognize that Holy Week, as an annual set of services, is not spelled out in Scripture. It is a tradition of the church. But a good, gospel tradition, and one that still has deep resonances in the rhythms of American life. So let’s use this week as best we can for outreach, for evangelism, and for apologetic engagement.
And for keeping the main thing the main thing.
The cross is what saves (1 Cor. 1:18). The cross is what we preach (1 Cor. 2:2). The cross, and all that it stands for, is our first priority (1 Cor. 15:3). Don’t make this week—of all weeks—about anything else.
This is not the week for being savvy and sophisticated. This is the week for being simple. Sin and salvation. Death and resurrection. Let every preacher preach this gospel and every congregation hold fast to this word (1 Cor. 15:1-2).
Holy Week is a check-up for the church. To use a tag line that’s already overused, if your core message for this week is something other than “Christ died for our sins,” you’re doing Christianity wrong. If you want to preach about gender equality or social justice or progressive dispensationalism or the extra Calvinisticum, do it a different week. This week is about a substitute for our sin and an empty tomb for our justification.
This week is about the passion of the Christ—about his suffering, his betrayal, his humiliation, his death, his burial, and his resurrection from the grave three days later. If we are celebrating something else, our gospel boat has lost track of its North Star.
Think of what we’ll sing this week:
Man of sorrows! what a name for the Son of God, who came ruined sinners to reclaim: Hallelujah! what a Savior!
What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain: mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain. Lo, here I fall, my Savior! Tis I deserve thy place; look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.
For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation: thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die! Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I!
Tell me, ye who hear him groaning, was there every grief like his? Friend thro fear his cause disowning, foes insulting his distress; many hands were raised to wound him, none would interpose to save; but the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that Justice gave.
And then on Sunday morning:
Lives again our glorious King; Alleluia! where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! Once he died, our souls to save; Alleluia! where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!
Despite the busyness, this should be every preacher’s favorite week of the church year. And the best week for every church choir, every organist, every worship band, and every congregation. What a somber week filled with happy news!
Let’s not trade the glories of the cross for a mess of religious niceties, spiritual ambiguities, and moral uplift. It’s time to tell the old, old story once again—the story of sin atoned for, wrath appeased, heaven secured, and death conquered. No gimmicks, no trinkets, no goofy skits and video clips. The story is good enough all by itself.
Let’s just make sure we haven’t lost the plot.