Holy Week, the church’s annual commemoration of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection begins this Sunday. The many church services offer a kind of pilgrimage, an invitation for the faithful to draw close to Jesus, to pay attention to this divine mystery that is our salvation.
The original Holy Week unfolded during the High Holy Days of Passover, when Jews from all over Israel would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jerusalem sits on a hill, surrounded by wilderness. The faithful would journey for days, sometimes weeks, arriving to a crowded city swelled several times its normal size. Pilgrims would pass through the gates of the city and meander their way through the bustling streets to the temple complex. Built at the highest point, the last part of their journey was a steep climb up the southern steps to pass through the temple gates.
Ten years ago I visited Jerusalem. The southern steps of the temple have withstood the passage of time. They bear a unique characteristic: the steps alternate narrow and wide, narrow and wide, all the way up. And it’s a long way up. I asked our guide why they were constructed that way. He told us that the architects of the Temple wanted people to slow down as they entered the house of God. It would be natural to speed up in anticipation, but the alternating steps pattern challenges the natural eye foot coordination.
The eye and the brain have to work harder to navigate the alternating depth of a narrow, then wide, step. It’s impossible to jog the final ascent; by design, one climbs deliberately and with their head bowed. This physical posture of head down, eyes low, slowing down would prepare the faithful for coming into the presence of the holy.
Holy Week services are a bit like those southern steps of the temple. Our regular Sunday worship can be predictable, its learned rhythms over time can lull one into dullness and inattention. But not this week, not the liturgies of Holy Week. We are beginning our final ascent to the cross and the tomb. From waving palms to washing feet, from venerating the cross to lighting the Vigil fire, these annual rituals invite us to bow our heads, slow down and pay attention as we come into the presence of the holy. I hope you will join us whenever you are able on our annual Holy Week pilgrimage.
Mother Kim +