Spending the year reading through the Bible has helped me realize how much knowing the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) helps us understand the events of Holy Week.
On a very simple level, we know that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples on Maundy Thursday and died on Good Friday. If you attend the worship services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, you can get a lot out of each one without knowing all the Old Testament. The events themselves are very dramatic without all the background information.
Yet if you have gone to services over and over throughout the years but have not read the Old Testament stories since you were a child in Sunday School, you are probably missing much of the deeper meaning.
One example is the Palm Sunday story. Jesus comes in riding a colt (most likely a young donkey) which has never been ridden. It echoes back to King Solomon’s ride into Jerusalem. His one brother, Absalom, who tries to declare himself king comes with a chariot and horses with fifty men. When this attempt ends in Absalom’s death, another brother, Adonijah, does the same thing! However, Solomon follows his father David’s instructions and comes in to Jerusalem riding in on David’s own mule. He is anointed king after this humble entrance. Likewise, Jesus is hailed as king, Son of David, because the crowds remember Solomon’s processional into the city.
The Last Supper makes little sense if we know nothing about the Passover and the story of the Exodus. Even through many people remember this story a little, rereading it gives us a new perspective on this critical meal. We forget how incredible the story of the Exodus from Egypt really is! The Hebrews leave slavery and finally get moving toward the Promised Land.
On Good Friday, we usually just gloss over the tearing of the temple curtain. But this is so symbolic. Reading about Solomon building the temple and all the care that went into the first temple and knowing that all of it is destroyed and rebuilt before Jesus’ time, makes this simple action much more dramatic. The Temple was The Place to be in the presence of God. But when the Son of God dies, even the temple curtain is torn – almost like God tearing God’s own robe! Without reading the Old Testament, we have no sense of how this disturbance in the temple would have affected all of the Jewish community, including Jesus’ disciples.
So if you are reading through the Bible with me, keep on reading because the stories of our faith are rooted in the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures. We need them to make sense of what we believe.
May God bless you this Holy Week.