I confess, I was barely aware of Holy Week before my mission. I had heard of Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, Ash Wednesday. But growing up in Utah, I was completely unaware of Holy Week’s deep significance to much of the Christian world. All that changed in Loja, Ecuador. For Holy Week, but especially Good Friday, everything shut down. Black sheets covered the storefronts. My companion and I walked the empty streets, visiting investigators, looking for someone to teach.
We stopped by a florist shop where several family members had been taught a few discussions.
“We’re just stopping by to say hello,” we said. “Happy Good Friday.”
The investigator corrected us, kindly but firmly: “Good Friday is good, but it’s not happy. It’s a sad day, it’s the day our Lord Jesus Christ died. It is not happy.”
I felt embarrassed; I should have known better. I was uncertain of how to behave during Holy Week in this very devout Catholic city. But I should have realized that Good Friday wouldn’t be a happy day; that would be Easter. Easter I knew. In my home ward, each Easter the choir sang the entire Sacrament Meeting, except for one or two brief talks. It was a day of celebrating the Resurrection, a joyful day. Mormons might not do Good Friday, I thought, but we definitely celebrate Easter.
Except not. My companion and I sat through an entire Sacrament Meeting in our little branch with talks on TITHING. I was appalled, in the well-meaning but self-righteous way that missionaries, especially new missionaries, can have.
“Mormons believe in Easter!!!” I wanted to shout. I nudged my companion. “Can we do something?” I whispered. “We need to talk about the Savior on Easter Sunday!” She agreed. We asked the branch president if we could have a minute, and sang a couple of Easter hymns a’capella.
I’m not sure how well it went over. Because, for the members in that branch, not making a big deal about Holy Week or Easter was a reaction to ubiquitous Catholicism. “We partake of the Sacrament each week,” the branch president said. “We don’t need all the trappings of the Catholic Church. We remember Jesus Christ with every Sacrament.” The members wanted to be distinctly Mormon, definitely not Catholic, and for them, not making a big deal about Easter Sunday was an important way of defining themselves.
Although it bothered me at the time, I have come to realize that their reaction to Easter Sunday was just another manifestation of the indifference to Holy Week I had experienced my entire life. Mine was naive, theirs deliberate. And now that I understand Holy Week better in theory, I find myself wishing I could be back in Ecuador, eating the Good Friday meal, walking down streets shrouded in black, experiencing that faith with a greater degree of appreciation than I had as a missionary.
I have a bit of “holy envy” over Holy Week, and I see from the posts around the Bloggernacle that I am not alone. Here are some of my favorites:
“Good Friday” by Christina Rosetti--part of a series of Holy Week poetry posted by Kristine at BCC
Pictures of an Austrian Good Friday, also at BCC
The classic “Parable of the Three Trees,” posted by Russell Arben Fox at Times and Seasons
Amira writes about visiting the stations of the cross for “Mournful Friday” (from 2005)
Easter poem by John Updike, posted at Times and Seasons in 2005. Truly a must-read.
Fascinating analysis by Nate Oman at Times and Seasons speculating about why Mormons don’t celebrate Holy Week (2007)
“In Christ Shall All Be Made Alive”– from the LDS Newsroom
Tell me about your experiences with Holy Week, in your family, or as you interact with other Christian friends.