Why is it called the “Passion” Week?

The following summary was written by Josh Branscomb:

The observance of Passion Week recalls the week before Easter consisting of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ.  The word passion comes from the noun translation of the verb pascho appearing in Acts 1:3, where Jesus showed “himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs.”  There, the word passion means “to suffer,” particularly in reference to Christ’s sufferings and death.  The observance of Passion Week is also traditionally known as Holy Week, Greater Week (in reference to God’s mighty acts during the week), or Paschal Week (with focus on the Resurrection).  Initially, only the last two days of the week, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, were observed.  Later, Maundy Thursday along with Wednesday were added, as were the other days of the week, by mid-fourth century.  The Passion Week—which is rife with symbolism, foreshadowing, and Old Testament allusion—begins with Palm Sunday.  On that day Jesus rode a donkey, a symbol of peace, into Jerusalem to cries of the crowd whose Hosannas praised God “in the highest heavens for sending the Messiah.”  In fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah, Jesus thus inaugurated his mission of peace and indicated the peace of the kingdom to come.  On Monday, Jesus “suddenly [came] to his temple,” in fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, and cleansed the Temple Court of the Gentiles of moneychangers and the livestock market, that the Gentiles might again worship in their designated place, pointing to the kingdom of God in which all races and ethnicities—Jew and Gentile—worship God.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, Jesus engaged in temple dialogues, and the Sanhedrin plotted to kill Jesus.  On the significance of the next day, Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the Lord’s Supper, D. A. Carson writes: “as the people of God in the OT prospectively celebrated in their first Passover their escape from Egypt, anticipating their arrival in the Promised Land, so the people of God here prospectively celebrate their deliverance from sin and bondage, anticipating the coming kingdom.”  Good Friday marks the crucifixion of Christ, which involved unimaginable physical pain but infinitely greater spiritual pain, at whose climax Christ cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)—so that believers do not have to.  The cross, as Carson writes, is nothing less than “the fusion of divine, royal prerogative and Suffering Servant, the heart of the gospel, the inauguration of a new humanity, the supreme model for Christian ethics, the ratification of the new covenant, and the power of God.”  Finally, on Easter Sunday, arguably the climax of history, Jesus bodily resurrected from the dead, vanquishing the powers of sin and death.  Believers happily concur with Job in his magnificent declaration: “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). 

The foregoing events of the Passion Week are at the center of redemptive history, and, historically, have been the center of the liturgical year.  At the core of the observance of Passion Week is narrative or story, and story is at the core of our identities.  As James Smith writes, “We are essentially story-telling [beings] not because we just love a good yarn, or because we enjoy being entertained, but rather because we think narratively, as it were.  ‘I can only answer the question “What am I to do?” if I can answer the prior question “Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”’”  What, then, is your response to the passion narrative?  The call of the Bible is to believe the passion narrative for salvation and daily reenact the narrative by loving others with the same sacrificial, agape love Christ displayed on the Cross.  Let the passion narrative be the story of your life!    

Sources

Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, p. 335.

Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p. 573-74.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Volume 8, p. 437-39, 538-39, 574, 727-28.

James Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, p. 1

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