Skip to content


April 9, 2022

Most readers of this column know that I am a retired Christian pastor. In my tradition, this week is the most sacred week of the calendar year. That is why it is called Holy Week by many Christians. I write knowing that my readers hold diverse faith orientations, or some have none at all. Some Christians do not observe Holy Week. I offer these thoughts to offend no one, but to help all of us understand each other a little better.     

I was looking through an old file and found a clipping from the bulletin of a church in Lexington, Kentucky. The article was entitled “The History and Meaning of Holy Week Observances.” I had used the explanation of the events of Holy Week in my column for the church newsletter to help us better understand the worship experiences offered during this special week.

Holy Week is the final week of Lent. It commemorates the events of the last week in the earthly life of Jesus. Holy Week, the remembrance of the death and celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the most sacred time of the Christian Year.

Palm Sunday services usually begin with a joyful procession. On Palm Sunday, we remember that Jesus, accompanied by His disciples, entered the city of Jerusalem in triumph. An enthusiastic crowd greeted Jesus by spreading palm branches along the road and shouting “Hosanna!”, a Hebrew expression meaning “Save us.” The crowd hailed Jesus as the Son of David, the Messiah promised long ago by God.

The Jewish Passover often falls within Holy Week. Passover provides the foundation for much of our Christian observance of Holy Week. The Lord’s Supper grew out of Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Passover meal. For Christians, Jesus becomes the sacrificial lamb. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Though Passover is not to be confused with a Christian observance, there is a clear Biblical link between the two faith traditions.

Maundy Thursday is the evening when Christians recall the events that took place the night Jesus was betrayed. The word Maundy is derived from the Latin phrase mandatum novum, meaning new commandment. It refers to the Lord’s words to His apostles as recorded in John 13:34: “A new command I give you:  Love one another.” Maundy Thursday worship is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This night is the anniversary of the final Passover meal Jesus had with his disciples before his death.

Tenebrae, or Service of Shadows, takes place following Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday evening. It derives its name from the gradual extinguishing of candles and lights during the service. The darkness is a symbolic recreation of the gloom that covered the land when our Lord died and the fading life of our Lord as He hung on the cross. Scripture readings and hymns direct our meditation on the cross.

Good Friday is the day of the solemn remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross. The English designation of Good Friday is a fitting one since the Lord’s death was for our eternal good. Despite the solemnity of Good Friday worship, it is not a funeral service for Jesus. Instead, it is a time of quiet and serious contemplation on His great saving work.

On Friday, January 17, 2014, friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of Bruce Cash in a funeral service designed precisely the way Bruce wanted it to be. Those who attended had a meaningful experience, remembering Bruce as a kind and faithful man whose life touched many others.

Bruce was my brother-in-law, married to my sister Kitty. She is the youngest of eight; I am the oldest. When she was born, I was in junior high school.

Having a younger sister is good for an older brother. I saw myself as her guardian, her protector, not as a parental surrogate. That role was strongly activated when Kitty began dating. I thought my responsibility was to keep the creepy guys away, which I did. In time, Kitty met Bruce when both were asked to sing at a wedding. Before long, we welcomed Bruce Cash into the Neely family, and I have thanked the Lord for him many times. Bruce was the perfect husband for my sister and the perfect father to their six children.

Many remember Bruce best for his work as the pharmacist and owner of Ford’s Drugs. Many others remember him best for his music. From the songs of James Taylor to the hymns of faith, Bruce had a magnificent voice.

From the late 1980s through the early 1990s, First Baptist Church secured the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium for the presentation of “The Passion of Christ.” During this musical drama scheduled for Holy Week, Bruce portrayed Christ, and rightly so. Not only did he have the voice, but he also possessed a deep humility. The role fit him, and he fit the part.

To prepare for the Passion play, Bruce began letting his whiskers grow after Christmas so that he would have a full beard before Easter. Customers in the drug store noticed the facial hair and anticipated the drama to come.

One morning following the presentation of “The Passion of Christ,” I walked into Ford’s Drugs and exchanged greetings with an older gentleman. He said, “I saw the Passion play for the first time last night. The production was very well done. I had considerable trouble going to sleep though, because I just couldn’t get the story out of my mind. I’ll tell you what. There’s nothing like walking into a drugstore to pick up a prescription and having Jesus hand me the medicine.”

Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, centers on an up close and personal encounter with Jesus. Each year, Christians remember the events that occurred during the last week of the earthly life of Jesus. Seeing the images of Jesus depicted in Renaissance paintings or even in motion pictures can create a profound experience. But hearing Bruce quote the teachings of Jesus and seeing him kneel in the garden was deeply moving. Then seeing someone I know and love on the cross was heartbreaking. I was always moved to tears when I heard Bruce utter that excruciating cry from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

Except for John, the beloved disciple, and Jesus’ first cousin, the other disciples were not present when Jesus died. A common interpretation of the fact is that they were fearful for their own lives. That explanation may very well be true. I think it is also possible that they just could not bear the horror of seeing someone they knew so well and loved so dearly die such a painful death. To those first followers, Jesus was the teacher they had heard speaking to the multitudes, the healer who had touched so many lives, the friend and companion who loved them. They simply could not witness the cruel death on Golgotha. When I saw Bruce on a cross, even in a Passion play, it hurt me and moved me deeply.

Bruce taught me a significant truth about the primary reason to observe Good Friday. The one crucified on that old rugged cross is not a chiseled icon, a depiction of one distant and anonymous. This is no generic sacrifice on a hill far away. This is an act of personal self-giving love. More is required than a passing nod or slight reverence. Christ is the Savior who loves us and desires a personal relationship with us. What happened that day was the supreme act of divine and human love. Bruce knew that in every fiber of his being. His representation of Christ was genuine because it came from his heart.

In the words of Isaac Watts:

See from His head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down….

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Bruce Cash, my brother-in-law, my brother-in-love, hanging on a cross, comes to mind every Good Friday. For me, it makes the experience of this event, at the very core of the Christian faith,  intimate and personal. I am eternally grateful.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a storyteller, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind. Please know that I respect your freedom to choose agencies that are meaningful to you. One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to the charity of your choice for relief for the people of Ukraine. There are many options. Locally, several churches and religious groups are collecting gifts for those suffering from war. Please help if you are able.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: