The journey through Holy Week can help us travel through dark times in our lives and in the world. Holy Week offers the opportunity to experience the reality of shadows and suffering without losing hope.

I had to learn about Holy Week. Growing up in evangelical churches, I happily jumped from Palm Sunday to Easter. On the rare occasions I stepped into a Catholic church, the crucifixes seemed gruesome. Despite the constant focus on salvation through the cross, I preferred the “empty cross.”

Yet life is sometimes gruesome, as the news tells us daily. Life is also wonderful. Over a lifetime, we experience some of both the evil and the good. And the walkthrough Holy Week, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and yes, Easter Sunday, honors that experience not only of Jesus’ story but of our own. I’ve come to love that journey.

Sometimes I have to move out of my church comfort zone to take the journey. One year I attended my first Easter Vigil service at a local Episcopal church. More liturgical churches offer this service on the Saturday night before Easter. It’s designed to lead the way to the celebration of Easter Sunday. That had been a tough year. I had made a big change in my life that was not working out the way I had hoped. I had found Holy Week services particularly meaningful, so when I saw a notice advertising this Easter Vigil, I decided to attend. I’d never been to a service like this, and I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I needed something. Those of us assembled were sitting in the dark, and in the back of the church suddenly someone lit a fire in a large bowl. The burst of flame into the dark felt like it took fire in my heart too. The fire passed from candle to candle, just as on Christmas Eve. It gave me hope.

After the service, everyone was invited to gather together. I knew no one but the priest, and I didn’t have the emotional energy to meet anyone new, so I left. However, as I slipped out into the darkness and made my way home, I took the hope of the flame with me. And over time, new energy began to emerge for me as I made my way into a new life.

This Holy Week we are facing both darkness and light. The lessening of pandemic restrictions means this will be the first Easter in three years that many churches in the US will gather in person. Yet COVID-19 is still making its way through populations around the world. The relational and economic impact is still real for millions. And the darkness of war in Ukraine casts a shadow over the rest of the world and the joy of our own celebrations.

Still, the old story remembered year after year for centuries has meaning for us in these times. Darkness and death happen, as they did for Jesus. At the same time, the Easter story shows that death is not ultimate.

This year, consider adding something new to your usual Holy Week practice. Try attending a different kind of Holy Week service, in person or online. Or try a daily scripture reading, such as this Holy Week calendar from Vanderbilt Divinity Library, which includes a link to prayers and downloadable art for each day.

However you walk through Holy Week this year, may you find hope for your own journey.


Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations, and online resources.



Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash