For Christians, Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, the days before Easter commemorating the last days of Jesus Christ’s life.
The Scriptures say that on Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and was greeted by people who gave him a hero’s welcome during the Jewish Passover celebration.
The crowd carried palm branches, which are a traditional symbol of joy and victory, and spread them throughout the streets as Jesus rode through.
Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples on the night before he was crucified.
The word maundy is derived from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment, and refers to the commands Jesus gave to his disciples at the Last Supper.
On Good Friday, Christians commemorate the passion, or suffering, and Christ’s death on the cross.
Last day of Holy Week
Holy Saturday is the last day of Holy Week and ends the season of Lent.
The day commemorates when Jesus’ body was in the tomb after his death.
On Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Christians believe that Jesus came back to life, or was raised from the dead, three days after his death.
This year, with churches closed to control the spread of the coronavirus, services will look different – with some embracing technology to get their messages out.
Senior Pastor Jim Gay, of Greater Johnstown Christian Fellowship, 3429 Elton Road, Johnstown, said the plan is to broadcast Holy Week services online to the church family.
“We are navigating the use of technology to reach our people,” he said.
“The methods have changed but the message remains the same.”
‘Expression of love’
Gay said Holy Week is a celebration of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus in laying his life down for his people.
“It’s the greatest expression of love,” he said. “It’s also a reminder of death, but that death doesn’t lead to despair, that death leads to not only life, but abundant life, which leads to everlasting life.”
Gay said Palm Sunday is a time to get ready to celebrate the Easter-season story.
“If that takes place virtually with our family, whether it be waving, not necessarily palm branches, but our hands in our houses as we celebrate together, it is still the declaration that we are witnessing and remembering the greatest story ever told,” he said.
Gay said he is reminding parishioners confined to their homes that there was a moment when Jesus felt alone and everyone had abandoned him.
“There was a cry from the cross, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ ” he said. “That moment of feeling alone wasn’t defeat but it was something that guarantees victory.”
A Good Friday service will be streamed at 3 p.m. on the church’s Facebook page.
“It will be a virtual service calling the church to come together,” Gay said.
“For us, it has always been a special time where we emphasize that God wants to heal us.”
Depending on the weather for Easter Sunday, the church is contemplating holding a drive-in service with a time still being finalized or holding a 10:30 a.m. service that will be streamed.
Gay said the Easter message will be celebrating the newness of life that Jesus gives.
“Right now, we are living in a world that is full of fear and a fearful world needs a message of hope, life and a bright future,” Gay said. “What better message to give than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Although the church is closed, Gay said people are still contributing financially.
“God has been faithful to us and good to us, and there are people who are still sending an offering to the church,” he said. “We have not asked for anything at this time because it’s God’s deal and God will pay the bills.
“I’m confident that God will provide for us and sustain us.”
The Rev. Denise Todero, pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church, 228 Blaine St., Johnstown, said because her congregation is mostly older, she and sessions members, the governing body of the church, are discussing ways to bring the Easter message to the people.
Checking on each other
“A lot of our people may not be connected to the internet, so as a congregation, we are calling each other and praying for each other and making sure that other’s needs are being taken care of,” she said.
Todero said Holy Week is palm to passion.
“On Palm Sunday, that’s where Jesus came in and everybody waved the palms and they were greeting Jesus,” she said. “By the end of the week, the same people who were waving the palms are raising their fists yelling, ‘crucify him.’”
Todero said on Good Friday, Jesus is crucified.
“Then we get our salvation by the resurrection on Easter Sunday and saying, ‘Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed,’ ” she said. “We walk through that drama of that week – from the palms of this joyous celebration, to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples to holy communion to the crucifixion to the resurrection.”
Reliance on God
The Easter message will focus on people’s reliance on God.
“He gave us his salvation and we need to continue to put our faith in that,” Todero said. “We need to continue to believe and we need to continue to rely that God is going to care for us.”
She said because services will not be held, she and others in the church will continue to reach out to members to share God’s message.
“We are taking care of others as we are called to,” Todero said. “We need to recall in a time like this that church is not the building, church is our community of faith and being brothers and sisters in Christ.”
She added that members are continuing to financially support the church even though the doors are closed.
“That is in God’s hands,” Todero said. “If we are to continue, which I truly believe we are, God is going to make that happen.”
Pastor Wanick Fayette, of Beulah United Methodist Church, 716 Bedford St., Johnstown, said prior to churches being closed temporarily, he was posting weekly videos to the church website and Facebook page in preparation for Sunday services and will continue the practice for the duration of the closure.
“Thankfully, we have a television ministry where we send in the recordings to Atlantic Broadband and they are played at 6 p.m. Sundays on Channel 9,” he said.
Fayette said Holy Week represents the time leading to the crucifixion of Christ.
“On Palm Sunday, Jesus is triumphantly entering into Jerusalem and people are placing palms at his feet and singing his praises, and by the end of the week, he’s with his closest friends and one betrays him,” he said. “Holy Week is an emotional roller coaster looking at the last week of Jesus’ life, seeing the high and low moments.”
He said for Palm Sunday, his message will focus on Jesus’ selflessness and what society is experiencing.
From 10:30 a.m. to noon on Palm Sunday, the church will hold drive-thru communion.
“It is prepackaged and people will be able to come to our portico and I’ll be out there handing it to them and giving a quick prayer,” Fayette said.
A streamed Good Friday service will include Fayette washing the feet of an individual to represent Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
At 9:30 a.m. Easter Sunday, the church will hold a drive-in service in its parking lot.
“Easter is a big holiday for the Christian faith. Even though we can’t be together physically, we still want to bring the church family together and invite other churches who aren’t doing anything to be a part of the service,” Fayette said. “We can show the community that the church is united, especially in a time like this.”
He said his Easter message will focus on the sacrifice of Jesus.
“I would like people to get and understand the purpose for Jesus’ death and the reason for it, so they can grasp it even more,” Fayette said.
“The righteousness that we now have in God, we were only able to get that through Jesus.”
He added that through these difficult times, people are continuing to financially support the church.
“It’s amazing, we have people mailing in their offering envelope and those who are giving online through our website,” Fayette said.
The Rev. Nancy Hoover, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, 246 Chandler Ave., Johnstown, said for the past two Sundays, she has been posting worship services to the church website and will continue to do so through Holy Week and Easter.
“They are not live-streamed, so you can watch them at any time,” she said.
Hoover said the message of Palm Sunday is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
“Although he knows he’s going there and will be sacrificed for us, still he goes,” she said.
‘Doing this for us’
Hoover said on Maundy Thursday Jesus had the Last Supper with his disciples and he was betrayed by Judas, leading to Good Friday and the crucifixion.
“Good Friday is often a sad time, but it also can be looked at as a time when Jesus is doing this for us,” she said.
“God sent him here to show us how to live.”
She said on Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ triumph.
“Through his death and resurrection, we are promised the forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life,” Hoover said. “It’s a joyous time, although hard right now with what’s going on in the world with not being able to get together to worship. We have to remember that the church isn’t a building, it’s the body of Christ, meaning all people who are believers in Jesus Christ are the hands and feet of Christ to be able to go out into the world and do what we are called to do for others.”
Her Easter message will delve into what the resurrection means, not only in good times, but especially in the bad.
“No matter what happens in our lives, God loves us, Jesus died for us and was resurrected and we have that promise of eternal life,” Hoover said.
“Always look to our Lord Jesus Christ, because he is the one who gave his very self for us.”
She said the congregation is continuing to give funds to the church even while being closed.
“I ask in the webcasts when it comes time in the service when they’d
ordinarily put their offering in the plate, that they send that off to us so our ministry can continue,” Hoover said.
“So far, it has been very good and people have stepped up and we hope that it continues.”
The Easter message by Bishop Mark L. Bartchak, of the Altoona-Johns-town Roman Catholic Diocese, focuses on two of his favorite Easter stories that happen to have something to do with the coronavirus directives given by public health officials and government leaders.
He said at the end of the Gospel of John, it says, “On the evening of that first day of the week, even though the disciples had locked the doors of the place they were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood before them.”
Most of the disciples sheltered in place. They were in the Upper Room, where they had been with Jesus at the Last Supper.
“It’s important to notice that they were afraid; especially afraid that someone might come and arrest them,” Bartchak said.
“They were afraid because Jesus had died on the cross and his body was placed in a tomb. They thought the story ended on that sad note.”
John’s Gospel continues with the words, “Jesus came and stood before them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
“When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. At the sight of the Lord, the disciples rejoiced. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said again.”
“Even though we have been deprived of opportunities to be together for fear of the COVID-19 virus spreading, the Lord Jesus has not forgotten or abandoned us,” Bartchak said.
“As we hear in John’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t need to knock on the door. He comes on Easter Sunday and appears before us and calmly greets us with words of peace.”
Bartchak said the second Easter story he invites faithful to think about what is told in Luke 24:13-35.
It’s about two of the disciples who decided not to shelter in place with the others in the Upper Room. They set out for their hometown of Emmaus, totally dejected over the whole experience of having followed Christ only to see him die on the cross.
Everything changes when Jesus appears, walks with them, talks with them, and accepts their invitation to stop and share a meal. It was there that Jesus revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread.
“The Lord Jesus immediately disappeared from their sight and their reaction was amazing,” Bartchak said.
“They recalled how they felt their hearts burning when they were walking and listening to Jesus on the road.
“So instead of throwing in the towel, they ran back to Jerusalem and told the others the good news that Jesus Christ is risen.”
Time of need
He said he has heard numerous stories of people who had become distant from the Lord for all sorts of reasons, but coming together with others and for others in a time of need has made their hearts burn with the love of Jesus, who has been missing from their lives.
“It means that even in the darkest times, even in the times when we feel that the Lord is far away, or we have run from him, Jesus appears to us and says, ‘Peace be with you,’ ” Bartachk said.
“It means that the place for each of us to shelter is with each other and with the Risen Lord.”
He added that Jesus is as near to people today as he was to the disciples in those encounters that are found in the gospels.
“The impact of the pandemic may be around for a while, but we have our shelter, which is not just a place but the person of our Savior Jesus, who is with us all the way,” Bartchak said.
With public Masses and liturgical gatherings suspended through Holy Week and Easter, Bartchak is inviting the faithful to watch Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday services at 11 a.m. on WATM ABC 23 and 9 p.m. on Atlantic Broadband Channel 9.
Masses also will be posted on the diocesan website at www.dioceseaj.org and Facebook and Twitter social media platforms.