How do you experience Holy Week, the final week of Lent? Do you celebrate Palm Sunday, watching the children parade into church shouting hosannas, and then come back the next Sunday for the celebration of Easter Sunday, raising the roof with hallelujahs and trumpets? Or, do you walk through the darker days in between? If you want a meaningful and joyful Easter experience, to fully appreciate the hallelujahs, try some of these Holy Week activities.
Why Observe Holy Week (even if you’re not Catholic)?
Experiencing Holy Week is to walk through Jesus’ most trying hours, contemplating the events that led to Easter
For most of my life all I knew of Easter was the celebration. I knew the week in between was a remembrance of the Last Supper, Jesus’ arrest and his crucifixion and death, but I never stepped into the sorrow and grief of those days.
A co-worker invited me to step out for lunch one year on Good Friday and attend the Stations of the Cross service at our church. It was my first time to pray the Stations of the Cross. The service involved walking as a group from station to station outdoors, taking turns carrying a large, heavy wooden cross. I was moved to tears by the time we reached the final station, having deeply experienced Jesus’ walk to the cross so personally for the first time.
Last year, I took my daughter to our Maundy Thursday service. It’s a service that includes the very humbling experience of having your feet washed. It concludes with the stripping of the altar, removing all signs and symbols of Christ from the sanctuary. We both sat in the darkness afterward, tears falling down our cheeks, contemplating a world without Christ.
Stepping into the darkness and solemnity of Holy Week deepens the joy and meaning of Easter
Each year, these services leave me feeling sorrowful, almost grieving, reflecting on the death of Jesus. I’ve spent Friday and Saturday imagining a world without Christ, trying to put myself in the shoes of the disciples as they came to terms with the events of the week. Imagining their utter confusion and disbelief that the Savior they gave their lives to follow was dead. Questioning if I’d have kept believing or would have given up and denied Jesus, too. Wondering if my faith is strong enough now to stand firm, no matter the price.
Allowing myself to sit in the darkness and grief of Holy Week made Easter so much sweeter than in previous years. I realized how much I’d missed by skipping from Palm Sunday to Easter, without delving into the days in between.
I needed to walk through those final days, to contemplate a dark, Good Friday world, in order to fully appreciate the great gift of Easter. The hallelujahs and trumpets were a bit jarring on Easter morning after the solemnity of the days prior, but oh how my heart filled with joy and elation for the resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
10 Holy Week Activities to Make Easter More Joyful
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1) Use a daily devotional to walk with Jesus through Jerusalem.
Daily, spend time in scripture, soaking in the details of Jesus’ final week on earth. Commit to reading a scripture passage each day and then spend time in prayer. Allow yourself to get caught up in the story, imagining you’re one of the disciples or close followers. Feel what they must have felt that week.
If you don’t have a devotional for the week, let me suggest Journey to the Cross. I wrote this one with a specific emphasis on deeply experiencing these final moments of Jesus’ life.
This scripture-based devotional will lead you through the key events leading to the cross, immersing yourself in the story. Each day includes reflection prompts, a related scripture for prayer, and additional study to go deeper.
I can’t wait to dive into this devotional through Holy Week and dive deep into this walk with Jesus.
If you prefer to create your own devotional plan, below are some suggested passages for each day:
- Palm Sunday: Read and pray through Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11)
- Monday: Begin reading the account of Jesus’ final week in John. Today, read and pray through Jesus’ anointing at Bethany, when Mary pours perfume on his head (John 12:1-11)
- Tuesday: Read and pray through Jesus’ prediction of his death (John 12:20-36)
- Wednesday: Read and pray through Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal (John 13:21-30)
- Thursday: Read and pray through the Last Supper (John 13:1-17, 31-35) and Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-45)
- Friday: Read and pray through Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion (John 18:28-19:37)
- Saturday: Read and pray through the burial of Jesus (Matthew 27:57-66)
- Sunday: Read and pray through the resurrection of Jesus (John 20:1-18)
2) Attend a Maundy Thursday foot washing service
Maundy Thursday (also called Holy Thursday) is a day set aside to commemorate the Last Supper. Many churches will hold a service on this day that includes a foot washing and concludes with the stripping of the altar (removing all signs and symbols of Jesus from the church to remind us of his death on Good Friday).
If your church doesn’t have a foot-washing service on Maundy Thursday or you can’t attend, do one with your family.
- Take time to wash each other’s feet, explaining to your children that it’s a way to serve each other.
- Read John 13:1-17, 31-35 together and then wash your children’s feet.
- Encourage them to wash each other’s feet.
- Discuss what it means to serve others.
- Share ideas about how to better live this out in your daily lives.
3) Eat a Passover meal with your family and friends
The Last Supper was Jesus’ last observance of Passover, so experiencing a Passover seder (dinner) is another way to step into the story of the Last Supper yourself.
My Bible study group shared a Passover seder together one year. It was the first time I’d experienced Passover and it was a moving experience. We ate the traditional meal and followed the traditional readings. While I’m sure we didn’t fully appreciate all the meanings of the night, it created a bridge between the Old Testament traditions and covenants of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, with the New Testament fulfillment of God’s promises delivering the whole world with Jesus as our Passover lamb.
You’ll want to find a guide to for the Passover dinner and it will take some planning ahead. Be sure to taste the traditional foods and read the traditional questions and answers. Below are a couple of guides to a Christian’s Passover seder:
- Introduction to a Christian Passover from the Christian Resource Insitute
- How to Start a New Tradition of a Messianic Seder from Ann Voskamp
4) Keep a prayer vigil on Thursday night
After the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. This was his most passionate and desperate night of prayer, yet the disciples he took with him kept falling asleep.
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41 NIV)
Christians have traditionally observed this prayer vigil during the evening of Maundy Thursday, committing to stay awake and pray with Jesus through the night – or for at least an hour. Many churches will hold an overnight prayer vigil, asking people to sign up for an hour of prayer during the night.
Whether your church has an organized vigil or not, consider committing to an hour of silent prayer on Thursday night. Sit in the garden with Jesus and pray with him.
5) Pray the Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross (or Way of the Cross) is an ancient prayer that focuses on 14 moments (or stations) along Jesus’ walk through Jerusalem. This prayer isn’t only for Catholics. It’s for anyone who wants to pick up their cross and walk with Jesus.
Many churches will have 14 markers to designate these stations so you can physically walk as you pray. Our church has them stations outside around the grounds of our property. On Good Friday, we’ll walk them as a group, taking turns carrying a large (heavy) wooden cross, to more fully experience Jesus’ final walk. We use a Stations of the Cross prayer book to guide the prayers.
Walk and Pray the Stations of the Cross
If your church (or one in your community) has a guided Stations of the Cross prayer time, go. Especially if you haven’t prayed the stations of the cross before, go experience this powerful time of prayer. If possible, find one where you actually walk the stations.
Use an Online Guide to Pray the Stations of the Cross
If your church doesn’t do a Stations of the Cross prayer time, you can use an online guide, like this one from Creighton University
You can also find video versions on YouTube, such as this one below:
This video would be great to watch with your kids (it’s a great explanation of the stations for anyone, especially if you haven’t prayed it before):
6) Fast on Good Friday
Good Friday is a traditional day of fasting in many churches. Whether it’s your church tradition or not, take this as a day to fast in some way. Good Friday is the day we remember the crucifixion of Jesus, the day he died. So, it should be a day of solemn remembrance of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us. Mourn the loss, imagine a “Good Friday world” without Jesus, and take time to repent of your own sins.
Fasting can take different forms. You could completely skip eating this day, or maybe just have fruit or vegetable juice or light soups. Or, maybe you eat lighter and fast from social media for the day. Perhaps fast from the world and spend the day in reflection and prayer.
7) Observe the 3 hours on Good Friday when Jesus was on the cross
Jesus hung on the cross for three hours before he died. Historically, this is observed from noon to 3pm on Good Friday with a time of silence.
Turn off electronics, sit in the silence, pray. Observe these three hours, remembering the sacrifice Jesus made for you.
I’ve often observed this time by attending a Stations of the Cross service at my church over lunch. For an hour, we walked the stations in silence, praying over each one. It’s always such a moving experience, that I carry the solemnity and prayerfulness back to work with me in my heart.
8) Share the Easter story with your kids (or grandkids)
I first read the whole Easter story to my children when they were very young (around 2). We’d been reading through the Beginner’s Bible, but I’d been hesitant to tackle the Easter story. I thought it was too much for them at such as young age. But, one night they insisted on reading those chapters. I was blown away at the depth of questions they asked and how they took it all in.
- Share the Easter story with your children (or grandchildren). Walk through Holy Week with them, so they more fully understand why we celebrate on Easter Sunday.
- Read the story from an age-appropriate Bible.
- Use Resurrection Eggs to tell the story to younger children. You can purchase a set or even make your own.
- Watch a children’s version of Stations of the Cross and discuss each event.
- Read an Easter story book together.
- Take them to the mid-week church services and let them experience these unique worship experiences.
9) Keep Saturday Solemn
Holy Saturday marks the day Jesus spent in the tomb, so keep this day solemn and observant. It’s a day to sit at the tomb of Jesus and wait expectantly for his return, mourning his death and reflecting on his great sacrifice.
Turn off electronics, limit activities, and imagine a day without Jesus. Experience the deep grief of the disciples who thought Jesus was gone forever and didn’t yet understand the prophecy.
10) Rejoice on Easter Sunday
Hallelujah! He is risen! Jesus overcame death and the tomb!
Rise early and watch the sunrise, the promise of a new day. Go to church as a family, celebrating in Christ’s triumph over death.
One year when my kids were babies, I went out early to the sunrise service. I’d wanted to experience this service, but we’ve always attended the later, more traditional services on Easter Sunday as a family. The sunrise service was held outside, where we could watch the sunrise bring light to the darkness. The image of God’s light filling the earth again after the darkness of Good Friday.
I highly recommend finding an outdoor sunrise service, if you can. I attended the more traditional service later that day with the family, too, but this service ministered to my heart in a special way.
Start the day with praise music, fill your house with the sound of praise to Jesus.
How will you observe Holy Week this year?
Will you try at least one of these ideas this year to experience the depth of Holy Week?
I encourage you to explore the fullness and sadness of this week, so you can better appreciate the celebration of Easter. Walking through Holy Week will completely change your experience of Easter Morning!