A triduum is a religious observance that lasts three days. The best-known example of this is the three days from the evening of Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday. Called Paschal or Holy Triduum, this one event is the not only the center of the Christian year, it commemorates the great saving act of God.
The Bible is full of mysteries; the story of Jesus is full of mysteries. How did God become human? What does it mean to be fully human, and fully divine? Why did Jesus have to die on a cross? Why did he have to spend time in a grave? What did God accomplish in Jesus’ death? What does it mean that death has been conquered? These are mysteries that humanity will continue to ponder, to research, to discuss. The apostle Peter said of these mysteries: “Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12).
The great saving act of God came at an incredible cost—the cross. But the act is more than just the crucifixion. Just a few days after Palm Sunday Jesus was in Jerusalem sharing a meal with his disciples on Passover. During that evening, he changed Passover from being a reminder of a historical event, to showing the disciples what it means to be a shepherd leader. He introduced what we now call the Lord’s Supper. Let’s take a brief look at each part of this “center of the Christian year”—the Holy Triduum.
Several things occurred in the Upper Room on this night.
- Footwashing: The first thing the disciples might have noticed was the missing servant. There was no one there to wash their feet. Rather than wash their own, or (gasp) lower themselves to wash each other’s feet, they reclined at the tables with their feet dusty and they started eating. In the middle of the meal Jesus stood, put aside his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist and began washing their feet. As Jesus finished he said, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (John 13). He showed them that true leaders are true servants. He told them to follow his example by serving others. The lesson was not about foot-washing, it was about having an attitude of servant leadership.
- Eucharist: Jesus didn’t change Passover, he fulfilled it. He revealed that he was the bread and the blood of the lamb. He introduced a ritual for his disciples throughout time to repeat as a memorial. He changed the meaning of the Old Testament “cup of God’s wrath”—which is God’s wrath against sin and anything that hurts his beloved—to a “cup of thanksgiving.” (See Psalm 73:8, Isaiah 51:17, and 1 Corinthians 10:16.)
- New Commandment: “Maundy” is thought to be an English corruption of the Latin Mandatum, referring to the New Commandment. The New Commandment is to love others AS Jesus loves us. This is the sign of a disciple, to love as Jesus loves.
One might wonder why this day would ever be called “good.” Good here carries the idea of Holy and the day is also called Holy Friday and God’s Friday. This day starts the evening before (Maundy Thursday) and goes from the Upper Room to the cross. The cross was a despised symbol that Jesus turned to a symbol of hope, reconciliation, redemption, and salvation. It’s a day that marks the arrest, torture, and crucifixion of our Lord. It’s a day of reflection. Tim Sitterley’s article reminds us the resurrection is coming, but we should never lose sight of Good Friday.
Some churches set up “the 14 stations of the cross” for members to reflect and pray at each station.
- Jesus in Gethsemane
- Jesus betrayed and arrested
- Jesus condemned by the Sanhedrin
- Jesus denied by Peter
- Jesus judged by Pilate
- Jesus scourged and “crowned”
- Jesus takes up his cross
- Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
- Jesus is crucified
- Jesus makes a promise to the good thief
- Jesus entrusts Mary and John to one another
- Jesus dies on the cross
- Jesus is laid in the tomb
Also called “Silent Saturday,” this day represents Jesus’ “rest” after finishing his great work of redemption. Anthony Mullins writes that Holy Saturday reminds us God is alive even when we feel the silence and are unaware of his presence. This is a day of quiet reflection—perhaps thinking through God’s plan from the beginning. How does creation, the flood, the sacrifice of Isaac, the exodus, the promise in Ezekiel of a new heart, or the prophecy of the valley of dry bones fit into God’s overall plan? It’s a time to reflect on a bit of history and see how God has always been about fulfilling his story. What did God do in the background of the story of Israel? The story of David? The prophets? What is he doing in the background of your story?
He is risen! Easter is a time of triumph, a time of victory, a time of hope. It is both a day and a season of 50 days of celebrating the resurrection, culminating in the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Easter reminds us that death has been destroyed, the grave has been conquered, hope is eternal, and love is the reason for everything Jesus does. Easter reminds us the center is and always has been our Lord and Savior Jesus.
The Holy Triduum is God’s great saving act—for you.
May God bless you as you reflect, hope and celebrate the loving sacrifice of our Lord.