A church leader suggested Latter-day Saints might consider adopting Christ-centered traditions into their Easter worship that recognize Palm Sunday and Good Friday

During the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last week, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles quoted celebrated New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, who said, “We should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals. ... This is our greatest festival.”

Wright, who shared those words in “Surprised By Hope,” explained that without Easter, there is no Christianity. Similarly, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

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As Easter approaches on Sunday, here’s a deeper look at Holy Week and Christ-centered Easter traditions that Christians worldwide have.

What is Holy Week?

As Eric Huntsman said, Holy Week is a period of reflection and celebration for much of the Christian world. It’s celebrated from Palm Sunday (April 2 this year) until Holy Saturday (April 8) as a way to recognize the events that led up to Easter.

Holy Week includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Easter is the culmination of Holy Week.

Holy Week, which is the final week of the season of Lent, is considered the most sacred week in the liturgical calendar by many Christians. Pope Francis said, “Holy Week is a privileged time when we are called to draw near to Jesus: friendship with him is shown in times of difficulty.”

During this week, Christians will often attend midweek religious services and participate in fasting. The Rev. Andrew Teal said Lent is a “time of reflection and penitence,” which some Christians observe by making sacrifices — these can include forsaking complaining or any sugar.

The sacrifices made during the season of Lent, as the Rev. Teal said, inspire believers to reflect on how Jesus’ sacrifice and atonement offers redemption.

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What is Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week, which commemorates Jesus making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The accounts in the New Testament are in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:29 and John 12:12-19. Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover — a Jewish religious observance which reflects on Israelites’ liberation from slavery — and when he entered the city, onlookers waved palm leaves.

Some Christians celebrate Palm Sunday by participating in a traditional procession with palm leaves and olive branches in Jerusalem, according to Reuters. Other Christians go to their local church and participate in a procession there.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. | Wikimedia Commons
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What is Maundy Thursday?

Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and Washing of the Feet. It’s on Thursday during Holy Week.

For Christians, the Last Supper was the start of the sacrament, which is also known as the Eucharist or communion. Christians eat bread and drink wine or water together in remembrance of Jesus doing the same with his disciples.

Also during the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in a symbol of cleansing. In the New Testament, the Last Supper is in Matthew 26:17–29, Mark 14:12–25 and Luke 22:7–38.

Some Christian groups commemorate Maundy Thursday by attending religious services and participating in a washing of the feet ceremony. Sometimes Maundy Thursday is reserved for the Stations of the Cross — a spiritual pilgrimage with a special spot for 14 events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion — but other times, this is done on Good Friday or throughout Lent.

“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci.
“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. | Leonardo da Vinci, Wikimedia Commons

After Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, he went to pray alone. Here he uttered the famous prayer, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Jesus’ loneliness in the garden is also part of Maundy Thursday.

The Rev. Jarred Mercer said, “In Holy Week we seek to journey along with Jesus through the last week of his life. And on Maundy Thursday we sit in the lonely emptiness of the Garden of Gethsemane and the shame of his trial, on Good Friday with the brokenness of the cross, Holy Saturday in the despair of the grave.”

“Gethsemane” by Carl Bloch.
“Gethsemane” by Carl Bloch. | Wikimedia Commons

What is Good Friday?

Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. In the New Testament, it’s in Matthew 27:27-44, Mark 15:16-32, Luke 23:26-43 and John 19:16-27.

After Jesus is arrested, he is crucified. Christians believe he died for the sins of the world. This Holy Day is considered especially solemn and many people of faith fast and attend religious services. Some Christians will remain silent for the period of time Jesus suffered before he died as a way to show reverence towards him.

At 3 p.m. on Friday, many Christians will pray or attend a service because this is the traditional time when Jesus is believed to have died.

Wright said, “The personal message of Good Friday, expressed in so many hymns and prayers which draw on the tradition of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) and its New Testament outworking, comes down to this: “See all your sins on Jesus laid”; “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me”; or, in the words which Jesus spoke at the Supper but which God spoke on Good Friday itself: “This is my body, given for you.”

“The Crucifixion” by Andrea di Bartolo.
“The Crucifixion” by Andrea di Bartolo. | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons

What are some Christ-centered Good Friday traditions?

In the spirit of church leaders inviting Latter-day Saints to commemorate Good Friday, here are some options of ways to keep Christ at the center of this day.

Read the Passion narrative or excerpts from it

On Good Friday, many Christians attend religious services where they read verses from the Passion narrative together.

The Passion narrative is generally understood to be the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection such as the Last Supper and the Triumphal Entry. Reading the account of the Passion on Good Friday can help us remember Jesus. If you have children, you can adapt this by using pictures or media such as the Bible videos to teach your children about Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection.

Children’s editions of the Bible can be a useful tool here. Reading these verses and talking about them as a family can be a tradition to adopt and incorporate.

Another option is to read from Isaiah, particularly Isaiah 52 and 53, which are part of the traditional readings Catholics use on Good Friday.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints compiled a list of resources for Easter Week available on its website.

Pray at 3 p.m.

3 p.m. is considered the traditional time of Jesus’ death. At this time, you could offer a prayer about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection in your life to God and express thanks. Many Christians attend services or offer a private prayer at this time.

Fast during the day

On Good Friday, many Christians do either a partial or a full fast. Depending on your needs, you can fast as well either from food and drink or from something else like social media as a way to sacrifice something for God.

Catholics memorialize Good Friday through what’s known as abstinence and fasting. Abstinence refers to not eating meat on Friday and fasting means refraining from food except for one full meal and two smaller meals not equivalent to one full meal.

Fasting can be a deliberate way to show Jesus that you value his sacrifice.

Ponder Jesus’ sacrifice while looking at artwork of Jesus

For centuries, artists have created artwork of Jesus the events of the Passion. This artwork is often available on the internet and can be viewed from your own home. If you find visual art can help you meditate on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, then looking at artwork and pondering is a good way to commemorate Good Friday.

Ponder the Seven Last Words of Jesus

In the Gospels, there are seven different sayings that are considered the last words of Jesus.

  • Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
  • Luke 23:43: “Verily I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
  • John 19:26-27: “Woman, behold thy son! and Behold thy mother.”
  • Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
  • John 19:28: “I thirst.”
  • John 19:30: “It is finished.”
  • Luke 23:46: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

Offer God a period of silence to meditate on Jesus’ atonement

From noon to 3 p.m., some offer God a period of silence to meditate on Jesus’ death and the meaning of it in their own lives. One option to remember Good Friday is to offer God a similar period of silence and meditation.

Contemplate ways you can better forgive others

When Jesus arrived at Golgotha, they crucified him along with two others, according to Luke 23. One person who was crucified turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Jesus said he would be in Paradise with him on that day. And then later, Jesus said about those who crucified him “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

As Jesus was dying for the forgiveness of sins, he was actively engaged in pleading for the forgiveness of others. Before the Easter beam shines on us, forgiving others and forgiving ourselves can be a way to show God how seriously we take the gift of his son.

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What are some Christ-centered Easter traditions?

On Easter Sunday, Christians believe Jesus was resurrected. As Cecil Frances Alexander wrote, “He has burst his three days’ prison; Let the whole wide earth rejoice. Death is conquered; man is free. Christ has won the victory. ... He hath opened heaven’s gate. We are free from sin’s dark prison, risen to a holier state.”

The meaning of Easter Sunday for Christians is the good news of the gospel — through Jesus’ life and death, he gives eternal life and salvation available to the whole world.

C.S. Lewis said, “The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the ‘gospel’ or good news which the Christians brought.”

Latter-day Saints have abbreviated meetings on Easter Sunday, which gives more time for worship and recognition of Jesus’ resurrection with family. Here are some Christ-centered ways to celebrate Easter.

Attend religious services

Attending church on Easter is a great way to keep Jesus as the center of Easter. Often times, Easter religious services will include a special focus on Jesus’ resurrection.

Watch Rob Gardner’s “The Lamb of God”

“The Lamb of God” is a full-length concert film made by Rob Gardner. It’s available to watch on BYU TV and can be a good option to watch on Easter.

Listen to Easter music

There are Easter hymns from many Christian traditions like “In Christ Alone,” “He is Risen!,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “Amazing Grace.” Listening to these hymns and thinking about the meaning of them can help us remember Jesus.

Enjoy a feast

Some Christians consider Easter a feast day. After fasting through the Lenten season, Easter is seen as the culmination of both that season and Holy Week, so it’s celebrated by feasting. Making traditional Easter foods or your family’s favorites can be a good way to celebrate Easter. You can share with your family why we are joyful on Easter.

Paint a picture or write a story

Like Wright said, Christians can use art and literature as a way to celebrate Easter. If you have younger children who love to be creative, an art project can be a good way to talk about the Easter message. There are coloring pages of Jesus available on the church’s website. You can also consider painting a picture of the resurrection or the empty tomb.

If painting isn’t your forte, you can write a story about the meaning of the resurrection in your life. Creating different works of art can be an excellent way to remember Jesus and share with others the message of the resurrection.

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Read about the resurrection in the New Testament

Reading about the resurrection of Jesus from Mark 16, Matthew 28, Luke 24 and John 20 is a good way to think about what the resurrection means. These verses are the culmination of the Gospels and the Passion narrative, so it can be helpful to reflect on the events leading up to it, as well.

Listen to Easter talks from church leaders

Church leaders have given different talks about Easter which are available on the church’s website. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a talk called “Behold the Man” in April 2018 where he said, “Because of Jesus Christ, we will rise from the despair of death and embrace those we love, shedding tears of overwhelming joy and overflowing gratitude.”

These talks can inspire you and your family during your Easter celebration.