I was raised in a very low-church Protestant tradition. What that meant for me was that the church we attended never had Holy Week services and my family never attended Holy Week services anywhere else. Of course, that also meant that we did not observe Ash Wednesday nor Advent, but my focus in this post is on Holy Week. We celebrated Christ's resurrection every Easter, but Maundy Thursday and Good Friday was something the Catholics did, and I was raised in a church environment that determined what worship practices were to be done or omitted based upon whether or not the Catholics did or didn't do it. So when I asked, as a young boy, why we did not observe Good Friday, I was told, "The Catholics do that."
I was not exposed to Holy Week observances until my days in college. In attending my first Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, I experienced a widening of the Gospel narrative that made the celebration of Easter even more significant. Of course, I knew that Jesus celebrated a last supper with his disciples and I certainly knew of his crucifixion. Those two things were significantly highlighted in my worship experience throughout the year. But for the first time in worship I was on a journey with Jesus and the church in worship that made Easter Sunday and resurrection much more than coming into the theater for the last act of the play, which is what I had been doing all of those years when Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were just two regular days, while we pulled out all the stops for Easter Sunday. For all of those years, I had been missing out on Holy Week in the same way as one misses out when one reads only the last chapter of a book.
Many years ago, I read an article by L. Gregory Jones, the Dean of Duke Divinity School, who recounted a conversation he had with a visiting pastor from South Africa, who said he had trouble understanding why in the US Good Friday services are among the poorest attended services of the year, with Easter Sunday only a few days later being one of the best. Whatever the reasons for this, one thing is clear from the New Testament-- cross and resurrection cannot be understood apart from each other. Indeed, according to the New Testament the two make up one saving event. One cannot have resurrection without the cross and the cross is useless without the resurrection.
So, as a pastor it can be quite discouraging to have a fraction of the people at Good Friday service that will be in worship on Easter Sunday, but I am thankful that years ago I was introduced to the entire narrative of Holy Week worship. It is my favorite week of the year for good reason; and after journeying with Jesus from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane, and then to the hill called "Calvary," the joy of Easter and resurrection comes into full view and clear focus.
My only wish is that more and more believers would come to see the significance of participating in the entire divine drama of Holy Week, and not be content with witnessing only the last act of the play.