From time to time, we find that there are certain topics we discuss on our podcast or on our blog that we wish we could spend more time on. So, once a month (starting...now!) we'll be taking a Deep Dive into a holiday or habit that we think is especially interesting or meaningful.
This month, two members of the GoodKind team, Chris Pappalardo and Amy Kavanaugh, sat down to discuss all things Holy Week.
Here's a snapshot of the conversation they had. We hope it stirs you up to engage with God and one another in a new way this season. And if you'd like, check out the original conversation on The GoodKind podcast on Apple or Spotify.
Chris: I'm pretty pumped about this. This is not a surprise to anybody, but the Easter holiday is pretty central to the Christian faith. And yet for a lot of folks, Easter can be kind of a dark spot on their map. There's pieces of the Easter holiday or traditions that they've heard of, but bring up more questions than answers. So, we may not answer everything, but we're going to have some fun along the way.
Before we get into Easter proper, I'm curious. Amy, do you have any personal stories or family traditions from your childhood that are memorable?
Amy: Yeah! I grew up in a United Methodist Chruch and one thing I remember more than anything else was that every Palm Sunday, in our downtown church, members of the North Carolina Symphony would come play music. It was the most beautiful and grand display of music that you could imagine. It was amazing.
Chris: Wait. You can't fit a whole symphony in a church. How many members are we talking about here?
Amy: Probably a good 15-20 lined up in front of the altar. All of the kids would come in waving their palm branches, which I got to do several years, and which I took very seriously. There was a lot of liturgy and meaningful stuff happening in the service that had the potential to be really powerful and really beautiful for everyone in the congregation. At the time, all I noticed was that there was a lot of extra music, which didn't feel like a regular Sunday! So that's one of the things that as I have grown, and now have a family of my own, even a kid who could wave a branch, I miss. We don't currently attend a church that does anything differently in the service on Palm Sunday. We may call it out and mention that it is Palm Sunday but that's about it. I didn't appreciate those Palm Sunday traditions until more recently. And now I kind of miss that more formalized element that announces, "This Sunday is different. Here's why."
Chris: I was in a Presbyterian church for a lot of my growing up. And we also did Palm Sunday. We didn't have a procession. We did not have a symphony. We were not that sophisticated. But we were able to get these long, skinny branches that we called, palm leaves, even though they likely weren't. (It was Pennsylvania, we did the best we could.) But they gave them to all the kids and I loved it. Being a young boy, we would go out in the parking lot afterward for sword fights, which maybe was not the intent. But I remember it. And I loved it. And I kind of want to bring Palm Sunday back to our church.
Amy: I learned this week, that a lot of churches that do the palm branch waving collect the branches, burn them, and then use those ashes for the following year's Ash Wednesday service—which makes so much sense!
Chris: I've never really thought about that. That's really beautiful.
Amy: It's beautiful, and it's practical, which I love. But how cool is that? I'd kind of wondered where those ashes come from... Amazon? And I'm not sure I want to go beyond that question. But I like to think of all the ashes as being from the Palm Sunday Prior.
Chris: We'll go with that. That brings us to where I want to go next. Easter starts with Lent, which is another one of those patently Christian but vaguely-familiar, hazy things. What do you know about Lent? What's the deal with Ash Wednesday and Lent?
Amy: It's funny, because in my day job with GoodKind, I handle a lot of customer service emails and one of the biggest questions I get every year is about this. So many people ask, "Hey can I still order and use Easter Blocks since Lent has already started?" And the answer is yes! Of course! Because good news, Easter Blocks isn't for Lent, it's for Holy Week. Lent is much longer. 40 days plus the Sundays. Is that correct, Chris?
Chris: Yes, so I feel a little ashamed that at 38 years old, and as a guy with a masters and a PhD in theology, it was this year that I learned that Lent is actually 46 days long. In my head it's always been the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. And it is kind of liturgically, technically 40 days. But that 40 days doesn't count the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter. So if you're looking at the calendar, it's actually a total of 46 days. And that kind of messed with my head!
Amy: It feels like pregnancy to me. It's 9 months. Or 40 weeks. But they don't quite match up, ha! So when people ask how far along you are, sometimes it's actually really hard to say!
Chris: Not to mention the perceived time. Nine months, sure, but it feels like a year!
Amy: So, yeah. Lent and pregnancy. The same thing.
Chris: So I have to mention this. On the Today show, they had Mark Wahlberg on. (I promise, this is Lent-related.) The core piece of Lent is having a time to fast, pray, and give to the poor. It's a somber, a down time to prepare for the up, that is Easter. Even as pastors or priests will say, "From dust you came, to dust you shall return. So it's very solemn, a reminder of mortality. And in many churches, individuals will pick this up to. The idea is that you lay something aside during Lent. Maybe you won't eat meat, or you'll fast one meal a week. And this is nothing new. It's not novel. It's been going on for centuries. So Mark Wahlberg enters the scene (He's Catholic.) He was on the Today Show sharing about this practice and how he'll be fasting from certain things during Lent. It was actually rather beautiful. He was inviting people in to say, "Hey, this is the Christian faith. We think it's beautiful, and I'm inviting you to join me." But having more of a category for Mark Wahlberg than the Christian calendar, the folks on the Today Show framed it as "Mark Wahlberg's 40-day Challenge." And they're running with that, as a sort of rebrand of Lent.
Amy: Oooof. That's very different. And also very funny. I read an article this week titled, "Lent Is Not A Vibe." And I thought, "Ooooh, yeah, more of that, please." Growing up, I went to a small Christian middle and high school, and it was kind of a common thing to go around asking, "What are you giving up for Lent?" And then it became a one-upping game, which also is not the point. Then in college I went the other direction under the "free in Christ" mantra. And now I am coming back around to see a lot of good in the practice. Maybe it's not a 40-day challenge or just about one-upping your friends at school. So I've started to think about it again and the Palm Sunday services at my old church and that beauty and the liturgy. And that article called me out so much. Because Lent really isn't about a certain vibe. It's not about what's cool or edgy in the Christian faith or even what feels good to you. It's not about making Lent sad so you're happier at Easter. It's about death. And that's not a vibe. It's not cool or trendy. It's death. And not just for you. But when you look at the person across from you with ashes on their forehead and realizing, "Oh. You're going to die too."
Chris: Yeah, you realize this is where we're all headed. And apart from Christ, this is it. So here's a little etymological journey for you before we jump into Holy Week. One of the key things to give up during Lent is meat. Generally folks would eat fish for protein, but no beef or things like that. So the name Pappalardo, my own last name, is related to this. It means fat-eater, or bacon-eater. It's not a good connotation. It comes from folks during Lent who would be very vocal about keeping the fast, but then would go home and behind closed doors, pound the bacon. So Pappalardo was a slang term for a hypocrite who did the opposite of what Jesus was saying when he commanded us about fasting. He said, "Do the fast, but don't make a big show of it." A Pappalardo would make a big show of it, but not actually keep the fast at all. So that's my people, I guess.
Amy: I'm glad I know that about you now!
Chris: So. Holy Week. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. It's a period of reflecting on mortality. But it ends big. It's pointed toward something really beautiful. But even that last weeks sinks even further into the depths with Jesus' death, and then resurrection. So what are the key beats to Holy Week?
Amy: You kick it off with Palm Sunday. Then the way I've always thought about it is that the next "special one" is Maundy Thursday. Then there's Good Friday. And Easter Sunday. And the rest kind of feel like they're thrown in there too, and we add the word "Holy" in front to make it feel special. But there's significance behind each day, though the tendency is to go straight from Palm Sunday to Good Friday to Easter and skip the rest. Sometimes Maundy Thursday gets some attention because the word "maundy" is a little weird and hard to spell.
Chris: Did you look up what Maundy means?
Amy: I did! It means "command" or "commandment", from the Latin word "mandatum."
Chris: Ah, because at the last summer in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "A new command I give you: Love one another."
Amy: Yep! It goes by some other names too, which I found interesting. Some people call it "Great and Holy Tuesday", which maybe feels like a little much, but they're just trying to get the point across. "Covenant Thursday" is another.
Chris: Oh, I like that one.
Amy: And "Thursday of Mysteries" which might be my favorite. (Or at least most similar to Harry Potter.) But thinking about "Covenant Thursday" as a reference to this new commandment, new covenant, and the picture of Jesus washing his disciple's feet at this last Passover meal, is really powerful. Thursday has a a lot of good stuff going on!
Chris: Yes! If you're looking at the amount of story in the gospels, Thursday gets a huge focus. That's when the Last Supper happens. You have the institution of communion in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and then in John, the story of Jesus washing the disciple's feet. John has so many chapters of Jesus' teaching on that Thursday. Here's something I learned this week. The timing of Easter, you know, is kind of wonky. It's one of those floating holidays almost, that's Spring-ish. And it's because of that alignment with Passover. In the Easter story, the week leading up to Easter includes the Passover celebration meal. It's the Jewish religious ceremony commemorating the Exodus. They were slaves in Egypt. God brought them out and said eat bread and lamb and these bitter herbs and tell the story over and over again. And because Passover is oddly timed, Easter tries to align with that, and is also kind of squishy.
Amy: It's funny now, thinking back again to the school I went to for high school. Junior year, we all had to write a 20-page thesis arguing which day Jesus actually died on, which I will say now, is not really contested. But it was fascinating. And also kind of a trap for students, which I don't appreciate, looking back. Most juniors in high school probably don't have a great understanding of lunar calendars (I still don't.) And trying to overlay the text of Scripture with lunar calendars from thousands of years ago is fascinating and also very tricky. So for a long time, I was convinced that Jesus died on Thursday. I've moved on from that now, but I would go around promoting my conspiracy theory all through college, which really wasn't helpful for anyone.
Chris: Yeah, that's definitely not the orthodox position. Did you also tell them the Easter bunny isn't real?
Amy: Yes, I ruin all the fun. But what I learned from that experience was that there is a large body of Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, who celebrate Easter on a different day. And I did not know that. It's usually a week after Catholic or more western, Protestant traditions celebrate. And it goes all the way back to the Great Schism in 1054. Christmas is different, because we don't really know when Jesus was born. So it feels a little bit easier to pick a day for a few reasons, and celebrate symbolically.
Chris: Sure, it's more of a gesture. The light comes into the darkness. So we'll pick the shortest, darkest day of the year. But we all know, Jesus probably wasn't born in December. We just don't really know. We're not told.
Amy: Exactly. So it's not super contested, since it's more symbolic. But Easter is different, because we're trying to celebrate on the actual day he died and was resurrected. And that's trickier to find out. It's fascinating, and also a can of worms. But to segway a bit, it's also why I think Easter Blocks are so helpful. it's easy to miss Easter when you don't know what day it's going to be each you. You have to physically search "Easter" on your digital calendar or flip through a bunch of pages to mark the date, when it likely was in a completely different month last year. So having Easter Blocks has been so helpful for my family to help us have a cue and mark the calendar so we don't end up realizing Easter is only a couple days away. It helps us prepare ourselves so that we can be ready in our own home and hearts, but also invite others in as well.
Chris: Yeah, so let's talk about Easter Blocks. Your point is one reason we did Easter Blocks—That you don't always know when Easter is coming, and it sneaks up on you. Another reason, and the value that I've found for us over the last few years is having a home-baed Easter thing. Churches don't miss Easter. They don't show up that day and realize it's Easter Sunday. The question is, "How do we make this significant at home?" We'll do Easter baskets or eggs, but we didn't have anything that was patently Christian around Easter-time. So having something each day during the week leading up to Easter really unlocked that for us. It wasn't really necessary, in the sense that Advent feels necessary. The whole Advent season automatically, naturally, necessarily becomes Grand Central Station for Christmas in the house starting the day after Halloween. So Easter Blocks really did make the week leading up to Easter about Easter for us, and we were talking about it in our home. So a quick overview for folks who don't have it yet, starting Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, there are 8 days of blocks to move in the tray, and you'll read the story from roughly that day in the life of Jesus, and end with a question about what Jesus was doing and his identity. So on Palm Sunday, he rides in but he's on a donkey and he's weeping. And the question is, "Was Jesus a servant, or was he a king? And what kind of kingdom would this man bring?" When he comes into the temple and overturns tables, we ask the same question. "Was he a priest? Or was he a king? And what kind of kingdom would this man bring?" I love how it's drawing all these things together in our home. Because we could ask those questions every day from now until the day we die and they would be so fruitful. So just starting those with my kids is awesome. What's your experience been with Easter Blocks?
Amy: I'll go on record and say that Easter Blocks (so far) is my favorite GoodKind product. With Christmas, we still have a lot of room to grow in our spiritual practices during Advent, but for us, Lent and Holy Week are kind of a baseline zero. We had no type of discipline or spiritual practice that was helping us prepare for the season. Again, I'd kind of case off fasting as a Lenten practice, and never really picked anything back up. So Easter Blocks has been great becasue it's bite-sized. It's a week. You can do anything for a week. I don't know that we'd be able to pick up a 40-day lenten practice up right now and stick with it. We'd likely start strong, then fizzle. But Easter Blocks, we really do sit down, focus, and have conversation. Even though my daughter is still very young, it's been a great habit to start and invite people into as we have friends and family over for dinner. And that's been really meaningful for us. One of the things that we say a lot is that it will help prompt meaningful conversation about Jesus, and that's exactly what it's done for us. Kids laugh (and I do too) thinking about Jesus coming in to our churches this Sunday and throwing over tables and making a huge scene. It's wild and fun to think about. We really love how meaningful and practical it is and we've benefited from it a lot.
Chris: What's your favorite story from the week? Mine is probably the one we did on Tuesday, which I call the Prophet day. Jesus talks to the fig tree and condemns it and it dies. The reason is because it was the toughest for me as I was writing this stuff to figure out what exactly was going on. Because at the temple and in the last supper and on the cross, we kind of know the key elements of what's going on. But this one, it's just strange. And I kept that in the telling of the story. "Can you imagine a guy walking up to a tree and talking to it? Now, can you imagine the tree doing what he says?" These are kind of wild stories and I want to capture some of that. But also want to give the element of him being a prophet, hinting back at how Israel was a fig tree. When they were connected to God and obeying, they were fruitful. But if they would not listen they would wither and die. So that's my favorite.
Amy: I'll say my favorite day is Saturday. Because I think that's the one that I'm most tempted to miss altogether. We'll maybe do a Good Friday worship service at church, and I'll be aware enough to at least know it is Good Friday. But then we'll have a regular old Saturday in between Good Friday and Easter. So for me, having the fabric cloth overlaid the candle and overlaid the blocks in the middle of our kitchen table for an entire day is so helpful. You can't ignore it. Even as you have your breakfast and are running about, living your daily life, it's there. You can't get over the fact that Jesus died yesterday, and on Saturday, he's still dead. He's not risen yet. So it's a really weird tension, but a really powerful thing to experience in your home. I've never had an experience quite like that. It's kind of a weird choice for a favorite day, but it's full of anticipation for the big reveal of Easter Blocks when you uncover and dump all the blocks out. And I find it so helpful.
Chris: Yes, Easter Sunday is fun. And the Saturday before is intentionally not fun. It's kind of our version of the ashes on Ash Wednesday. it's a visible thing, really noticeable, and a little bit uncomfortable. But in an appropriate way, saying, "Yeah, this is about death and resurrection. Don't just do half of that."
If you haven't already, grab yourself a set of Easter Blocks to help foster conversations in your home about who Jesus was and build anticipation for Easter. And if you'd like to listen to the full recording of this Holy Week Deep Dive, check out The GoodKind podcast on Apple or Spotify and subscribe to hear the latest episodes as they're released.