The four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—record words and deeds of Jesus. More than a quarter of the Gospel narrative is devoted to Holy Week, from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, through his cleansing of the temple, disputes with religious leaders, teaching about the end times and Last Supper with his closest followers, to his arrest, trial and crucifixion. After a quiet Sabbath comes the story of Jesus, still bearing his wounds, being raised from the dead.
Moravians have had a distinctive way of marking this week, which we in the past often called Passion Week. This is to read through the whole passion narrative from the Gospels, in a series of simple services, using a book called Readings for Holy Week. This custom dates to the late 1700s.
Scholars rightly point out the differences and distinctive emphases of the four Gospels, but for devotional purposes we use a harmony, an attempt to merge the four accounts into one. The first Moravian harmony of the Gospels was prepared by Zinzendorf before his death in 1760.
The most recent American edition of Readings for Holy Week, published in 1995, uses the New Revised Standard Version. Readings for Holy Week is available from the IBOC in three different editions—regular and large print (with the Gospel readings and hymn texts only) and a music edition (which includes music for the hymns).
The distinctive Moravian custom of using individual hymn stanzas is used in Holy Week, as the reading is interspersed with hymns reflecting on the narrative.
The number of services and their time of day vary among congregations. Some have services on Good Friday, others do not. Some have a special lovefeast or service of music on Saturday.
For many of us, accustomed to stimulation of all our senses, words alone have a limited appeal. But for others of us, who seek quiet meditation on the life of our Lord, Holy Week services are a special opportunity. For those unable to attend services, Readings may serve as a rich devotional resource.
Reprinted from the Mar. 28, 2010 weekly bulletin of the Moravian Church.
From the April 2014 Moravian Magazine