We are in the most sacred week in the Christian calendar: Holy Week, when we commemorate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Palm Sunday
At the entrance to Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, a crowd gathers. Someone shouts: "He is coming!" People tear branches off nearby trees and spread their cloaks on the road as a man in the company of friends enters the city astride a donkey.

Cheers erupt: "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" The crowd is wild with adulation. When asked by some bystanders who it is, they tell them it is the prophet from Nazareth, Jesus.

The frenzy continues, prompting some Pharisees to call out that Jesus should tell His disciples to be silent. His response: "I tell you, if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out!"

The crowd is expecting much from this man - the one some feel is the Messiah. This is a day of triumph: Their leader, the one upon whom they pin their hopes for Israel, is among them.

He enters the temple, the most sacred place in Judaism. He sees moneychangers and others selling goods within the temple precinct and His anger comes forth. He takes a whip and overturns the tables of the moneychangers, reminding them of the Scripture passage, "My house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves."

He leaves, returning the next day to teach. His authority is challenged by temple leaders, but He proceeds to bring God's message to the people. He condemns the Scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites. The stage is being set for the drama by which Jesus will be condemned and meet His death.

Dear Jesus, your entry into Jerusalem was a triumphant one. You were hailed as the Messiah. But the bondage the people wanted freedom from was not the one you came to deliver them from. You would free them from the bondage of sin.

How many who cried, "Hosanna," would be crying for your blood a few days hence? Help us to realize that your gift was one of love and forgiveness for all we had done or failed to do for you and others. Remind us of the gratitude we owe to you for your sacrifice on our behalf.

Holy Thursday
Dusk has come when a group moves toward a building and climbs to its upper floor, where they will share the Passover meal. Jesus now seems to be in a reflective mood as He reclines at table with His disciples.

In the Jewish tradition, the youngest at table asks the question about why this night is different from others. Perhaps this fell to the young disciple, John. The meal proceeds and Jesus prepares His disciples for what lies ahead.

Then, in a move uncharacteristic of the rabbi or leader, Jesus fills a basin with water and begins to wash the feet of His disciples - a task always carried out by a servant.

The disciples are stunned. Peter tells Jesus that, as master, He should never wash Peter's feet! When Jesus insists, a typical Petrine response is forthcoming: "Then not only my feet, but my head and hands as well!"

Jesus presents to His disciples what role they should play as leaders of the Christian community to come: servant-leaders, not authoritative leaders.

Jesus takes some unleavened bread and offers it to the disciples, telling them, "This is my body." He offers them a cup of wine, telling them, "This is my blood of the covenant." He tells them to continue to do this action in memory of Him.

They go forth into the night and the drama of the Passion begins.

Jesus, what great gifts you have given us as we recall this sacred night: first, the example of the type of disciples we should be - servants, washing the feet of others by works of charity and bringing the message of your love - and second, the gift of yourself in the Eucharist to nourish us to lead good Christian lives. May we never take your gifts for granted.

Good Friday
The disciples and Jesus proceed to the garden of Gethsemane. He begins to fully realize what is in store for Him. Like prophets of old, Jesus will suffer for speaking God's word to those whose hearts are hardened.

Three times, He enters into private prayer with His Father, begging that the cup of suffering be removed, but reconciling Himself to the fact that it will come to pass.

Temple guards and others approach. One of the 12, Judas Iscariot, points out Jesus by offering Him a kiss of betrayal. Jesus is taken to the high priest and the ruling Jewish body, the Sanhedrin. The high priest challenges whether He is the Messiah and, hearing Jesus' response, rends his garments, signaling what he terms a "blasphemy."

The final arbiter in the case has to be the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate tries to free Jesus, but gives in to the rabble who cry for Jesus' crucifixion.

The walk to Calvary begins - but not before Jesus is scourged and a crown of thorns placed upon His head as a form of mockery by the Roman soldiers.

The procession arrives at Calvary, the "Place of the Skull." Jesus is thrown down upon the cross-beam He has been forced to carry. Nails are hammered into his wrists, bringing excruciating pain. He is lifted onto the pole of the cross and His feet are likewise rent with a nail.

There, He must hang - trying to gasp for breath, trying to rise up on His painful feet to catch such a breath, and then falling back down, pulling the flesh in His wrists and hands.

Standing at the foot of the cross are some faithful women disciples - the men, except for the "disciples whom Jesus loved," having fled out of fear - including the most perfect disciple: Jesus' mother, Mary. What suffering, to see her Son die in this horrible way.

When Jesus "gives up the spirit," He is taken down and placed in the arms of His mother. How she must have wept as she cleared the blood and sweat from His now-dead face and remembered when she held Him as an infant.

Once, Jesus said that the Son of Man had no place to lay His head. Even in death, He would have to rely on another to give Him a resting place. An unused tomb, owned by Joseph of Arimathea, is provided and the burial party departs.

Mary, how painful it must have been for you to witness the death of your Son. You would weep for His suffering, but somehow, you would know that God would not forsake Him or you. You were the model disciple who would carry out God's will as you stated at your Annunciation: "Be it done unto me according to your word."

Help us to realize our sins have contributed to Jesus' suffering, but also to know that we are never abandoned by God, no matter what we have done or failed to do. God, through Jesus' death, has reconciled the world to Himself and we are therefore reconciled. Let us never forget it.

Holy Saturday
This is a quiet day. The disciples are reeling with shock over what has happened to their Master. Mary remains in reflection. The world awaits the next part of the drama - foretold by Jesus, but still unexpected. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

From Holy Saturday readings: "For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden....

"The eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity."

Easter Sunday. . . .
(Deacon Hook, a retired deacon of the Albany Diocese, serves on the Diocesan Liturgy Committee.)