Thats what this week will be for Christians and for Jews.
On Sunday Palm Sunday Catholics and many Protestants ushered in this Holy Week with waving palm branches and songs of hosanna.
And on Monday night, Jews will mark the start of Passover with Seders special family meals and songs of freedom.
For Christians, the Holy Week that began Sunday with Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem will end on Good Friday with his public execution by the Romans the dark prelude to the blazing light of Easter Sunday.
You really walk with Jesus in what was the most intense week of his life, said the Rev. Scott Suskovic, senior pastor of Charlottes Christ Lutheran Church.
For Jews, the eight days of Passover commemorate the Israelites exodus from slavery in Egypt, with Moses again taking direction from God in the lead.
With the holiday of Passover, God introduced the concept of human liberty, said Rabbi Yossi Groner of Charlottes Ohr Hatorah, an Orthodox Jewish congregation.
Palm Sunday, with its images of welcoming crowds throwing palm fronds before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, is also called Passion Sunday, an allusion to the suffering that followed.
So, the tone was deliberately mixed Sunday during the 11 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of Consolation Catholic Church.
Parishioners at the African-American church in Charlotte waved their palm branches, singing as they crowded into the pews churches are traditionally standing-room-only on Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. And dancers waved their arms as they paraded up and down the aisles as the Mass began.
But the priest and the choir all wore red a symbol of Jesus blood-soaked sacrifice. And the Gospel account told of abandonment by his apostles and his trial, torture and death at the hands of authorities.
Then there was the music. It will continue in the coming days, as the churchs gospel choir one of Charlottes best works hard to reflect Jesus journey from triumph to agony.
We try to conjure up in music what the Passion of Christ is all about, said choir director Colinthia Whyms-Fri. He knew what he had to do. And even when we belittled him, he still said, Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Thats how much he loves us.
Added Whyms-Fri: Were going to sing our hearts out all week, on Maundy Thursday, on Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.
And into Easter Sunday, when the priests vestments will change to white or gold and the choir, she said, will arrive in their Easter best.
Darkness of Good Friday
To experience the joy Jesus first followers felt at his resurrection, Suskovic said, todays Christians must travel through the valley of Holy Week on their way to Easter.
Youve got to go through Jesus sharing of the Last Supper with his apostles on Maundy Thursday and the sadness in his heart at knowing they will betray and deny him, Suskovic said. And then youve got to experience the darkness of Good Friday, without a glimmer of hope or forgiveness or grace.
At Christ Lutheran, the Good Friday service will end without lights or candles, with church members returning to their cars with some hint at the defeat felt by those who first followed Jesus.
If you go straight to Easter, without Holy Week, you miss the drama and the agony, Suskovic said. And with it, you go into Easter morning full of surprise and wonder and joy.
Why is this night different?
For Jews, Passover or Pesach, in Hebrew is about their story of liberation.
We were slaves to Pharaoh, Groner said. And if not for this (exodus), we and our ancestors would still be enslaved.
At their Seder meals, Jewish families relive this bondage and flight to freedom with the reading of the Haggadah the liturgy, or ritual script, of Passover. There will be lighting of candles, a blessing over the first cup of wine and a dipping of green vegetables in salt water symbolic of the Israelites tears in slavery.
The children at the table will answer the four ritual questions, beginning with Why is this night different from all other nights? And they will eat unleavened bread, or matzo, which recalls that Jews fleeing Egypt didnt have time to wait for their bread to rise.
Groner said the eventual abolition of slavery for all peoples had its root in the Passover holiday.
And the larger spiritual message of Passover, he said, is that God also doesnt want any of his children to be enslaved by addictions, bad habits, temptations and lust for material things.
When we look at freedom, Groner said, we have to take it to the next step.
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