The first time I heard the word triduum, I’ll confess that I thought it was probably a bank or a healthcare system. I had no idea that it had anything to do with the church or the Christian faith. The etymology of the word tells us a lot about the meaning: “Latin, space of three days, from tri- (three) + -duum (akin to days).” It is pronounced tri-jə-wəm. [i] The Triduum is the three-day period beginning at sunset of Maundy Thursday and extending to sunrise of Easter morning, referring to the dramatic story of Jesus and the disciples and it is experienced as a community of faith. The Triduum is an important way to connect with the text, with the heart of Jesus, with the disciples, and your fellow Christians. I like to think of it as a chapter book, something like this…
Chapter 1 is the Last Supper. Jesus and his disciples arrive in Jerusalem on Sunday to a parade. Then Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and calls the disciples together in the Upper Room for a Passover celebration. There is a sense of uncertainty as Jesus is clearly very focused on the end, but the disciples are still being their usual selves, arguing over who is the greater and how they will support Jesus no matter what. This is also the evening that Judas’ plot to betray Jesus will come to its fruition. But, during all of that, Jesus remains calm, and gives them the commandment to love one another.
Chapter 2 happens that same night. Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives to pray about his upcoming ordeal. He takes a few disciples with him and asks them to pray for him. While Jesus is praying, he asks God to take away the sacrifice that he knows is coming, but relinquishes control to the Father, and lets the next chapter unfold according to his will. As Jesus concludes his prayer, he gets his answer. His disciples were asleep instead of praying, and he was met by Judas and the Roman guards, who take him into custody. Jesus is held overnight in a cell that is like a pit.
Chapter 3, Friday morning is when the trial of Jesus happens. Pilate yields to the will of the crowd and sends Jesus to his crucifixion. Jesus is tortured, forced to carry his own cross until he couldn’t any longer and then hung to die, even as one of the Roman guards realizes who he is. He is crucified between two criminals, one of whom he promised will see Heaven and dine with him. Jesus dies.
Chapter 4 Late Friday, Nicodemus, who originally asked “How can a person be born a second time?” pays to take Jesus’ body back from the Romans after they make sure Jesus is dead. Luke mentions a man named Joseph who was a member of the Sanhedrin who did not agree with what happened to Jesus who helped as well. Jesus was laid in a tomb, though his body was not properly prepared because it was sundown on Friday, which began the Jewish Shabbat (or sabbath) in which no work could be done.
Chapter 5- Holy Saturday is the time between death and resurrection. The disciples gather in locked rooms, afraid of what might happen to them. It is a day in which hope seems to have died, but the promises of Jesus were still there, unfulfilled.
Chapter 6- First thing Sunday morning, some of the women went to Jesus’ tomb to tend to Jesus’ body. They had been waiting since Friday night. They arrive to find an empty tomb and the proclamation that Jesus had risen. They ran back to tell the rest of the disciples.
Taken together, the whole triduum follows a familiar drama patter: a near perfect moment (Last Supper), introduction of danger/conflict, hopelessness, and new hope. The Lord meets us where we understand narrative structure and provides the ultimate drama, which begins with a glimpse of heaven, and though there is death and shenanigans, the vision of the Kingdom of God is restored, while sin and death are defeated. The three days becomes a key part of the gospel story, and now for 2,000 years has been the centerpiece of the story of Resurrection.
My prayer for you is that you experience this drama unfold through The Triduum. There are many other chapters to the story, both before and after the Triduum, but this story is the center of the Gospel. For more information on the Triduum, including videos and printable resources, please visit the PCUSA website. [ii]
[i] “Triduum Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/triduum.