For the past 40 days, many of the world’s estimated 2 billion Christians have fasted, given something up — chocolate or alcohol, say, or a bad habit — or spent time in this season they call Lent in quiet contemplation of their lives, much as Jesus of Nazareth did out in the desert more than 2,000 years ago. That time alone in the wilderness was meant to prepare Jesus for what was to become a week that began in triumph — he was hailed as the son of God, and made a journey into the holy city of Jerusalem that was softened by thousands of his followers laying palms before him — and quickly moved through betrayal, a last meal, a trial, a brutal crucifixion and death and, his followers believe, ultimately, a resurrection.

Since the fourth century, every year, during the last week of Lent, Christians relive the last days of Jesus, reenacting the ancient and mystical story that is central to their faith and to the course of history.

They lay palms. They bless the oil that will be used to baptize the young and the new believers as well as anoint the dying. They wash feet, as Jesus washed those of his disciples, to remember his teachings of humility and service to others. They break bread and drink wine. They kiss the wood of the cross. And they stand in darkness and silence, waiting, just as his followers did when Jesus lay dead in his tomb, for a spark to be ignited and for light to return to the world.

At the end of this Holy Week, on the Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Christians celebrate Easter, the day they believe Jesus rose from the dead, once again reaffirming their faith that out of darkness, there is light. Through death, there is life.

Washington Post photographer Matt McClain spent this Holy Week capturing the essence of these Christian rituals steeped in both pomp and profound simplicity.