Saturday, March 27, 2010

And so it begins again: What happens in Holy Week

We enter into Holy Week tomorrow: We remember the events of betrayal, crucifixion, and entering into Hell itself. At the end of Holy Week comes the joyous declaration of Resurrection, new life. The fruits of Easter – and Spring - will soon be with us.

Before we go there, I’d like to sketch for you what transpires at St. Paul's in Holy Week. It is my hope and prayer that you will not rush through this the holiest of weeks of our year. I’d like you not to skip from Palm Sunday to Easter without experiencing the richness of what comes in between and the depth of its meaning for us in our walk of faith.

Please accept my personal invitation to participate in as much of Holy Week as you can, wherever you are, and to be especially attentive to the Holy Spirit working within you. Listen for the Holy Spirit, allow yourself to be made new, just as Easter makes each of us new.

As I did last year, I will post on this site each day of Holy Week to explain a bit of what we are doing and why, and to share what I am experiencing. I will also give you a heads up on what comes the next day. And, sorry, no Monday Funnies this week, but it will return the day after Easter Day.

Holy Week is first and last about servanthood, ours to each other, and Christ as servant to all of us. The events of Holy Week represent Jesus lowering himself, step by step, into the fullness of servanthood: Jesus declares, “Where I am, there will my servant be also.”

The first day of Holy Week is tomorrow, the day called, The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday. It begins with the waving of palms and the great triumphant entry by Jesus into Jerusalem, and then Palm Sunday quickly slides into remembering the tragedy and torture of the crucifixion soon to come.

Monday of Holy Week, we will end our regular noon Prayers for Peace with a Holy Eucharist at 12:30 pm. This year we are also adding a meditation on the "Stations of the Cross" led by University of Virginia student Peter Kang. The reflections will be at 6:30 pm, ending on Good Friday. Each "station" will be at a location inside the nave of St. Paul's.

Tuesday of Holy Week, we will hold our noon Holy Eucharist, and at 7:30 pm, our university students will lead their very moving – haunting – chants of Taize.

Wednesday of Holy Week is marked by our Evening Prayer at 5:30 pm and our community night supper. Then I will lead an instructed Eucharist at 7 pm, pausing along the way to explain a bit about how and why we do what we do in the Eucharist.

The three days of Easter begin on Thursday evening at 7:30 pm – Maundy Thursday. We begin the Great Three Days on Thursday, in keeping with the Hebrew calendar in which the new day begins at sundown. The third day begins at sundown on Saturday.

During the Great three days, classically called the Easter Triduum, there are no blessings or dismissals. The reason is the Church understands the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and the Great Vigil of Easter to be one great continuous liturgy.

The word “maundy” derives from Middle English, and it means “mandate.” Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus “mandates” that we remember him each time we experience the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist.

On Maundy Thursday, we recall that Jesus ate with his disciples, then washed their feet. The focus, though, is not on the meal, but on his act of lowering himself to the feet of his followers.

At St. Paul’s on Maundy Thursday, we will wash the feet of all who wish to have their feet washed, and we will celebrate our last Eucharist before the day of Resurrection. Truly, our mandate is to serve each other and the world.
We will strip the Altar to its bare wood, and we will take consecrated unleavened bread and keep it in a place of reverence in the chapel. We do so to signify that Jesus is still with us even as he hangs on the Cross.

At noon on Good Friday, Jesus lowers himself still further. He goes to the Cross, crucified between two criminals, giving to us his supreme act of love to suffer with us in our pain, and show us that there is more to life than death. We will sit in prayer and hear reflections for those three hours.

On Good Friday we will offer solemn prayers at noon, and again offer those prayers at 5 p.m. After the five-o’clock prayers, we will, in silence, distribute the bread we have reserved in the chapel, a mark of Jesus being with us especially in times of pain.

Once more on Good Friday, at 8 p.m., we will assemble for prayers, and we will dim the candles, one at a time, in the solemn observance of Tenebrae, a Latin word meaning “shadows.”

On Holy Saturday morning, at 9 a.m., we will assemble here for a brief time for the prayers of Holy Saturday, the day that marks when Christ descends into Hell itself to open the gates wide and let everyone out. The prayers of the morning are brief, and I am especially inviting those of you who are preparing our sanctuary for the evening Vigil to participate in this short service.

Holy Saturday is the anvil upon which Easter rests. Without Jesus going to the dead to break the chains of Hell, the resurrection has little to do with us.

With Holy Saturday, Jesus takes us with him at the Resurrection. I hope you will join me for a few minutes Saturday morning in the chapel.

On Saturday evening, after sundown comes our first opportunity to celebrate the third day of Easter: The Resurrection. We assemble for the Great Vigil of Easter – the biggest, most splendid and opulent worship of the entire year.

We light a fire outside, and bring the light of the Paschal candle into the church. The Paschal Candle leads our procession, and there are no crucifixes carried on this night. We are done with the Cross. Inside the church, sitting in the dim light, we hear again the story of creation. And then with lights on, and bells ringing, we declare the Resurrection – we loudly declare Christ has Risen – and we experience again the joy of Easter and our first Eucharist of the Easter season.

Bring your bells and come join us.

On Easter Day morning we come here in the sunlight, our Lent completed and our new life in Christ begun once again.

And with grateful hearts we join in our prayer for The Great Vigil of Easter: “Stir up in your Church that Spirit … which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth.”

May each of you, wherever you are, have blessed and Holy Week, and a season of hope and renewal in the Easter that is to come.


Paintings: "Palm Sunday Procession," 1967-1968, by Romare Bearden; "Three Women at the Tomb," 1979, by Romare Bearden; traditional icon of the crucifixion, Russian.

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