Saturday, March 31, 2012

So it begins again: Holy Week, waving palms and Easter beyond

The culmination of Lent is Holy Week – the days leading to Easter. For me, it is the most spiritually moving week of the year.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. As we did last year, instead of hearing the entire Passion narrative in one sitting, we are pausing in the garden with Jesus and the disciples and our palms. The gospel lesson we are hear will be the first segment of the Passion according to Saint Mark, and it will end as Jesus is arrested.

We will let each day of Holy Week unfold for us, one scene at a time.

On Maundy Thursday, we will hear John's gospel and the washing of feet. On Good Friday, we will take this theme a step further. Beginning at noon, we will hear the full passion narrative according to Saint John, and then seven people from our congregation will describe seven people who were there at the Cross. On Holy Saturday morning, we will mark the descent of Jesus into Hell. On Saturday night, the darkness will be pierced with the first proclamation of Easter.

As I have done in the past, I will blog throughout Holy Week with some of my own experience. I hope you might add your comments about your experiences. There will be no "Monday Funnies" in Holy Week, but don't worry, the jokes will be back in Easter.

Here is a thumbnail guide to the events of Holy Week at St. Paul’s Memorial Church that begins tomorrow:

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Palm Sunday, India, 2006
BBC News
Palm Sunday begins outside with the waving of palms and the great triumphant entry by Jesus into Jerusalem, and then Palm Sunday quickly slides into remembering the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. This year our guest preacher is The Very Rev. Dr. Ian Markham, the president and Dean of the Virginia Theological Seminary.

Monday of Holy Week, we will hold noon Prayers for Peace and a reading of the names of all the soldiers, sailors and Marines who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last year, and conclude with a Holy Eucharist at 12:30 pm. Each weekday in Holy Week we will have the “Stations of the Cross” at 6:30 pm, led by our ministry intern, Joe Lenow.

Tuesday of Holy Week, we will hold our 12:15 pm Holy Eucharist.

Wednesday of Holy Week is marked by a noon Eucharist and Evening Prayer at 5:30 pm, and our community night supper.

Maundy Thursday begins the Great Three Days, or Easter Triduum. Consistent with the Hebrew calendar, the first day begins at sundown on Thursday and the third day begins at sundown on Saturday. During the Great Three Days, there are no blessings or dismissals until Easter. 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 is on his act of lowering himself to the feet of his followers. Joe Lenow will be preaching.

The first day continues 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. From noon to 3pm, we will hear reflections offered by members of the congregation about the figures who are part of this great story – Mother Mary, Herod, Peter, Pilate, Mary Magdalene and others.

At 7 pm, we will distribute Communion bread that we have reserved from Maundy Thursday and kept in the Chapel. At 8 p.m., we dim candles, one at a time, and hear readings from the Book of Lamentations, in the solemn observance of Tenebrae, a Latin word meaning “shadows.”

On Holy Saturday morning, at 9 a.m., we assemble in the chapel for a brief time for the prayers marking the second day, when Christ descends into Hell itself to open the gates wide and let everyone out.

On Saturday evening at 7:30 pm, 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 a bell and come join us.

On Easter Sunday morning we gather in the sunlight, our Lent completed and our new life in Christ begun once again. Our services Easter Sunday are at 8 am, 9:15 am and 11:15 am and 5:30 pm.

Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

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