Explanation of Holy Week
This Sunday, March 29, is the beginning of Holy Week, the heart of our Church Year. Here's a guide from the Worship Committee about what to expect at each of the Holy Week liturgies:
On Palm Sunday at 9:00 and 10:30, we gather on the lawn in front of the Church (or in the Parish Hall if the weather requires moving inside). After the blessing of palm fronds, we wave them high as we walk together into the sanctuary singing "Hosanna!" to commemorate the glorious entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The jubilant mood continues with the great hymn "All Glory, Laud, and Honor."
In recent years, many churches have combined Palm Sunday with Passion Sunday on the same day, including a reading of the story of Jesus's Passion -- his betrayal, suffering, and death. At the 10:30 service, we will follow this tradition by presenting the Passion story after the Liturgy of the Table (communion), followed by a closing hymn. Parts of the Passion story will be told by individual readers, and parts by the congregation as a whole. (If you would prefer to hear the Passion story later in Holy Week, please feel free to leave quietly before the reading begins.)
On Wednesday evening at 7:30, we gather for our "Washed in Contemplation" prayer service. This short service (about 35 minutes) consists of a brief reading, a period of silence for meditation, and a closing prayer. It is a time of quiet for prayer, reflection, and rest.
On Maundy Thursday (the first in a three-part liturgy called the Triduum), we gather at 6:00 and 7:30 to commemorate Jesus's last supper with his disciples. The 6:00 service is specially designed to incorporate children, though both adults and children are welcome at both services. As we gather for the story of Jesus's last evening, we wash one another's feet as Jesus did. (The foot-washing ceremony is optional; many find it a deeply moving expression of our care for one another.) Then we share bread and wine for the last time until He comes again at Easter. Afterward, we strip and wash the altar, leaving it bare. Then, we follow a procession with torches as we move together to the Lady Chapel, decorated as the Garden of Gethsemane, to hear the story of Jesus's betrayal. We invite you to stay for a time afterward in prayerful silence, to keep watch in the Garden as Jesus asked his first disciples to do.
On Good Friday at 6:00 and 7:30, we observe Christ's death on the cross. The church is darker than it normally is, and the organ is silent; all the hymns are a cappella. This is the only major service of the year when we gather without receiving bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus. At the 6:00 service, we hear the story of Christ's suffering and death presented in a manner appropriate for younger children, in the style of our 9:00 service on Sunday mornings (though again, all are welcome). At the 7:30 service, we hear the story of Christ's Passion according to St. John, sung by the Adult and Madrigal Choirs in a powerful choral setting written by our parish musician. Acknowledging our own role in Christ's suffering, the congregation will join the choirs in singing "Crucify him!" After hearing the news of his death, we sing hymns together, and those attending have the opportunity (if they wish) to approach and honor the cross with a bow or a kiss.
On Saturday at 7:30 is the Great Vigil of Easter. For many, this is the highlight of the Church Year. We gather in darkness and kindle a new fire, lighting the Paschal candle and passing its light from person to person. We hear the Exultet, the ancient chant that has marked this liturgy for centuries. Then, by candlelight, we hear the stories of our salvation, beginning with the Creation story from the book of Genesis and continuing through the sacrifice of Isaac, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Exodus out of Egypt. Some of the stories are simply read, some are performed or acted out, and some are proclaimed through music. After each story, a member of the congregation "breaks open the Word" by giving a short reflection. These individual reflections take the place of a longer sermon.
Then, bringing an end to the darkness, the priest proclaims, "Alleluia, Christ is risen!" and the people respond, "The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!" Then the great celebration begins, as the lights come on, the bells ring, the Easter lilies arrive, the streamers fly, and we sing the festive and traditional "This is the Feast of Victory for our God." We hear the Easter Gospel -- the story of Christ's resurrection, when the women discover the empty tomb. We then renew our baptismal vows, reflecting the ancient practice of baptism at the Vigil, and share bread and wine in the First Mass of Easter. After the service, we gather in the Parish Hall for a great feast and celebration.
On Sunday morning at 9:00 and 10:30, we gather to hear the story of Christ's resurrection and celebrate the Good News once again, with traditional hymns and communion. At the 10:30 service, the Schola Choir joins the Adult Choir for glorious music, including the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. A festive coffee hour and reception follows both services (and between the two, an Easter Egg hunt!).
If you have questions about any of these services, please see any one of us.
Have a blessed Holy Week!
This evening marks the beginning of the Triduum. We reach back to the beginning of Lent to recall the confession we made on Ash Wednesday. This service is clearly different from the regular flow of the Eucharist as we celebrate it weekly, because what we commemorate this evening is different. Tonight we begin a celebration that will not end until the exultant conclusion of the Great Paschal Vigil. Tonight, we hear the words of forgiveness in a new way. It is only with the knowledge of being forgiven that we can engage the rest of the story. We watch and we eat a last supper with Jesus. We hear him offer all of himself to us, even his body and blood. We end the service with the stripping of the chancel. Adornment after adornment leaves the sanctuary as the words of the psalm drift through the air, and we are reminded of what this love will cost Jesus. We leave the service lingering. It is holy time.
When we return to the sanctuary on Good Friday, hours have passed. We hear about Jesus' betrayal, capture and trial. We hear of his humiliation, his interrogation. We know the night was long for him, and lonely. Our visual center is the cross. There is nothing else to distract us. The pace is slow, as those final hours must have been for him. We move relentlessly toward the end. We pray, interceding for the world around us, for our church, and ourselves. We are reminded that Jesus' death was paradoxically, the moment of his triumph. Through his death, he defeated death.
The Great Vigil of Easter
Now we are almost there, almost at the hour when Jesus' death itself was overcome, the death become life -- the victory we so need. Now time stands still for us to remember all that has gone before. No other service is so full of the heritage of faith; no other time in the year do we gather together all of the richest metaphors and symbols of faith. We gather around new fire, itself a sign of creation renewed. From it we light the paschal candle to illumine our way. As the pillar of fire led the people of Israel in the wilderness, so the paschal candle will lead us to Easter -- the light of Christ our beacon. In the silence from Good Friday, the light is rekindled. Gathered around the light, we wrap the great stories of faith like a blanket around ourselves. We recall our ancestors and God's saving work among us throughout the ages -- creation from a word, the earth washed clean in the flood, the deliverance at the Red Sea, dry bones given life again. The baptismal font beckons to affirm our baptisms, to remember our welcome into the community of faith, and to welcome others newborn into the faith. The Gospel reading draws us out of our holy recollections and into the events of the story again. Now we are prepared. We know where we have come from before we peek into the tomb with the women and Peter. When we hear the angel say, He is not here, but has risen, we know again that life is always God's way with us. Death is defeated. We dance through the holy meal, now each one confessing the truth of the story. Light the church! Shout Alleluia! Celebrate with high praise! He is risen! We continue our celebration in the Parish Hall with a gala reception.