Holy Week in a Nutshell
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ--
In the hopes that you'll join us for as much of the various Holy Week liturgies as you can, I thought I'd give you a brief thumbnail of the basic arc of the liturgical drama we enact this week as followers of Jesus down the path of discipleship--knowing ourselves to be loved unconditionally by God in Christ and learning to be that love in the world.
This evening (Wednesday) we will have Tenebrae at 8:00 p.m. The most conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains. Toward the end of the service this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil. At the very end, a loud noise is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2), the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence. This service provides an extended meditation upon, and a prelude to, the events in our Lord's life between the Last Supper and the Resurrection.
Maundy Thursday, on Thursday at 7 p.m., marks the entrance into the Paschal Triduum--"The Great Three Days" that culminate at the Easter Vigil and Easter Morning services. This service, which includes Holy Eucharist and foot-washing, sets before us our servant identity as a sent people who participate in God's missional work in the world. Jesus comes among us not to be served, but to serve. He ties a towel around his waist, kneels, and washes the feet of the disciples, including Judas, the one who will betray him to the authorities. As we are washed by God's unconditional love for us, so are we to be washing water for others--oil to heal, bread to feed, and wine to slake the thirst of the parched. We miss the point of the Eucharist if we think it's about bread and wine turning into the Body and Blood. At it's core, it's about our transfiguration--becoming Christ to all those we meet in a Church that properly speaking has no walls.
Good Friday, held at noon, centers on the reading of the Passion Gospel, the veneration of the cross, and singing of the reproaches. Good Friday is simple, spare, and stark. We look in the mirror that God in Christ crucified holds up to us and see the price of our own self-enclosure, our entrapment in patterns of scapegoating, and securing peace on the backs of innocent victims. But we also see the lengths to which God is willing to go to demonstrate His love for us. He loves us "to the end" as St. John writes. We call this Friday Good because it reveals to us another way to live, the way of love, forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation. We are saved from ourselves by Jesus on the cross who reveals to us that which we cannot see for ourselves. And we are shown the depths to which God will go to draw us, and all of creation, to Himself. It is no mistake that a new community--embodied by Mary and the Beloved disciple--is constituted at the foot of the cross. That is who we are called to be as Church: a new family who are bearers of the mind of Christ. A community founded not on the blood of victims, but on peace, love, and forgiveness. A community that lives in open transparency, obedience, and willing surrender to God the Father and says together in one voice, "No more scapegoats!"
The Great Vigil of Easter is the liturgical climax of the entire year and the first Eucharist of Easter. At this service we kindle the new fire (symbol of Christ's presence with and for us) and hear the story of God's work in history to fashion for Himself a people. This is the night when we celebrate the light of Christ burning even in the midst of darkness. Importantly, we acknowledge the darkness--gun violence, discrimination, people dying of hunger while grain rots in silos--even as we laud the Pascal flame. This is the night when we hold those two realities together in the faith and hope that the powers of this world, and the power of death, never have the final word. When we are at the end of our resources, God is not at the end of His. This is also one of the four services per year at which baptize as a community. The presence of the newly baptized in our midst is a reminder that living from the light of Christ's resurrection has a particular shape in the world--the shape of God's affection revealed in the person of Jesus. It looks like respecting the dignity of human being. It looks like proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. It looks like seeking and serving Christ in all persons. It looks like asking forgiveness when we go astray, sharing fellowship, breaking bread together and living a life of prayer. It looks like living from the fullness of God's grace that's been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and working for justice, reconciliation, and peace.
Easter Sunday services, held at 8:00 am and 10:30 a.m., continue to unfold the reality of the resurrection for us. What does it mean to live from the life of the Risen Christ who by his death has trampled down death? What does it mean to live in the bracing freedom Christ's resurrection sets before us, and what happens to all our other fears when our fear of death has been put in its proper perspective? What does it mean to be an Easter people in a broken world that's torn apart by partisanship and violence, the slaughter of innocents, and the self-absorption of a distraction culture bent on entertaining us to death? These are the questions Easter sets before us and that the next fifty days until Pentecost seek to sketch out for us.
It's an unbelievably rich week. Any one of the services change your life for ever and taken together they enact the full scope and richness, of what it means to follow Jesus.
I hope you can join us for as much as you can.
With all my prayers to you and your family for a blessed Holy Week.