Holy Week is the name given to the week that precedes Easter. It commemorates the events of Jesus’ last week culminating in his death on Good Friday and his rising again on Easter Sunday to give new life to all who believe. This week is therefore at the very heart of the Christian faith. As such Christians have developed services to mark the most important events of the week. To better understand the progression of the week, I will briefly outline how we at St. Paul’s celebrate Holy Week and Easter.
Palm Sunday recalls Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the crowds hailed him as “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” by waving branches of palm and shouting “Hosanna”. We will welcome the Lord in the same way at both our 8 and 10 am services. At 10 we will (weather permitting) have an outdoor procession with palms to climax the service.
Maundy Thursday (7 pm) commemorates three events that occurred in a single night. We begin by remembering the Last Supper in which Jesus inaugurated the central sacrament of our faith, the holy Eucharist. Jesus did this in the context of a Passover Seder, giving new meaning to the bread and wine as his body and blood. At this meal Jesus also took a towel and water and washed his disciples’ feet. In this symbolic act of humility, Jesus gives his followers a new commandment – “love one another as I have loved you”. The third event is the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and the scattering of his disciples. In our liturgy, these events are not just proclaimed, they are enacted. We celebrate the new Passover that Jesus began at the Last Supper. We wash each others feet. And to indicate the arrest and scattering, the altar is stripped, the lights are turned off, and all leave silently and in disarray.
On Good Friday (3 pm) the liturgy focuses our attention upon the death of Jesus. Appropriately, the ceremonial is stark, direct, and powerful – its meaning is unmistakable. Today is different from any other celebration. A large wooden cross is set up before the bare altar. St. John’s account of the passion and crucifixion is recited. There is an opportunity to meditate on the cross using both silence and music. At St. Paul’s this year our choir will sing a setting of “The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross”. After a concluding prayer, everyone comes forward to place a flower on the altar.
The Easter Vigil on Saturday night (8 pm) begins with the church in darkness, expectant, seemingly just as it was when we left on Good Friday. The Resurrection of Christ is the act of God which brings the Church into being, and during this first Eucharist of the Resurrection the Church will ritually and, indeed, literally come into being again. It will be “re-built” to become what it was before the desolation and death of Good Friday. Light will enter the Church. The Eucharist will be celebrated once again with joy, bells are rung and all the lights are turned on. Scripture readings, music, and prayers inspire with the intimations of God’s salvation. In this Eucharist the Church becomes alive again and whole through the power of Christ’s rising. The celebration is completed with a “Resurrection Party”.
We offer two ways to celebrate Easter in the morning. At 8 am there is a quiet reflective service using the language of the Book of Common Prayer and at 10 am a choral service with special music.
Thus while Holy Week is solemn, it concludes with a joyful celebration of God’s saving acts in Jesus Christ. All are welcome to experience the power of the Easter story at St. Paul’s.
Sunday, March 29 (Palm Sunday) at 8 am and 10 am.
Thursday, April 2 (Maundy Thursday) at 7 pm
Friday, April 3 (Good Friday) at 3 pm
Saturday, April 4 (Easter Vigil) at 8 pm
Sunday, April 5 (Easter Day) at 8 am and 10 am