Holy Week: the busiest, best time of the year
by Pastor Dave Lyle
The Christian faith is centered in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our faith is focused on his self-giving love throughout the year. Sermons and hymns, scripture and sacraments all bear witness to the cross and the empty tomb as the means by which God has redeemed us. But soon we will enter in that most holy of weeks. We will walk once more with Jesus to the cross of Calvary which, by the power and love of God, is transformed into the Tree of Life.
Holy Week begins, of course, on Palm Sunday. As we have done for several years, we will gather in the narthex and atrium to hear the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We will wave palms, shout “Hosanna,” and mimic the crowded confusion of that parade with our own march into the sanctuary. Palm Sunday is also known as the Sunday of the Passion. The reason is obvious. Shortly after the joyful entry of Jesus, we hear the full tale of Jesus’ suffering (passion), this year from Luke’s Gospel. The mood has shifted entirely, just as it did in Jerusalem when the crowds turned on Jesus and demanded his death. It is for this reason that this year’s palm branches will be dried and burned to make next year’s ashes for Ash Wednesday. Our well-intentioned “Hosannas” are replaced by our sinful cries of “Crucify.”
Our sin, however, is always met with Jesus’ love. This is the great theme of Maundy Thursday, the first of the Triduum, or the Three Days. Maundy means command, or mandate; the day is so named because it was on Thursday that Jesus gave his disciples the command to love one another as he has loved them. Jesus shows this love for them by instituting his Supper, the means by which they will come to understand the sacrifice he is about to make for them. He also washes their feet, showing them that true power always stoops to serve in love. You, too, have the opportunity to have your feet washed during this evening service. At the end of worship, the altar and the chancel are stripped of all appointments and decorations, as Jesus was stripped and humiliated by the soldiers. We depart in darkness with the words of Psalm 22 echoing in our souls: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We return to worship on Good Friday. We hear no sermon on this day. The story of this day is told in other ways. We hear the Passion according to St. John, spoken or sung. We watch the light diminish. We see the cross process, the cross on which was hung the salvation of the whole world. We leave again in darkness, in the somber reminder of the death that God’s Son was willing to die for us.
And then —
Then, in the evening of the next day we gather for the Great Vigil of Easter. We gather near the graves of the saints in our Memorial Garden, to bless and to light the new year’s Paschal Candle. We follow its light to the atrium, where we hear the story of salvation from throughout scripture. We follow its light to the narthex, for either a baptism or a renewal of baptismal vows. We follow its light into the sanctuary. And we sing, “This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia!” As we do, I can promise you that I will be weeping at the sheer joy of it all. And in the light of the risen Christ, we will feast upon the very Bread of Life. While the Easter Vigil is not very well attended, it is my favorite service of the year, and I encourage you to come. Plus, we started a new tradition last year. At the close of worship we’ll gather in the Fellowship Hall for treats. And champagne! After all, when you’ve just celebrated the defeat of sin, the devil, and death itself, it’s time to pop some corks!
The next morning, of course, is Easter. And you know all about that. Brass and bonnets and lilies and children everywhere. But most of all, a man named Jesus who is God; who was dead but now is alive. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
I hope to see you a lot during Holy Week. It’s the busiest, best time of the year. The events of that week, and of the Three Days in particular, are the reason we’re here at all. Jesus’ death and resurrection stand at the center of everything.
Thanks be to God!