The Rector's Blog
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April 1, 2015, 5:00 PM

What Happens in Holy Week?


Today begins our special observances for Holy Week.

Tonight we hold a service of prayers and readings called "Tenebrae," which is a Latin word meaning shadow.  The whole service should take about an hour, give or take.  The service contains readings, psalms, canticles (ancient hymns based on Biblical texts), and prayers.  I don't know if previous rectors offered this service but we have held it for the three years I've been here.

The mood of the service is sombre -- in its full form (we use an abbreviated version), it encapsulates all the events of Holy Week, bringing out themes of penitence and the hope for reconciliation between humanity and God.  During the course of the service, lights are slowly extinguished, heightening the shift from day into night.  The final tone is one of sorrow, but with a surprise ending.
 
Tomorrow we begin what is called the Triduum - the "three days" of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection.  This is the point where everything turns around for us as followers of Jesus -- the point at which our sorrow and penitence and pain are taken up by God's wide embrace and we are renewed by this sacrificial, sacramental self-giving by God's Son and our Lord.

On Thursday, we commemorate the Last Supper, and, modeling on the report of the Gospel of John, we recall as well Jesus' act of service in washing his disciples' feet.  At the conclusion of the service, the altar and all the colorful furnishings are removed or covered, including the large wooden cross that was brought into the church on Palm Sunday.  There is no final hymn or postlude; we exit in silence.  Thus our liturgy indicates that the events of each day are connected and continuous, not stand-alone and independent of each other.  There is no line between the death and the resurrection.  This is why we are taught that there is "no Easter without Good Friday" -- if Jesus had not died, Christ would not have arisen, we would not be saved, and the world would have no hope.
 
This year, we have been invited to join Trinity United Methodist Church (on Broadway) for a Seder at 5:30, so we can experience the kind of meal Jesus and his disciples would have eaten at the Passover.
 
Our Maundy Thursday service begins at 7:30 p.m., and will last a little over an hour.  I will offer to wash your feet.
 
Our Good Friday worship includes two elements:  The Good Friday service of readings, prayers, anthems, and the Veneration of the Cross is the first part.  This should last a little less than an hour, after which there will be a pause during which those who have to get back to work may leave. The second element is a Celtic-style Stations of the Cross, interspersed with hymns and musical offerings.  This should last about 40 minutes.  Again, the mood is sombre; again, we exit in silence.
 
On Saturday, there are two liturgies:  The Holy Saturday prayers (about 30 minutes' long) at noon, as we mark the long and fearful wait between death and new life.
The mood lifts considerably with the Great Vigil of Easter (10:00 PM), when we light the "new fire" to commemorate the resurrection of Christ Jesus, renew our baptismal vows, and celebrate the first joyful Eucharist of Easter.  There will be a brass quartet, flute, and choir to heighten our observance.
 
These three services -- Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil comprise the Triduum.

On Sunday, Easter Day, we will hold the 8:00 and 10:00 services.  There will be a flute to adorn our music at the later service.


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