This day begins Holy Week. The paradox of Palm or Passion Sunday is that the people greet Jesus with resounding cheers of Hosanna and then only days later cry out for him to be crucified. We mark this day by waving our own palm branches and recreating our own procession into the church from outside on our front lawn. This liturgy of the palms replaces the usual entrance. It commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. There is an opening dialogue and then the Gospel account of the entry designated for the year. The presider blesses the palms that are then distributed to all and gives the bidding for the procession into the Church. The service continues with listening to God’s word in scripture.
At this point, the dominant theme of the service shifts from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the Passion which is the Gospel narrative of the suffering and death of Jesus. The Passion is then proclaimed in a dramatic way by Worship Ministers including responses by the congregation. During the Passion Narrative a large wooden cross is brought into the church. The cross remains there for the rest of the service as members of the congregation come forward and hold onto the cross until someone comes and takes their place. All are welcome to participate in this ritual. The Service of the Word continues with the Homily (short sermon), Prayers of the People and the Peace. The Holy Communion is celebrated as usual, with music.
We do not end our service on this day with our usual enthusiastic announcements, celebration of birthdays or anniversaries or even a Dismissal offered by our deacon. And this is the one Sunday of the year we do not share in fellowship with each other after the service. Instead, we depart in silence continuing our contemplation of Christ’s work on the cross even as we make our way home. Every liturgy in Holy Week ends in this way. We believe that the week tells one complete story and so by ending the services without a formal Dismissal we are connecting each worship experience with the one that came before. We are invited to enter into the story of Holy Week on Palm Sunday and remain with Jesus throughout each event that leads to his death and resurrection.
Throughout the Week
This is a good time for all of us to engage in the practice of prayer together. We offer Evening Prayer, a 20 minute service in the chapel on Monday and Wednesday during this week where we read about the events that took place in the Gospels between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday.
On Wednesday morning we offer our weekly healing service. On this particular day we observe Spy Wednesday when we contemplate Judas’ role in the events of this week.
Maundy Thursday, a day which commemorates the Last Supper, foot washing, and betrayal, traditionally is observed with an evening Eucharist. We will begin this service in the Parish Hall, gathered together around tables as families and friends do for a feast. The first part of the service will include foot washing, the celebration of the Eucharist, and a simple meal. The Gospel text is from John 13 that focuses on the Mandatum (the mandate of Jesus, “as I have done, so you must do.”) hence Maundy Thursday. The Liturgy of Foot Washing takes on greater significance for us in that the Church recognizes in all the baptized living examples of the Servant Ministry of Christ. All members of the congregation are invited and encouraged to participate (Mandatum). However, as is true for most all of our rituals in the Episcopal Church, “all may, none must, some should”. The liturgy continues with the Peace and then with the celebration of the Eucharist whereby we recall the Last Supper. Immediately after communion we will all share in a simple meal, giving even greater significance to Jesus’ final act of breaking bread with his friends. At the end of meal, led by the choir and acolytes the congregation will solemnly process into sanctuary. With hymns, chants and the reading of scripture we will all watch as the acolytes will strip the altar in preparation for Good Friday. The mood from the meal to the stripping of the altar will change dramatically as we contemplate Jesus’ night in the Garden of Gethsemane, his betrayal and his arrest. We depart from the church in silence and in darkness.
The Garden of Repose
This year we are offering a new opportunity to experience those last hours of Jesus’ earthy life by creating a Garden of Repose in our chapel. Adorned with flowers and candles the chapel will be open until midnight on Maundy Thursday and from 6 a.m. until after the Tenebrae service on Good Friday. The Garden of Repose is designed to bring us closer to the experience of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus invited his most trusted disciples to “watch with him and pray.” In some Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches, the consecrated bread and wine from the Maundy Thursday service are placed in the Garden, as well. Where this is practiced, a round-the-clock vigil is kept, symbolizing keeping watch with Jesus before his arrest and crucifixion. Our Garden, however, will not include the consecrated elements since it is not our custom to participate in Holy Communion on Good Friday. Please come and pray, light candles, sit in silence and in the beauty of the garden and wait as Jesus had asked his disciples to do with him on his last earthly night.
There are many different ways to observe Good Friday. It is traditionally a day where Christians set aside their differences and come together for worship. We observe this tradition by joining with the other churches in Glenside for a Way of the Cross Walk down Easton Road. The walk begins at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and concludes at Lighthouse Fellowship Methodist Church. As we walk people take turns carrying St. Peter’s large wooden cross. Along the way, we stop and hear words of scripture from all four Gospels and offer prayers for ourselves, our Glenside community and for the world.
The Tenebrae Service or Service of Shadows is offered at St. Peter’s in the evening. During this service we will contemplate the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross by listening to scripture passages read from both the Old and New Testaments, music sung by our choir and prayers offered by our clergy. The large wooden cross that had been carried through downtown Glenside earlier in the day will be standing in front of the bare altar. Intentional periods of silence are included for personal meditation and reflection. As the liturgy progresses candles are extinguished and the lights in the church are turned off until we find ourselves in complete darkness. At the very end as the choir sings, Were you there when they crucified my Lord a single candle is lit and placed at the foot of the wooden cross reminding us that even in the uttermost darkness we still have hope and our hope is founded in Christ. Once again we depart in silence.
These services begin with the Easter greeting, Alleluia, which we’ve been unable to proclaim throughout the forty days of Lent. We will clearly see we have moved from the purple of Lent to the white of Easter. White represents resurrected life, light and joy. After the Collect (prayer), lessons from the New Testament and one of the Gospels are shared, followed by the singing of more Alleluias.
Water will be blessed and we will renew our baptismal promises, the promises we made or were made for us at baptism. As a reminder of our baptism the congregation will be asperged, sprinkled with Baptismal Water to remind us of our own rebirth into new life in Christ through our baptism and to remind us that we belong to Christ — all that we are and have belong to Christ. After exchanging God’s peace we bless the bread and wine as we celebrate the first Eucharist of Easter. The church is decorated with spring flowers and our finest linens and silver are used. After a long journey through lent and Holy Week we now get to rejoice that Christ is risen. Our music, our words and our actions this day all reflect our unbridled joy. At St. Peter’s we conclude the service with two very special traditions. A The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah serves as our choral postlude, sung by our choir and led by our organist and guest brass musicians. Our children celebrate by engaging in a fun and often competitive Easter Egg Hunt in the Memorial Courtyard and on the front lawn of the church.
Excerpts taken from Living Holy Week at St. John the Divine Episcopal Cathedral in New York City.