This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the most important week of the Christian calendar. Palm Sunday is a day of celebration, recalling the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, when crowds of people lined the streets, waved palms, and laid branches and cloaks on the ground as a sign of honor. So it will be a celebratory day here at First Pres, too, with special music and palms.
Next Sunday, of course, is Easter, the most important day of the Christian calendar, when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead, opening the way to the abundant and eternal life he promised. But if you go from Palm Sunday straight to Easter, it’s like watching the first ten minutes of a movie before the main conflict begins, and then fast-forwarding to the end where everyone lives happily ever after. You miss the real depth and power and meaning of the story. So I urge you to make a point of experiencing the fullness of the central story of Christ’s gospel by participating in the special services we will have during the week.
The first is Maundy Thursday, at 7 p.m. The word “Maundy” comes from a Latin word for mandate, and refers to Jesus’ new commandment to his disciples that they love one another as he loved them. So the service will center on Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, and will include both communion and an option (not an expectation) to experience the ritual of foot washing, which Jesus did for his disciples that last evening with them. We celebrate communion on Maundy Thursday because the sacrament was instituted with the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. And the ritual of foot washing is a particularly powerful experience of Jesus’ definition of Lordship: humble, compassionate service. Even if you do not choose to experience it yourself, witnessing it has a deep spiritual impact.
The second service is Good Friday at 8 p.m., and will be a Tenebrae Service. Again, “Tenebrae” is Latin for “darkness,” and it is a service that walks through the narrative of Jesus’ arrest, torture, crucifixion, and death. A series of Scripture readings laying out the story is read, interspersed with appropriate hymns and music. After each reading, the lights in the Sanctuary are dimmed, until finally there is only candlelight to illumine the final reading. The Christ candle, symbolizing Christ’s life, is then extinguished, and the service concludes in darkness and silence, symbolizing Christ’s interment in the tomb. I always struggle with choosing a single “favorite” of anything, but the Tenebrae service would certainly be in my top three favorite services of the year because of its simple yet searing power in helping us experience the profundity of Christ’s sacrifice in our hearts, minds, and spirits.
On Saturday, we will offer a special Holy Saturday Compline Service from 8:30-9:30 p.m. Compline (COM-plin) is not specific to Lent or Easter, but is especially appropriate for this season. The service will feature candlelight and burning incense, as well as touching music – some of it by our Chancel Choir. We invite you to this evening of peaceful spiritual reflection.
I am certain that your experience of both Palm Sunday and Easter will be much richer if you participate in these Holy Week services, and that your faith will be enhanced by them. I hope you will join in and experience the full blessings of Holy Week. See you in worship!
Grace and Peace,