A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Looking ahead to Holy Week

Next Sunday, March 28, is Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week, the most important time of the year on the Christian calendar.

I want to talk a little bit this week about what Holy Week will look like this year so that you can make your plans accordingly. First, Palm Sunday will be our first outdoor worship service (weather permitting) since winter arrived. This seems particularly fitting, given that Palm Sunday commemorates the outdoor celebration of the crowd that welcomed Jesus on his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We will, of course, be physically distanced in a way that crowd was not (!), but it will be a wonderful way to begin Holy Week together.

As with previous outdoor services, this one will combine elements of traditional and contemporary worship styles, but it will “lean” contemporary because traditional music, in particular, does not translate well to an outdoor setting for us. If the weather proves uncooperative, we will go to a digital-only combined service that will be livestreamed from inside the church (the service will be livestreamed either way).

Later in the week is what is known in the most traditional circles of the Christian church as “the Triduum,” which is simply Latin for “three days.” It means the three days of worship and prayer that cover Jesus’ last supper with his disciples (on Maundy Thursday), his subsequent arrest, trial, torture, crucifixion, death, and burial (on Good Friday), the Sabbath day after his burial (Holy Saturday), and, of course, his resurrection from the dead on Easter. We will have services on all of those days to mark the passage of Holy Week.

Maundy Thursday, on April 1 at 7 p.m. this year, will be a service on Zoom that will include prayer, music, and Scripture, with “digital Upper Rooms” for us to break into small groups to reflect on the Scripture reading and to share the sacrament of Communion together.

The next day is Good Friday, and we will have our traditional Tenebrae service of candlelight and shadow on Facebook Live starting at 8 p.m. The Tenebrae Service tells the story of Jesus’ last few days in Jerusalem up through his burial. It is, quite simply, my favorite worship service of the entire year, and an extraordinarily powerful experience.

On Holy Saturday, we will have a Compline Service on Facebook Live starting at 7 p.m. Compline is a contemplative service of prayer and music that is well-suited to Holy Saturday’s sense of waiting after the events of the previous two days.

Finally, of course, there is Easter! For Easter we will be offering digital services on Facebook Live at the usual times: 9 a.m. for Contemporary, and 11 a.m. for Traditional. Both services will have special celebratory elements, particularly in terms of music, to help us worship God appropriately on this holiest of days in the Christian faith. In fact, this is the primary reason why we are not doing outdoor worship on Easter instead of (or in addition to) Palm Sunday.

If you have attended outdoor worship, you know that contemporary music translates well to the outdoor setting with the band. Traditional music, however, suffers outdoors since any organ music must be played from an audio track, special instrumentalists like brass do not come across as well, and multiple vocalists are not safe.

In addition, the livestream is not quite the same quality outdoors, and for many members, friends, and neighbors, livestream will continue to be the best option for them for a while. Put all that together, and we felt that the best worship service for Easter this year would be in a digital format.

We will offer a Hospitality time after the 11 a.m. service via Zoom, for all of us to gather together and celebrate the day.

So: I hope that your Lenten journey has been a meaningful one so far, and that you will make your plans now for an intentional and powerful Holy Week experience starting with Palm Sunday next week on March 28!

Grace and Peace,

Please let us know you’re planning to attend!