Holy Week 2018

Holy Week 2018

A look inside one Episcopal congregation during Holy Week

Holy Wednesday - March 28

Watch: Gospel of Mark Reading and Table Eucharist - St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, Gladwyne, Pa.

Though Wednesday in Holy Week doesn’t have its own liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer, it has traditionally been celebrated in different ways according to local contexts. Some churches hold a service called Tenebrae, from the Latin darkness; this service often includes choral and scriptural selections by candlelight, with a light being extinguished after each reflection. Some congregations take special time to consider the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, understood to happen on this day—these congregations may call the day Spy Wednesday, in reference to Judas’ sneaking away to plot Jesus’ death with the Sanhedrin.

At St. Christopher’s, we have a tradition on this day of reading the whole Gospel of Mark, from start to finish. This year, we will add a table Eucharist in the style of the ancient Church and the Last Supper; the earliest Christians would gather in each other’s houses and have communion in the context of dinner, along with praying and reading the scriptures.

Maundy Thursday - March 29

This is the day that Jesus and his disciples celebrate the Jewish Passover meal, also known as the Last Supper. While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread and a cup of wine and told the disciples these were his body and blood. He invited them to eat and drink these things to remember him. In John’s Gospel, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, telling them to be servants of others, just as he was their servant. This profoundly beautiful act will be part of the Maundy Thursday service as clergy don towels on their arms and wash the feet of all who choose to take part. 

At the end of the service, all decoration is removed from the altar, dramatizing the moment when Jesus is arrested and taken into custody where he will be tried, condemned, stripped, mocked and executed.  Grief, vulnerability, and austerity are embodied when the church is stripped of its vessels and vestments as we go with Jesus to dark Gethsemane. At St. Christopher’s we will also wash the altar, a custom of the Church dating back centuries.

Good Friday - March 30

Good Friday marks the day of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. In scripture, he had been arrested, the previous night, handed over to the authorities, and condemned to die, along with two thieves. This day, which is filled with images of Jesus’ very real pain and agony, may seem to be anything but good, but the term comes from an earlier English sense of “good,” meaning “holy”.

On this day, we see God incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ suffer and die for the sins of the world. Many churches will reenact the Stations of the Cross, a meditative walk through the last hours of Jesus’ life. In the now-bare sanctuary of St. Christopher’s, parishioners will take communion from the “reserved sacrament” (meaning the bread and wine were was consecrated yesterday). This follows the ancient liturgical practice in which the elements are received in silence on this day reflecting the presence of Jesus who is suffering for our sins on this day.

Holy Saturday - March 31

The Litugy for Holy Saturday is a uniquely Anglican observance.  This, the shortest liturgy in the Prayer Book, invites us to experience the day after the Crucifixion- which Jesus was dead, lying in the tomb.  The brevity and silence of this day invites reflection about what the world would be like if God we’re dead and all hope were lost.  This is the only day when the Eucharist is never celebrated.

Thanks be to God Holy Saturday is merely the penultimate Litugy of Holy Week!

The Great Vigil of Easter - March 31

The Great Vigil of Easter is intended to be the first (and arguably, the primary) celebration of Easter since the earliest days of the Church. Celebrated either at dawn on Easter Day or, following Jewish custom in which a the next day begins at sundown, the service begins in darkness.

This beautiful Litugy consists of four parts: The Service of Light (kindling of new fire to symbolize the light of Christ returning to the world, lighting the Paschal candle); The Service of Lessons (where we read sacred stories of how God has moved in all of history); Holy Baptism and/or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows; and the Eucharist.

The Vigil is old, mysterious, and exciting! Through this liturgy, the Episcopal Church recovers an ancient practice of keeping the Easter feast. Believers would gather in the hours of darkness ending at dawn on Easter to hear scripture and offer prayer. This night-long service of prayerful watching of the anticipated baptisms that would come at first light and the Easter Eucharist. Easter was the primary baptismal occasion for the early church; this practice linked the meanings of Christ's dying and rising to the understanding of baptism.

This is perhaps the most surprising and vibrant service of Holy Week. Not only does the church literally light up with the joy of Christ’s return, we are also joined by the St. James School community from Philadelphia. This beloved tradition blends the liturgical styles of the school and church to include different music, prayer, and additional elements. The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Creation Care, will deliver the Vigil sermon.

Easter Sunday - April 1

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! Easter morning is the principal liturgical celebration of the year—it is the day we celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God from the dead. Today we hear of Mary Magdalene (and others, in Mark’s telling) coming to anoint Jesus’ body, only to find the great stone rolled away, and the tomb empty. As it dawns on these faithful women and the apostles, it dawns on us, too: the One who only days earlier was humiliated, broken, beaten and killed, lives. We celebrate in the sure and certain hope that God has destroyed the power of death and the grave, and “opened for us the way of eternal life” (Catechism, Book of Common Prayer, p. 850). St. Christopher’s will be adorned with flowers as a symbol of rebirth and joy in God’s creation. Brass music reminds us of the exuberant and inexhaustible joy in this day. And all the faithful will gather to celebrate the triumph of love over death.

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Michael Collins, Manager, Digital Media
Olivia Greene, Editor/Producer