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Living and Growing: Activities of Holy Week

Posted: April 20, 2011 - 6:18pm

Editor’s note: The following column was scheduled to run in Sunday’s Neighbors section.

My favorite time of the church calendar is Holy Week. As a pastor, I love the liturgical settings that are used and music that is sung during this period. On a personal level the activities during this week are meaningful to me because they help me to focus on and remember the sacrifice Jesus made for me. I really enjoy having my different senses engaged as the story of Jesus’ passion, crucifixion and resurrection are told.

To kick things off in Holy Week is Palm Sunday, which celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Within my own denomination this is usually celebrated by handing palm leaves out to the congregation outside the sanctuary, or place of worship. After a short blessing, the congregation then processes into the sanctuary waving their palms saying “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Later in the week is the Triduum. You may be wondering what in the world is the Triduum? That is a fair question because this term is rarely heard outside of the church. Basically, Triduum is a Latin phrase for the three-day observance of Christ’s Passion, which includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

Maundy Thursday receives its unusual name from the Latin mandatum, “commanded.” The overarching theme of the day is the Lord’s new command to His disciples which was: “that you love another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV).

There are several activities that can take place on this day. One activity can be the washing of feet. Another activity can be a service of reconciliation. Or a Seder Meal can be conducted. We at Faith Lutheran will be celebrating the Seder Meal. I love the rich remembrance of God’s delivery of His people that this meal provides. I also must admit I love charoset and horseradish sandwiches. Aside from the good food, this meal also provides focus for me as I prepare to go into Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus. In preparation of Good Friday the altar is usually stripped after Maundy Thursday activities.

Good Friday, which may have been called “God’s Friday,” in the early days of the church, is certainly good because of the good gifts Christ won for us on this day. The sanctuary usually has candles and all other objects removed from the altar. Depending on practices there can be a noon service which focuses on the seven words from the cross. In the evening one service that can be held is called the Tenebrae service. The service of Tenebrae (meaning “darkness”) consists of the extinguishing of church lights. In addition, during this service seven candles will be extinguished after a portion of Christ’s passion is read. After the seventh candle is extinguished the strepitus, a loud sound that may be made by shutting a large book, is used to remind those present of the closing of the tomb. The darkness of the sanctuary is a strong reminder to me that Jesus died and was placed in the tomb for me.

On Saturday is the Vigil of Easter. This service ushers in the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord on Easter Sunday. The Vigil of Easter connects the days of Holy Week, especially Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In earlier centuries of the Church’s life, the people of God would hold a vigil, which means “keep watch,” through the night in expectation of Christ’s return. The sanctuary remains dark in the beginning of the service but the lights are returned as the congregation shouts the Easter Acclamation of “Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia.”

The culmination of the week is then celebrated on Easter morning. Whereas the altar had been stripped of candles and flowers and the sanctuary was in darkness during the Triduum, on Easter morning the sanctuary is filled with light and lilies. There is energy and excitement as the congregation celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.

Holy Week can be an emotional rollercoaster ride. It starts out with celebration on Palm Sunday but progresses to a sober feeling as the week wears on. On Good Friday darkness is prevalent throughout the church. Then on Easter Sunday life and light is back in the church as a congregation shouts “Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia.”

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