Thursday, March 29, 2012

Holy Week: Why We Do What We Do

                Holy week is the most important time of the Christian year when we commemorate and re-experience the events that led to our salvation.
Palm Sunday                The week begins with Palm Sunday when we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people thought (rightly) that Jesus had come to save them but they were mistaken about the means: They expected the definitive overthrow of the Roman oppression. But that was not to happen. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilling prophecies of his humility and the people through down palm branches to cover his way. We will commemorate this by meeting in the gymnasium and blessing palms while we listen to the story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem. After this we will process into the church singing hymns of praise. Then the mood of the liturgy shifts suddenly and becomes somber. This is the only Sunday of the year that we read the story of Jesus death in church. During the rest of the Mass we remain focused on Jesus death on the cross for us.
                On Tuesday the Bishop celebrates the Chrism Mass. We now do this by sharing with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). This mass commemorates the “ordination” of the apostles and consequently all of the orders of ministry in the Church (bishops, priests and deacons). At the Mass, the clergy renew their ordination vows. Also at this Mass the Bishop blesses the sweet scented holy oil (Chrism) that is used in the sacrament of baptism. Each parish takes a share of the oil to use during that year. Traditionally, this event was celebrated on the morning of Maundy Thursday, but that is not practical because of the geographical size of the diocese.
                On Wednesday evening we will celebrate a ritual known as Tenebrae; the word literally means darkness in Latin. There will be a series of readings and after each reading one of the candles in the chapel will be snuffed out until we end seated in darkness. Then there is a loud noise like a clap of thunder or an earthquake that commemorates the earthquake that occurred at the time of Jesus’ death on the Cross.

                The next three days form what is called the Triduum or the Great Three Days of Easter. This includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The three services are really on long service with breaks between the parts. One can tell this because there is no dismissal at the end of these services.

Image Maundy Thursday - Last Supper                Thursday is called “Maundy” Thursday because at the Last Supper Christ gave a new commandment (mandatum in Latin): “Love one another as I have loved you.” We will begin with a potluck dinner at 6:00 PM. After that we will celebrate the Mass of the Last Supper. There the Gospel tells the story of how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. In Jewish hospitality of Jesus’ time a host provided water and towels for his guests to wash their feet. Even a Jewish slave could not be compelled to do this utterly humble service. But this is what Jesus did for his disciples and then he said, “as I have done for you, you must do for each other. At Mass Father James and Deacon Richard will wash each other’s feet. Any one else may participate in the washing of feet if they wish but it is not a requirement. It is enough to watch the reenactment of Jesus’ humility. After this Holy Communion continues but at the end the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the Church and taken to the Hikari Chapel where people spend some time remembering the Agony in the Garden. After this the altar is stripped and washed and every thing is removed from the sanctuary while Psalm 22 is said or sung. Then all depart in silence. The presence light in the church is extinguished.

                On Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ death, we will celebrate two services: At noon we will celebrate the Office for Good Friday from the Book of Common Prayer. This includes scripture readings; the Gospel is the story of the passion of Christ from the Gospel of John. Then solemn intercessions, the veneration of the cross and Holy Communion. After communion all depart in silence. At 7:00 PM we will celebrate the Stations of the Cross in the sanctuary; this will be a family friendly conversational remembrance of Jesus journey to crucifixion.

                The major service of the day on Holy Saturday is the Easter Vigil traditionally celebrated after dark and before dawn on Easter Sunday because it was sometime during the watches of the night that Jesus rose from the dead. This liturgy is a long service that begins with the blessing of new fire and then the blessing of a Paschal Candle. This is followed by nine readings that recall the whole story of salvation history from the Creation through the Flood through the covenant with Abraham, the deliverance at the Red Sea and the prophecies of redemption. The first part of the service is celebrated in darkness. The blessing of water follows with Baptisms. Then the resurrection is proclaimed, the church lights come on, the Alleluia is sung for the first time since Ash Wednesday. Holy Communion follows and the Mass ends with a dismissal by the deacon with a double Alleluia.  We do not celebrate the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s. Other options would include St. Mark’s Cathedral (1245 Tenth Avenue East) at 8:30 PM, St. Clement’s (1501 32nd Avenue South) at 9 PM or Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church (7500 Greenwood Ave N) at 6:30 PM

            Easter Sunday services here at St. Peters begins at 10:00 AM as usual and will include the renewal of baptismal vows.