A Gregorian Rant
One way to look at Holy Week is as a three-act play.
Palm Sunday is like the Prologue or the Overture. It has a little bit of everything and gives us an overview of Holy Week. Through the Palm Sunday Liturgy, we begin with great excitement and energy as we gather on the patio (at 10:15) and re-enact Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. As the service progresses, we move through the days of Holy Week as well. At the Gospel, we all participate in Jesus’ Crucifixion in the dramatic reading of the Passion. Our service then takes on somber tones, reflecting Jesus’ death and burial, and the service that began with celebration and excitement ends in silence and darkness.
So, if Palm Sunday gives us all these parts of Holy Week, why come the rest of the week? And the answer is in the details. Just as you can get the gist of a score from the Overture—you don’t get the whole thing. You might get a major theme, but you don’t get the nuances of each particular piece that goes to make up the score. So, if we are going to truly live into Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, we need the rest of Holy Week to fill in gaps and give us the fine points.
Maundy Thursday is Act One. Here, the setting is created and the mood is set. We find Jesus in the Upper Room with his Disciples. He gives the Disciples his Great Commandment from which the day gets its name: “Love one another as I have loved you.” And then to live out that commandment, he washes their feet, and gives them the Holy Eucharist that they are to do “in remembrance of me.” We, too, are able to enter into these events as we may participate in the washing of the feet in our service—and experience the Eucharist anew. We then move on to prepare the church for Good Friday, as the altar and sanctuary are stripped and left in stark nakedness as we look to Jesus’ Crucifixion—his dying for us. We also begin to watch with Jesus through the night as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Good Friday begins Act Two. Here again, we are able to live into the events of Jesus’ death through our participation in the services. At Noon, we walk the Stations of the Cross, pausing to hear the story once again and to reflect on its various parts. At the Good Friday Liturgy (7:30 p.m.), we are also able to participate as we hear once again the Passion Narrative read and then reflect on it in the prayers. This service has a very unique opportunity to Venerate the Cross as part of our thanksgiving for all Jesus has done for us. Also at this time, we read together the Reproaches as we reflect on how humanity has again and again missed the mark and fallen short of what we are called to do and how God continues to pick us up and loves us anyway.
Our Drama reaches its climax in Act Three—the Easter Vigil. Here again, we gather in the darkness—the darkness of the night and the darkness of despair. And then a new flame flares to life and the darkness recedes as candle after candle is lit. As the service progresses, we hear once again the stories of God’s Saving Acts in History and renew our Baptisms as we celebrate our new life in Jesus’ Resurrection. And we join in a grand celebration of the Eucharist as we celebrate Jesus’ Passover from death to life and our joy of having everlasting life in him.
So this year—come for the play. Don’t just hit the Overture and say, “That’s nice.” But dig in a little more deeply. Experience the drama in all its acts and personally participate in these last days of Jesus’ life and the celebration of his Resurrection.