Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Week Traditions

I love Holy Week.

Growing up (Catholic), we kept Lent (minorly-I didn't really understand it. I bet my kids don't really understand it yet either) and I knew we went to church a lot in between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, but I really did not understand what what was going on. I am sad to say that I really didn't understand much of what was going on period. I didn't know about the church year, or liturgy, or the special feast days. I was vaguely aware that some of these things were going on around me, but I didn't know that they were cyclical....well, except Advent. I always loved Advent Wreaths and counting down the weeks until Christmas.

I do think it is safe to say that I liked church as a child though. I recognized that something important was happening, even if I was a little bored. I made a bathroom trip part of regular liturgy, if you know what I mean. I am very thankful that my dad made me go week after week though. I definitely think it makes a difference in my life now.

Anyhow, I do so love Holy Week. I love that we essentially go through that whole week as He did those two thousand years ago, beginning with Palm Sunday, when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem.

Then on Maundy Thursday, we go through the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples, and the institution of the sacrament. The service ends with the altar being  ceremonially stripped of all decor. I don't remember this from growing up, and the first time I saw this, 4 years ago now, it sent shivers down my spine. I did not realize that this was in preparation for Good Friday.

On Good Friday this year, our church had a Tenebrae service, in which we focused on the seven last words Jesus spoke on the cross.

  1. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do"
  2. "Today you shall be with me in Paradise" 
  3. "Woman, behold your son! Behold your mother!"
  4. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
  5. "I thirst"
  6. "It is finished"
  7. "Father, in Your hands, I commend My Spirit"
 The liturgical color is black. My Pastor wears a black  cassock and stole, and many of the elders and lay people also wear black. On the otherwise bare altar were 7 lit candles, and as each of the "7 words" were spoken (along with a verse of a  hymn and a very short sermon on each "word") one candle was extinguished until all of the candles were out. After all of the sections were complete and all of the candles were extinguished, my Pastor walked over to the lecturn and slammed the book shut which made a very loud BOOM...A very powerful non-verbal statement of "It is finished". At that same moment, all the lights in the church were turned off  and we sat in the darkness, with only one lonesome little candle lit in the front of the church lit. In the dim light, from the choir loft in the back of the church, the spiritual song "Were you there?" was sung by a woman with a very strong voice. The way her voice echoed in the darkness and nothing else was going on really caused us to focus on the words of the song. When the song was completed, my Pastor took the lonesome candle and walked to the back of the church. From the back of the church, in almost total darkness he recited First Corinthians 15:51-57

"Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed---in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on the incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality; so when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in Victory.' O Death, where is your sing? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, Who gives us the Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Then a final benediction was read and everyone left the church in complete reverent silence.

I only had my sons with me last night, as the service is long and very serious and quiet, and we did not think we could handle it with Simon. Barry attended Maundy Thursday with the three older kids, and I attended Good Friday with my two older sons. They loved the service because of its uniqueness, and the "scary part" at the end (scary is the wrong word here, but it certainly would stun almost anyone to silence). I love that there is a special service that recognizes the graveness and seriousness of the crucifixion.

When we return to church on Easter morning, the contrast after leaving so quietly in the dark on Good Friday will be very obvious. The altar will be decked out with lilies and white. We will have a processional. Everything in there will be bright and joyous, and we will sing special songs focusing on the resurrection. We will bring back the special songs that we have stopped singing during Lent and we will go to the altar for the Lord's Supper. It is beautiful, it is happy. It is wonderful.

I really love Holy Week and am so happy to be back in a christian tradition that keeps it. Traditions of course in no way have any saving power, but they can be a powerful teaching tool and can be very good for helping us to focus on specific parts of what we believe.

1 comment:

  1. today my Pastor went over the last words Jesus spoke too! It was a wonderful Message!!!!

    That message sounds interesting. My kids would have dug it too I bet!