Holy Week – the Three Days

We are officially in Holy Week!  The main services are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and of course, Easter, or as the Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) book calls it, the Three Days

For Maundy Thursday, the ELW says regarding the pattern for worship, “On this night we begin the Three Days during which we participate once again in the saving power of Jesus’ passing over from death into life.  The Maundy Thursday service includes the words of Jesus’ new commandment (mandatum, from which Maundy comes) to love one another.  As a sign of our calling to follow Jesus’ example of humility and service, we may wash one another’s feet as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  On this night in which Jesus was handed over to death we also gather around the Lord’s supper.  At the service’s conclusion, the altar area may be stripped of furnishings as a sign of Jesus’ abandonment.”

For Good Friday, “The Good Friday service continues the journey through the Three Days of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.  At the heart of this service is the passion reading according to John, which celebrates Christ’s victory on the cross.  As Jesus draws all people to himself, we pray for the whole world for which Christ died.  Finally, we honor the cross as the sign of forgiveness, healing, and salvation.  With all God’s people we are invited to bow before this mystery of faith.  Christ has died, so that we may live.”

I have participated in many Good Friday services with many different traditions.  One of my all-time favorites was singing Dale Wood’s magnificent “Service of Darkness”, which focuses on the last words of Christ on the cross.  There is a meditative pattern of reading, extinguishing of seven candles, one for each reading, a bell tolls (either a handbell, or a bell in the church’s tower), and the choral piece for that word. 

Other times a requiem mass may be performed, or the stations of the cross observed.  Any crosses that cannot be removed from the sanctuary are veiled in black cloth.  We even had a period where we had a prayer vigil from after the Good Friday service over to Easter morning.  I remember signing up for a 2 am prayer slot – leaving the warmth and comfort of my home and family in the middle of the night to be in prayerful communion with the Lord was a very moving experience for me, allowing me to reflect on what his life, death and resurrection meant to me personally.  It also highlighted even more the joyous nature of Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

And finally, Easter.  We begin our worship with a festive procession – for the second year in a row, we will be processing with bell trees.  Our bell choir members will ring out “Now Let the Vault of Heaven Resound” while processing up and down the aisles of the church carrying strings of bells on bell tree crosses, following the triumphant entry of the Easter cross bearing the “Alleluia” banner we “buried” behind the altar on Ash Wednesday.  The greeting of the day, “Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed – Alleluia!” resounds throughout the service, as well as the singing of Alleluias in the liturgy, hymns and anthems.  The beautiful white paraments adorn the altar and lectern, dozens of beautiful flowers adorn the sanctuary, and the main cross is decorated with a gorgeous flower arrangement.  It is the most important day of our church calendar year. 

May the Lord bless you richly as you celebrate His resurrection.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

(I will be off for two weeks and resume this blog the week of April 24th.)

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