As we prepare for the exhilarating and exhausting observances of Holy Week, it’s worth noting that things might look very different if not for a certain fourth century nun with an eye for detail and a penchant for travel writing.
Her name was Egeria, and during a three-year pilgrimage through the Holy Land – from 381-384 – she regularly sent postcards home to her convent in Spain. In them, she described in great detail all that she saw, including how she witnessed people worshipping. Those long-ago travel diaries became the basis for our modern Holy Week liturgies.
All these centuries later, we’re still doing the same things Egeria described, still re-creating the events of the last week of Christ’s life, to summon forth the sacred story of the past and make it our own. There are liturgies every day during Holy Week, and I urge you to take part in as many of them as you possibly can.
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we’ll have Communion services, and guest preachers each night. Monday’s preacher is John Putnam, the assistant director of formation at St. John’s Cathedral, and my former Episcopal Service Corps intern. John is an extraordinary young man, and you won’t want to miss hearing this future leader of the church. On Tuesday, our own Stephen Anthony will go from the silent and invisible ministry of the verger to featured preacher. Stephen draws from a deep spiritual well, and I cannot wait to hear the word he gives us. On Wednesday, parishioner Mona Blandford will provide the message. Mona’s book, “Flowers Boom in Arid Soil,” is a combination memoir and spiritual guide, and just as in her book, she’ll be sharing some of her own story of her walk with God.
The final three days of Holy Week – the Triduum – is marked not by three separate services but by one single service that spans three days. The Maundy Thursday service – at which Deacon Joe will preach for the first time – begins in the usual manner, but ends in silence and the stripping of the altar. The silence continues through the night with our prayer vigil. It continues with the start of the Good Friday liturgy. As that liturgy ends, there is no blessing or dismissal, because we’re just pausing until Saturday.
The Easter Vigil, beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday, has four parts: the Service of Light; the Service of Lessons; the Renewal of Baptismal Vows; and – finally – the first Eucharist of Easter. It’s sort of like staying awake to ring in the New Year, only we’ll ring in Easter a lot earlier in the evening. And I do mean ring! Bring your bells! If you don’t have bells, you can jangle your keys. Regardless, it’s a thrilling and spectacularly moving service.
I guess what I’m saying is, whatever you do, don’t go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday without drinking deeply of the stuff in the middle, especially Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It’s not optional stuff for extra credit. These rituals are at the very heart of Christianity and have been for a very, very long time.
If you’d like to come, but are worried about driving after dark, call me. We’ll arrange a ride for you. If you have company visiting, bring them. If you think it’s just too much church for one week, try it, then talk to me afterward and we’ll see if you still feel that way.
Wishing you all a blessed Holy Week. Let’s plan on seeing a lot of each other next week, okay? - Mother Becky