As we near the end of Lent, we celebrate Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday. At the beginning of the liturgy, we receive palms in memory of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. We become the part of the crowd of pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. We carry our palms in procession, shouting hosannas to our king. The palms are a symbol of resurrection and triumph, an allusion to the saints in heaven “wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9), having triumphed over sin and death through the waters of Baptism.
But the mood of the liturgy changes abruptly as soon as we arrive. We hear the Passion, the story of the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, the desolation and death on the cross. We pray to remain faithful to the end. We celebrate the Eucharist, and so proclaim our faith that the cross and death and sin and betrayal is not the end of the road, but a painful dying to self and rising to new life in Christ. The liturgy ends in silence as we prepare to enter still more deeply into the Paschal mystery, the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection that transforms us and gives our lives meaning. We enter into the liminal time and space of Holy Week.
|Maundy Thursday begins our celebration of the Triduum, three days of watching and waiting and worshiping during which we retell the story of our redemption and allow ourselves to be drawn into the power of that story. It is the story God’s overwhelming love for us, God’s willingness to become human and pay the full price of loving us. We walk with Jesus through his passion, a journey into death for the sake of new life.
On Maundy Thursday, we recall the last supper that Jesus had with his disciples, the Passover meal that he ate with them, when he blessed the bread and the wine for all time, so that they might be the sacrament of his body and blood, his presence and unity with us. We wash one another’s feet, as Jesus asked us to do, following his example of love and service, and as a symbol of baptism.
We celebrate the Eucharist, the feast of God’s eternal love for us, the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation, Jesus’ body and blood, given for us. Then we strip the altar in preparation for Good Friday. The empty church symbolizes the emptiness and stark desolation of Good Friday, the absence of everything familiar and comfortable. We carry the reserved sacrament into the chapel, where we will keep an overnight vigil, as we relive the events of Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane which ends with his betrayal, arrest and trial.
The liturgy on Good Friday seems somehow strange, unfamiliar. There is a kind of stunned silence and grief about the service as we hear the story of Jesus’ passion, pray the solemn collects and recall the horror and heartbreak of his death. But the silence also flows from awe at the great mystery of Good Friday—that this death leads to new life and freedom from death and sin and fear. We dare to lean once more into our faith that despite the darkness in our lives, God loves us beyond all imagining, a love that is stronger than death.
As part of our Good Friday observance, we venerate the cross on which Christ died. We touch or kiss the cross, as we would touch or kiss a photo of a loved one who has died. And we touch it with reverence and joy as the strange instrument of our salvation—and the paschal pattern of our lives too, as we die to our old selves and are reborn in Christ. Through baptism, we share in Christ’s death that we might come to new life. Every year we are called to be shaped more deeply by the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.
There is a brief service this day at 8am. There is no Eucharist, reflecting our memory of Christ in the tomb. We wait in silence and hope for the resurrection.
The pilgrimage is nearly over. All of Lent, all of Holy Week, all of life, it seems, leads us to the holy moment when we encounter the risen Lord—the God from whom we never be separated, neither by life nor death, nor anything else in all creation. God’s yes is triumphant over every form of fatalism, defeatism, nihilism. We celebrate the rebirth of hope in Christ’s resurrection at the Great Vigil of Easter, starting in the darkness before dawn. We encounter the living Christ in the new fire of Easter, which we kindle in the garth, the resting place of our beloved dead. We meet God in the story of our salvation, read by candlelight in the dark church. We are sprinkled with the water of baptism, reminding us that we have plunged into the deep waters of death and resurrection with Christ. And we receive God once more in the mystery of the Eucharist.
We continue the great celebration with the Eucharist at 10am, telling our story of the empty tomb and the risen Lord, singing out our joy, welcoming all who are drawn to Christ’s promise of a new and transformed life.
Welcome, fellow pilgrims, to the journey of a lifetime!