Sunday April 9th, Palm Sunday, is the start of Holy Week, the most important week of the Christian year. It is important because we are commemorating and celebrating the defining events of the Christian Faith in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord. Our liturgies throughout the week correspond to certain events in the sequence (I provide a summary of the week below), drawing attention to the most significant aspects and drawing us into their unfolding mystery in us. In conclusion, I have highlighted the relevant scriptural events (which pertain to our worship services) as described in The Gospels.
Invitation to Holy Week
This is the invitation I want to make to you this year: our liturgies are for you to enter into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The worship events exist for our formation and spiritual growth: they are more than mere observances or remembrances. We are invited to enter into the dramatic events of 2,000 years ago and allow the life of God’s Spirit to speak into our lives right now. Whatever stage of the spiritual journey we are on, this week and its associated events have something powerful to give to each of us. Please make the opportunity to enter in and allow God’s Spirit to grow your Spirit this year.
Liturgical Focus & Participatory Opportunities
In each of the liturgies there is a special liturgical focus (or foci) in which we can participate. Of course participation is optional because we only enter when we are ready, and while ‘showing up is 90%’ it is in that final 10% of participation, whether vicariously (by watching others) or by doing it ourselves, that we open up to spiritual growth in new ways.
Here are the opportunities for participation in each liturgy:
Palm Sunday (April 9th at 8 or 10.15am):
- Blessing of palms and palm procession
- Dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel according to Matthew
Maundy Thursday (April 13th at 7pm):
- Foot washing as a symbol of service
- Commemoration of Jesus’ Institution of the Eucharist
- The Watch, in which we pray with Jesus before his arrest
Good Friday (April 14th at 12 Noon):
- Dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel according to John
- Veneration of the Cross
Good Friday/Stations of the Cross (April 14th at 7pm)
- Stations recall the involvement of 14 characters in the Passion of our Lord.
- We walk the ‘Way of the Cross’ with Jesus
Holy Saturday or Easter Eve (April 15th at 7pm):
- Lighting of the Paschal Candle
- Deacon Newt sings the great song of praise, the XXX
- The Vigil in which Scriptural accounts demonstrate God’s saving acts in history
- The first Eucharist of Easter
Easter Sunday (April 16 at 9am & 11am)
- Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows
- Parish celebration of Easter Eucharist
At each service (with the single exception of Friday evening) a sermon will bring together the themes, and explore the participatory events illustrating how they signify and deepen the spiritual life.
As you will already have experienced our new Music Director, Seth Luna, is alive with the Spirit. He is devotedly seeking to find the right blend of music for our liturgies that invite us into participation through prayer, reflection and, of course, singing. I promise you our worship will integrate wonderful music with liturgical rites, Scriptural foundation, and passionate, engaging leadership and preaching.
Summary of significant Gospel events of Holy Week
The week begins with Palm Sunday in which we recall Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt being greeted by his followers who scatter palm branches before him and acclaim him with cries of, “Hosanna to the son of David!”
The gospels contain accounts of Jesus’s actions, engagements and sayings from each of those days in Jerusalem. This year we pick up the story on Maundy Thursday. On this day we commemorate Jesus sharing the traditional Passover supper with his disciples in an upper room (at least according to Matthew, Mark and Luke – in John’s Gospel the Last Supper takes place the previous day, on the Day of Preparation). At this meal, Jesus discloses much of his purpose in being with them. In a succinct act of humility, he washes the feet of the disciples. In so doing, Jesus invites them to continue his ministry of service to others. Similarly as he shares the Passover meal, Jesus draws special attention to the bread early in the meal and wine toward the end, naming them his broken body and poured out blood, which are given for them and others. “Do this, in remembrance of me”, he tells them and in so doing institutes the great sacrament of the Church, “The Eucharist” also known as Holy Communion.
After the meal, they move to a garden outside the city walls, Gethsemane, where Jesus invites his disciples to pray with him. He famously prays that the ‘cup’ that he must take pass him by, but, nevertheless, “Not my will be done, but thine, O Father.”
Shortly after, Jesus is betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas, and arrested by the soldiers of the Chief Priests to whom he is taken. There he is mocked, accused, questioned and condemned. Outside the courthouse, Peter fulfills Jesus’ prediction and denies knowing Jesus three times before the cock crow.
On Good Friday, the story continues with Jesus taken to Pilate and condemned to death. The crowd is asked if they would release Jesus or Barabbas, and they cry, “Crucify” (Jesus and release Barabbas). Jesus carries his cross along the Via Dolorosa and is crucified at the Place of the Skull, Golgotha. His dead body is taken at the end of the day and laid in a tomb.
On the third day, which we celebrate as Easter Sunday, women followers of Jesus arrive at the tomb early to anoint his body and are amazed to find the stone rolled away from the front of the tomb. Mary of Magdala, whose love for Jesus was especially great, meets one she assumes to be the gardener and asks where they have laid Jesus. The one she speaks to asks why she is weeping, and Mary shares her grief with him. Then calling her by name, Jesus reveals himself as her, and our, risen Lord.
This week really has the potential to change your life. I invite you most firmly to allow the Spirit to flow through you this Holy Week, calling you into the life of love that God intends for you and desires for you.