A couple of people have asked what on earth all these services are about during Holy Week. It is a good question and, my guess is, for those who have asked, there are quite a few more who have the same question
Last Sunday we celebrated Palm Sunday. We remembered Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and we read the whole of Matthew's account of the Passion. This is not meant to replace Holy Week. I prefer to think of it as more of a movie trailer, inviting us to enter into a deeper experience of the story.
Each of the days of Holy Week counts as a big day in the Church calendar but the next one which we pay a lot of attention to is Maundy Thursday.
Maundy Thursday has a lot of story attached to it. We begin with a party atmosphere as Jesus has supper with his Disciples. We know this as "The Last Supper" but the Disciples did not know this and the atmosphere was one of a party. The hangings in Church go to white - the color we use for celebration.
During this part of the service we remember how Jesus washed his Disciples feet - showing them the way of humility and servanthood. Some like to wash each others feet during the service, others prefer to sit out, it is a personal choice but we take time to remember Jesus command to do as He has done.
We move to the Table and celebrate the Eucharist with extra poingnancy as we remember this is the night that Jesus took bread and wine. Offered, blessed and broke them. Shared them with his friends and commanded them to do the same.
All too soon we are moving into darkness as, first Judas, and then Jesus and the Disciples head out into the night. The agonising road to the Cross has begun. In Church the Altar and its surrounds are gradually stripped down of their adornments to bare wood.
The only thing which remains is concecrated bread which is taken to the side altar. This represents the Garden of Gethsemane and is called the "Altar of Repose" We then begin to spend a long night watching with Jesus. Remembering His words to the Disciples - "Could you not watch with me one hour?". Unlike some places, the Church is not open to come and go, rather we stream an image of the one remaining light in Church, the one which accompanies the Blessed Sacrament (the consecrated bread).
We leave in silence without a blessing or dismissal - that will not happen again until Easter Day. The services of these days are a continuum.
The basic story of Good Friday is well known. Its meaning is endless. We offer two services. The first is the "Liturgy of the Day". This service is offered on Good Friday Evening in many places, for convenience for those who work. It rightly belongs in the hour before we are told Jesus dies- midday.
The service is straight from the Prayer Book and consists of readings, prayers and a chance to kneel at the cross as part of our entering into the story. Towards the end of the service there is the option to receive Communion from the bread which we saved from last night. Not everyone chooses to do this. At the end of the service all the leftover bread is consumed and we are in an empty and stark Church. This is the only time of the year when there is not consecrated bread (reserve sacrament) in the Church. The candle which represents the presence of Christ in the Sacrament is extinguished.
Into this silence at noon we bring the Stations of the Cross. This is a reflective service, looking back on Jesus' last journey uses the 14 "Stations" which we have in the Church. These pictures each depict a point upon the journey. Beginning with Jesus' condemnation and finishing with His being put into the tomb. As this service ends a deeper silence enters the Church.
When these services are earlier in the day we have more time to enter into and to observe where we are. To take notice of what has happened and to allow the silence. If you cannot be in Church we will be streaming the 11am service and you will find the recordings online.
This service is in two parts. The first is a set of nine readings tracing God's story with the Chosen People of Israel through the Old Testament. The stories are of hope and promise. Some see them literally, others take them as expressions of experience of God by our ancestors in faith.
These are family stories and they are told around a fire - rather like your family or friends might tell stories around a campfire or on a cool evening sitting around a fire in the backyard.
Then we extinguish the fire of the old and move towards the Church where the Easter Fire is waiting. The new fire of new life. The fire is blessed as a symbol of new life and promise and the Paschal (Easter) candle is lit from it. The Candle is then carried into Church. Every candle in the building is lit from this one candle. The ones you hold, the ones on the altar and, finally, the candle which burns by the Reserve Sacrament. The light of Christ spread from our Risen Lord to each of us like fire. We see again, we are joyful again.
A special chant, the Exsultetm is sung, rememinding us of the story of this night.
After this the service becomes more familiar. Readings, hymns, prayers and a celebration of the Eucharist.
Easterr Day is a celebration but, in some ways, more reflective than the light and movement of the Vigil. We switch to the Gospel of John, to the encounter of Mary Magdalene with Jesus in the Garden.
The moment of joyous acclaim invies us to a sense of wonder, but also to a pondering of what this mean to us. How we respond to this gift. Who we are in the story.
I hope this gives a good outline of what we are doing over the next few days. There are books and books written about these days. There are other variations on how and when to do these services - you may have seen them done differently elsewhere. Do join us for as much as you can. Do spend some time pondering these mysteries and finding your place in them. At Easter, wherever we have been, however the stories of our lives are messy and fractured, we are given new life and invited to embrace new hope. I hope to see you over the next few days.