Holy Week and Easter services – Rites to mark our walk of faith

Flannery O’Connor once said, “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anyone asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell them to read the story.”

Holy Week is the enacting and reliving of the story of Christ’s surrender to death and resurrection. We begin with shouts of Hosanna and palm waving, and continue telling it throughout the week to come; from the celebrations in the streets of Jerusalem to a quiet supper amongst friends, to our Lord on his knees washing feet, to betrayal by friends and anguished prayer in the garden, to torture, crucifixion and finally the dawn of a new day, an empty tomb and the triumphant words, “Christ is risen, Alleluia!”  We will tell this story with all its tragedy and terror in the days of Holy Week, observing different rites, practices and prayer, waiting and watching and in our hearts.  

On Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is where it feels that the events of the week to come are set in motion.

In the Palm Sunday service we will process around the church with singing, celebrating that moment when Christ was openly declared a Messiah, but one who was the Prince of Peace, not on a warhorse, but humbly riding on a donkey. But within the one service the palms turn to the passion, reminding us that the ashes marked on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday were created from the palms of the triumphal entry. New beginnings are created when we allow the false things of this world to die.

On Maundy Thursday

On this day we recognise that Jesus sat down with his closest friends, sharing food, sharing wine and showing what vulnerable love looks like. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and so we wash one another’s feet, remembering that we are to love and serve one another, even as Jesus came to serve, showing us what love truly is.

On Good Friday

On Good Friday we stand by and hold prayerful vigil as Jesus dies in solidarity with all the suffering of humanity, freely laying down his life and becoming a victim- but a victim who does not point the finger at others but forgives, making new beginnings possible.

At the Good Friday service there will again be offered the opportunity to venerate the cross- coming forward to pray at the front of the church after it is elevated as a gesture of respect for all it represents. At that moment there is also an opportunity to leave a symbol of something you may wish to release or let go- perhaps something that you have become aware of in your life that is a burden. You may wish to write something or just draw a symbol on a piece of paper. All of these will be gathered up and kept private until they are burned in the new Easter fire in the vigil service at the dawn of Easter Day.

Holy Saturday

On Holy Saturday, when we remember the day that the world was quiet, the disciples hidden away and Jesus body lay in the tomb, we will gather for Morning Prayer in the church at 8am. After Morning Prayer we will work together to clean, polish and tidy before sharing morning tea before quietly returning home to ready ourselves for the day to come.

On Easter Day

At first light of resurrection day the Easter Fire is kindled and we welcome the dawn of the bright new day that declares that sin and death have been defeated and we are all gathered up into God’s new creation. Things that we wish to release are burned in the Easter Fire, our songs herald the new beginning and we process into the church bearing candles lit from the new paschal candle before breaking into the joyful cacophony of bells and organ music and shouted Alleluias. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

At this moment of beginning again we renew our baptismal promises before we are sent out to be co-creators of the world as God dreams it to be.

Later as the day brightens we celebrate resurrection in another Eucharist. Many people choose to be baptised on Easter Day- it is not too late if you or anyone you know is interested in baptism on this day of celebration. The Church is bright and decorated with flowers, bathed in incense, and resounding with hymns and joyful music. The bright new day that has come. Death has been swallowed up in victory. There is no place in all creation where God is absent, no corner of the world so dark that God’s light does not penetrate.

The great and difficult and wonderful truths

Throughout Holy Week we are brought face to face starkly with themes of life and death, repentance and forgiveness, isolation and connection, sorrow and joy. Richard Rohr speaks to five paradoxical but consoling truths that we face in the vulnerability of Holy Week;

  1. It is true that life is hard, and yet my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28).
  2. It is true that you are not important, and yet do you not know that your name is written in heaven? (Luke 10:20).
  3. It is true that your life is not about you, and yet I live now not my own life, but the life of Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20).
  4. It is true that you are not in control, and yet can any of you, for all of your worrying, add a single moment to your span of life? (Luke 12:26).
  5. It is true that you are going to die, and yet neither death nor life. . . can ever come between us and the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

As we walk these last weeks of Lent, may the Spirit prepare your hearts and minds for Holy Week and the story we will relive together.

Grace and peace,