taking some time to remember…

March 23, 2007

Over the last few weeks I have been working diligently to prepare the Holy Week services at my church (Wesley Chapel FM Church in Scarborough, Ontario). I have been doing a fair amount of reading simply because I’m not all that well versed in the church calendar. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that Holy Week could potentially be one of the most profound weeks of the Christian Calendar if we understand how to walk through it.

I grew up in a church which didn’t really observed the church calendar beyond Good Friday, Easter, Advent and Christmas. And to be honest, I think that most evangelical churches tend to shy away from the church calendar because it has been seen as a trapping or a little too ritualistic. And I think that many evangelical church do not even really celebrate advent in their services…so I may have had a little more influence then I realized at the time. But I remember that Holy Week was a time set aside for us to go to church in the evenings. The churches in Thompson, MB where I lived, would all take turns hosting an evening service and the community of faith would join together and do something. I don’t remember it being all that suitable at times to the occasion necessarily – – but it was something.

After reading I’ve decided that I am going to be at the helm of creating a liturgy which flows from Sunday to Sunday here at Wesley Chapel. I want to share it with you because I would encourage you to see the value in it and seek it out somewhere – even if your church doesn’t necessarily observe Holy Week in this way.

Palm Sunday. This is a celebration. Christ enters Jerusalem triumphantly, riding a donkey. The people are shouting and waving palm branches. We will sing joyously and our church will be decorated with palm branches as we celebrate. Yet there will be an under current. There is more to the situation than meets the eye. This sense that something is about to happen has already been created by the Lenten readings. Yet here we are celebrating in the midst of what we know (and the disciples know) to be inevitable.

Tuesday Night. I have decided that Tuesday night will be a night for hearing lessons around Christ’s last teachings. The music will be low key. We shouldn’t feel like we’re in the pit of despair but the tone will definitely be down from Sunday.

Wednesday Night. We are going to be reading the lessons where Jesus is anointed (Matthew 26), Judas’ agreeing to betray Jesus and the Last Supper. We will then take some time in reflection and partake of the elements together in a bigger way than we usually do – more bread and more grape juice…big pieces, like a small meal. I would expect that Jesus would have been somewhat sad on this evening. The more I think about it, the more his words resonate in my mind. He says that this is the last time he would drink of the fruit of the vine until after the resurrection. There must be a certain sadness here as Jesus is preparing to say goodbye to these friends, goodbye to the earth which he has loved and its beautiful pleasures. The evening service will try and portray this sense of ‘togetherness’ as a body and still a deepening sadness. This feeing should be looming over us almost like the gathering of thunder clouds off in the distance.

Maundy Thursday. I have decided that we will be observing Tenebrae on the Thursday evening. This is a service where we have 8-15 (depending whose book you’re reading that day!) candles lit at the front of the church. As lessons are read, candles are extinguished and the room darkens (Tenebrae means ‘shadows’ in Latin’ – and if I’m not mistaken, a derivative of it means ‘darkness’ in French) until there is but one candle remaining. Then the people exit in silence with the expectation of what is now more clearing looming overhead. We will be observing the Tenebrae with the help of the choir is this year and we will be using some of the songs of Taize. I think that this will be a deeply moving sevice.

Good Friday. Of course our traditions most always observe Good Friday. Yet I think that we often are to quick to look ahead. This week is about suffering through the week with Christ. When we get to Good Friday, we extinguish that last candle as Christ takes on the sin of the world and suffers an agonizing death. I think we ought to encourage the church to sit in this suffering. We should enter into it and embrace it and suffer as well. I will try and avoid a lot of anticipatory comments about the ‘resurrection to come’ and ‘Jesus eventual triumph’. People know about this at any rate. But why should we be so quick to pull Jesus off the cross. Good Friday – in my opinion – should be a time of deep reflection and sadness. Our liturgy should be such that people are moved to tears and grief. Texts such as “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me” should not be lightly brushed over as we hurry towards Easter Sunday morning. After the Good Friday service, the foyer should not be filled with laughter and happy greetings. It should be full of quiet people – who are leaving in this silence. This should pretty much be like a funeral in many respects.

Saturday. We are not doing anything on Saturday – BUT I wanted to include Christian tradition here because I would love to do this some year. In the day time there would often be a service of silence, feeling the weight of Jesus death. In the evening something called “The Great Paschal Vigil” where believers gather and that extinguished candle is re-lit. The gathering is outdoors and the people meet around a camp fire or bonfire. This is a celebration of the realization that it was probably sometime this evening that Christ, the Light of the World, has indeed conquered sin and death. I think this would be a wicked service! This is very simplified and if you want to know more you’ll have to research it.

Easter Sunday. Finally, Easter Sunday is a time of jubilation. Lots of singing, dancing and celebration. Christ has risen – he is risen indeed. After taking time to suffer and agonize, now we get to rejoice with the global church that Christ is alive as he said he would be. Of course churches are usually good at celebrating this – – we just usually get there a little too soon.

So – a long post, but here it is:

If you are a Christian, I challenge you to take time this Easter season to do more than glance through the story. Try and relive it. Make it a part of your annual observance. Use this as a centering time and enter into the suffering, death and resurrection with the church at large. Put evenings aside – take breaks from your regular routine. Make this a priority. And if your church doesn’t observe this stuff – – visit a church which does for these evenings – many Roman Catholic church do, Anglican churches and it is being reborn in the hearts of many evangelicals – you could even visit Wesley Chapel if you want to on one of the evenings.

If you are not a Christian, I don’t expect you to understand all of the mystery of this week. Passion weeks’ services are not seeker sensitive or really designed to be all that understandable. But I would encourage you, if you are curious about Christianity or why we do the things we do, visit a service or two – or a week full and it might resonate with you in a way that you never thought possible.


3 Responses to “taking some time to remember…”

  1. Ian said

    jay, that is awesome that you are planning to go through the whole week like that. i remember times when people from my church would skip out on Good Friday because it was ‘too depressing.’ unreal. i think it would be very enlightening to journey through Holy Week in this way. thanks for this post, good stuff.

  2. James said

    I wish I was worshipping with you this week. It is encouraging to see you putting so much thought into it.

    I also agree with you about Good Friday. People seem to be so caught up the “pep rally” approach to worship that they can’t fathom any service, even Good Friday, that doesn’t leave on an “upbeat note”.

    Hope it all goes well. Makes me miss the richness of the liturgy I experienced during my time with the Anglicans.

    Glad I found your blog (saw the link on Ian’s).


  3. jasonlocke said

    Thanks Ian, James. It’s good to hear from you both. It’s good to be in touch. I apologize that you got the unedited version of the post…I realized that it was riddled with spelling and grammar errors…oops. It might still have a few. It’s been a busy day!

    At any rate – hope you guys have a great Easter.

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