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Holy Week

This Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week.  Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, commemorates Jesus entry into Jerusalem.  Most of our bibles label this portion of scripture as the “triumphal entry”, (a term we are accustomed to hearing) but really this is somewhat of a misnomer.  The cries of “Hosanna” at the beginning of the week turn into cries of “Crucify him” by the end of the week.  Jesus enters Jerusalem at last to suffer and die.  The scene is full of irony.  There is a sense in which Jesus is the King which the crowd proclaims, but His kingship does not meet the expectations of the day.  A  focus upon the humiliation of Christ and Golgotha is very appropriate, and rightly leads us to wonder over the generosity of God’s condescension in the face of human depravity, and the marvels of His grace in the redemption of rebellious humanity.

Maundy Thursday is the first day of the Triduum (pronounced TRID-oo-um).  This is a Latin term simply meaning, “three days,” and consists of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin mandatum, meaning “mandate” or “command.”  At the last supper Jesus gave the disciples a mandatum novum: a “new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:34).  Also during the upper room scene, Jesus washed the disciples feet and celebrated a meal with them.  Foot-washing has long been practiced on Maundy Thursday in varying groups in the church, including the Brethren and Seventh Day Adventists.  The climax of the worship on this day is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  While it might seem to be appropriate for the Lord’s Supper on this evening to have somewhat of a somber tone, it is more accurate for the meal to be one of great celebration.  Jesus establishes a new meal, and the essence of this meal is reflected in the table appearances He makes to his followers after the resurrection.  Jesus is recognized in the breaking of the bread, so we read the resurrection back into the upper room.  “We praise God for taking what might have been nothing more than a sad farewell of teacher and disciples and transforming it into a way of revealing the presence of the Risen One.  We praise God for turning an occasion for mourning into an occasion of profound gratitude.  On Holy Thursday the church lifts up the fist of faith and shakes it defiantly at every potential evildoer, saying, ‘We have this meal to strengthen and sustain us.  It is the reliable promise of divine power and presence always in our midst.  We will fear no evil, because our God submits to no destroyer, not even death.  Thanks be to God for the gift of this meal!’  Only when we have shouted defiantly at the hosts of evil are we ready to confront them more directly; and so the Holy Thursday service proceeds to recall the passion of the Lord and thus to prepare for Friday” (Stookey, 95*).

Good Friday. What’s “good” about it?  The term “Good Friday” may be a corruption of the English phrase “God’s Friday,” but can still be considered good because the events of the day are the working out and fulfillment of the perfect plan of God.  It is certainly a day of great solemnity, but we should not treat it as a funeral service for Jesus.  Although it is a time for serious contemplation of the saving work of Christ and what He has done for the Church and for us individually as believers, it also affords the opportunity to “consider how best we can present to the world the redemption of God, both by word and deed” (Stookey, 99-100*).  The occasion of Calvary pictures the great condescension of the love of God, and not only for His people, but for all of creation.  One of the services commonly associated with Good Friday is the Tenebrae, or Service of Darkness.  Tenebrae, which means “darkness” or “shadows,” is a Holy Week Devotion dating back to at least the seventh or eighth century A.D.  It is characterized by the successive extinguishing of candles as the service progresses, symbolizing the darkness that overcame the world as a result of the Crucifixion of our Lord.

Holy Saturday has been called The Great Vigil since antiquity.  There a number of variations to this day and how it is celebrated.  A service could begin is at dusk on Saturday, or before daybreak on Easter morning—hence the practice of sunrise services on Easter.  Others hold the service at a later hour on Saturday, so that it ends after midnight on Sunday.  The primary component is for the service begin in virtual darkness.  Four basic parts are typically found in the celebration of this day.  1) Service of Light—candles are central, and, among many things, pictures the light leading out of the darkness in the history of Israel, and now in Christ. 2) Service of the Word—readings that cover the scope of salvation history from creation to the restoration of Israel from exile, and the major themes of Lent are revisited.  3) Baptism and Reaffirmation—typically adult converts, after having gone through Lent as a time of instruction and discipleship, would be baptized.  All present would recite the Apostles’ Creed, reaffirming the faith into which they had also been baptized.  4) Eucharist—a joyful celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and for those who have fasted in preparation, a real “breaking fast” as they enjoy this meal prepared by the Risen Savior.  The various components can constitute a single service, or be broken up into various services.  The keeping of Holy Saturday has remained in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, but is not as common among other churches.  As mentioned already, an Easter sunrise service is derived from The Great Vigil.

*Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church.

Off the Shelf: Raven’s Ladder

n42902959_9497Jeffrey Overstreet has done it again.  Raven’s Ladder, the third installment in The Auralia Thread, is another tale full of twists and turns that will keep you delightfully off-balance, but also reflective.  Since fiction is often a more able and accurate mirror of reality, the grittier nature of this volume challenges you on a personal level, while also making astute cultural observations.  As with Auralia’s Colors and Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder has that depth of quality that gives you the sense that there is more to this story than first meets the eye, inviting you to read it again.  In keeping true to form, the tantalizing ending leaves you guessing as to how the threads of this adventure will be woven together at last in the final book, The Ale Boy’s Feast.