Holy Week is the last week of the season of Lent and includes some of the most important religious celebrations in the Christian Church. Historically, Holy Week is a time of intense focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly life before his crucifixion. In the early church, and in some modern churches, Holy Week is the final preparation for those who want to be baptized. Often, this week of preparation is marked with study, prayer, and fasting. In some traditions, Holy Week starts as early as nine day before Easter, but in our tradition Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday (or, Passion Sunday), the week before Easter Sunday.
In the Lutheran Church, we observe Holy Week through several special worship services:
Palm / Passion Sunday
On this Sunday, we remember the day that the gospels tell us Jesus arrived in Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; and John 12:12-16. Riding on a donkey, he came into the city with fanfare and the crowds spreading cloaks and branches on the road in front of him. The whole scene is what would have typically been understood as a royal procession, and our worship service begins with celebration.
But within this same worship service, we typically turn to the reading of the full gospel story from Jesus’ last supper and arrest up to his crucifixion. Within this worship service, we symbolize and reflect on how the crowds so quickly turned from celebration to condemnation, and we set the tone for the week ahead.
Maundy Thursday is the first of a three-part service that includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. You might hear some faith traditions refer to this collection of services as the ‘Triduum’ (trid’-oo-um), the Latin word for ‘the three days.’
The word ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin word meaning ‘mandate’. During our worship service on this night, we observe Jesus mandate to his disciples to be servants of all, just as he served them by washing their feet. To symbolize this, some congregation will include a rite of foot-washing during worship. This is not part of our tradition at Sherwood Park Lutheran Church. Our emphasis is on the celebration of Holy Communion on this night because three of the gospels tell us that the Lord’s Supper was instituted at Jesus’ Last Supper.
At the end of this worship service, we strip all of the cloths, decorations, candles, etc. from the front of our worship space. Just as Jesus is stripped in advance of his crucifixion, our worship space is stripped in advance of Good Friday when we observe Jesus’ death.
Good Friday is the day that we commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion and death at Calvary. It is one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar. Our worship service is usually sombre and forms the second part of the three-day liturgy. Our worship service usually begins and ends with silence, and includes extended times of reflection, prayer, and confession (as a congregation, not individually).
We don’t celebrate Holy Communion on Good Friday, and some Lutheran churches will celebrate this as a fast-day – eating only one meal. This day is about recognizing our own brokenness, but also seeing that God will join us in our brokenness, whatever the cost, to bring us forgiveness.
This service marks the end of the three-day liturgy, and the end of the season of Lent.
Historically, the vigil began at sundown and continued throughout the night. It was the last day in a long spiritual journey for people who were about to be baptized. The service ended at sunrise on Easter morning when people were baptized into the community of believers. The service was meant to symbolize the transition from Jesus death (darkness) to new life (light). The service is hopefully – already looking forward the resurrection that we will celebrate on Easter morning.
Today, churches don’t usually worship throughout the night. In places that hold an Easter Vigil, they start a fire and light a new Paschal candle to symbolize the light of Christ coming into the world. They read scripture. They sing Psalms and hymns.
While we don’t usually hold an Easter Vigil at Sherwood Park Lutheran Church, we have in some years celebrated it with our youth, giving this important and meaningful worship a new and contemporary expression.
If you would like to join us for worship for any part of Holy Week, you are more than welcome. Our worship schedule is below, or you can check our calendar for other events.
Palm / Passion Sunday – April 9, 2017 at 10:30am. Service includes Holy Communion and all are welcome to participate.
Maundy Thursday – April 13, 2017. Soup supper begins at 6:15pm, worship at 7:00pm. Service includes Holy Communion and all are welcome to participate.
Good Friday – April 14, 2017 at 10:30am. This year’s service will be a reflection on the last week of Jesus’ life through the characters and music from the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Easter Vigil – April 15, 2017. Sorry, but for safety and security, this is a closed event for youth from Sherwood Park Lutheran and other neighbouring congregations.