HOLY WEEK at C.O.T.R.

A Personal Account of

HOLY WEEK

at

Church of the Resurrection

One of the best things about Church of the Resurrection is the way we celebrate Easter. For us, Holy Week means much more than just the end of Lent or the opportunity to visit with family and/or friends while the children hunt colored eggs. Yes, we enjoy those things. In fact, our celebration of Holy Week specifically contains those things. But it contains much more. While the whole week is sacred to us, we specifically observe Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Day. In addition, Easter is not just one day. Easter is the entire season from Resurrection Day until Pentecost. So, we not only celebrate Holy Week, but we have almost two months of the Season of Easter.

Palm Sunday

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. The first thing we do is to meet about an hour before the service starts and make palm crosses. We carry these in a reenactment of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus fulfilled Scripture by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. We march around the church waving palm fronds and our palm crosses. This procession signifies the special holy nature of the day. It is fun. It reminds us that being holy can be fun. We wave palm crosses and palm branches and sing praise to God as we march joyfully into the sanctuary. It is a wonderful way to begin Holy Week. (We keep our crosses until the following February, when the clergy burn them to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.)

Maundy Thursday

I was completely ‘blown away’ the first time I participated in a Church of the Resurrection Maundy Thursday service. Now I knew some things about Maundy Thursday, but I was not prepared for the end of the service. Maundy Thursday is the traditional day for observing the institution of the Last Supper, or Communion, or Eucharist. But it was most familiar to me as the day we observe a “Foot-Washing” ceremony. While the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe the institution of the Communion meal, The Gospel of John tells us about the foot washing event in Chapter 13.

We also get the name of this day from John 13:34. Jesus says, “A new commandment I give you,” which, in Latin, is “Mandātum novum dō vōbīs‌” Shortly after he washed the Disciples’ feet he said, “A new commandment I give you, love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another.” Maundy means ‘command’ from the Latin ‌mandatum. (We get words like ‘mandate’ and ‘mandatory’ from this same word.) That is why we call this day ‘Maundy Thursday’. So now you know. Maundy Thursday is ‘Commandment Thursday’, the day of the new commandment.

But it’s much more than that. I had participated in many ‘foot washing’ services. That was what I was expecting. And we did do that. It is—well it can be—a humbling act to wash someone else’s feet.

The Bible does not always paint a picture for us. I suppose John never thought that he should explain why the foot washing made such an impression. Imagine how filthy your feet would be if you wore sandals on dirt roads. Imagine even more what the droppings of horses, cattle, donkeys would do to your feet. Imagine having to clean them! It was the job of the lowest servant. The one who washed your feet was the least in the household. It’s important to realize that the custom in Judah in those days was to recline at a low table to eat. The custom would put my feet near your head. You would want me to have clean feet. Now, imagine what the disciples thought when Jesus took up the basin and towel to wash their feet. You can read about it in the Gospel of John, chapter 13. And that is why Jesus gave them a new commandment and told them (and us) to love each other.

I tell you this to let you know that this is the spirit of the foot-washing ceremony at Church of the Resurrection. It truly helps to put servant-hood into perspective.

But it is what happens at the end of the service that is truly sacred. Remember that we have washed each other’s feet. Then, we have celebrated the Last Supper. Now, at the end of the service, the church changes its celebratory color to black. The clergy wash the altar with vinegar, the lights are dimmed, the cross is draped in black and a replica of the Gethsemane Garden is set up. We call this the “Altar of Repose” and from the end of the Maundy Thursday service until the beginning of the Good Friday service at least one member of our church is seated at the Altar of Repose, praying for one hour with Jesus.

Good Friday

And the next day Jesus is nailed to the cross. We observe the Crucifixion with a special “Stations of the Cross” event. We have markers depicting the ‘Stations of the Cross’ at The Gardens in West Asheville. So, at High Noon, we meet there to observe His Crucifixion. {Please see our website at cotres.org for more about The Gardens.}

(The following comments are mine. They may or may not be official statements of the CEC or Church of the Resurrection. I have partaken “The Lord’s Supper” in many churches over the years. The following is my opinion. I do hope the following comments will help you understand just how wonderful and spiritually fulfilling the observance of this Holy Sacrament can be, and, why our Good Friday service is so spiritually moving.)

Then, around 7:00pm, we observe Good Friday with a special Eucharist (Last Supper) service. It is the Good Friday service that we use to observe the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. This service makes the crucifixion of Jesus a real event, at least it does that for me. However, in order to explain our worship service, I need to explain certain things. I do this so that you will better understand what is really happening in our worship.

We in the CEC believe that the bread and wine, when blessed, do become, at some point, the body and blood of Jesus. We treat the elements of bread and wine as if they were truly the body of Jesus. For me this is a wonderful, spiritually fulfilling idea. We keep a small portion of the Blessed Elements in a “Tabernacle” on the wall behind the Altar. Some of us, when we enter the sanctuary or pass in front of the Tabernacle, bow or nod to show respect to our King. I, personally, “see” the Throne of God where the Tabernacle is located. I practice the presence of God upon His Throne when I enter the Sanctuary or pass in front of the Tabernacle. Now, I know, just as every member of our church knows, that God is omnipresent. We don’t limit the Presence of God to the Bread and Wine. But, because God is present everywhere, what, I ask you, prevents Him from being present in the Bread and the Wine?

As you probably know, Jesus died before sunset, was removed from the cross and his body was given into the custody of Joseph of Arimathea, who buried it in a nearby tomb. As there was not enough time to properly prepare the body for burial, some of the ladies made note of the exact location of the tomb so they could return there on Sunday to finish the burial process. A large stone was placed over the entrance to keep animals from desecrating the body.

Our Good Friday service takes this into account. The Altar of Repose is removed. We consume all of the Blessed Bread and Blessed Wine in the church building. So, at the end of the service, there is no Blessed Bread or Blessed Wine in the Tabernacle or anywhere else in the building.

While washing the Altar with vinegar and draping the cross with a black shroud is very moving, it is in the symbolism of the Absence of Christ, the remembrance of his burial, that is something one can feel. At the end of the service there is a difference in the “atmosphere” of the Sanctuary.

When we return on Saturday morning to decorate the Church for the Easter Vigil we notice this. The building feels empty. Even the first time that I participated in this, when I really did not understand the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, I noticed a difference in the ambiance of the sanctuary on Saturday morning. This was made apparent to me, once again, just a few days ago. I had to stop by the church for a few moments. Upon entering, I could actually feel the presence of Christ, even though I was not thinking about that. And I have entered some sanctuaries, only to realize that there is no Tabernacle behind the Altar and thus no official ‘place’ to bow in reverence to My Lord. In those sanctuaries He seems, to me, to be less present.

I can’t say that this would ever be real for you. But the emptiness of the Sanctuary on Friday night and Saturday is one of the things that makes our Holy Week a real observance of the Passion of Christ for me. For others, it might be the extinguishing of the Christ Candle, putting out the light, that moves them. That’s important, but it’s that Absence of Christ that I feel.

Resurrection Day

First, an explanation of calendars and time keeping and such. If you know the following, that’s great. But if you have never understood this, I hope the following explanation will help you understand some things about how and why Christians do what they do.

We at Church of the Resurrection follow the tradition that Jesus was crucified on Friday and resurrected on Sunday. We also understand that, in Jewish understanding, the day begins as sunset. In the West, the day begins at midnight. So, for example, Jesus’ birthday begins at sunset on the day we in the West call “Christmas Eve” and it ends at sunset on the day we call “Christmas Day”. For the Jews, Passover Day begins at sunset and ends at sunset. In addition, they counted days differently: If a wedding started on Monday at noon and ended on Wednesday at noon they would say that the wedding was three (3) days long. Therefore, if Jesus died and was buried on Good Friday before sunset and he was resurrected after sunset on the day we call Saturday, then he was dead, by their reckoning, three (3) days. In addition, Easter “sunrise” service would better be called “Son Rise” service. (The Bible is full of puns. It would be a Biblical tradition to make a pun here.)

Saturday evening, just before sunset, we gather in the church parking lot to begin our Easter Vigil and the Observance of the Resurrection of Our Lord. A fire is ignited at sunset and we light, once again, the candle that represents the ‘Light of Christ.’ Each person receives a small candle with which we ‘carry the Light of Christ’ into the darkened sanctuary. Our candles remain lit and the church lights are dimmed as we rehearse the history from the beginning of time.

When we reach to point where Christ is Risen, the lights are brightened and we sing out in celebration that Christ is Risen Indeed. Our little candles are extinguished. The Clergy bless new bread and new wine and we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and our God.

After the worship service, we move into the fellowship hall and have a party. Everyone brings something sweet or savory and we fellowship with each other. Lent is now over. Those of us who gave up some type of food for Lent can now enjoy that food again. If you have never done this, it is a worthwhile endeavor. When you partake of something after a fast, the eating takes on a new meaning.

On Easter Sunday we do have a “simple said service” for those who were unable to participate in the Easter Vigil. But this Sunday is a time to celebrate with family and friends. Some of us let the children hunt colored eggs. But that is a family, not a church, activity. Gathering with family and friends is, I think, a really great way to end Holy Week.

Now I am inviting you to come and celebrate Holy Week with us. I would like for you to look forward to Holy Week/Easter with as much anticipation as I do. Yes, Christmas is a wonderful holiday. We celebrate and enjoy that season. However, it has become a secular event, not simply a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Easter, thankfully, has not become a pagan festival. And the way we celebrate Easter makes it a true Holy Week.