When I was growing up in a small town in rural Western North Carolina even the Episcopalians and Presbyterians were culturally Baptist. Every year when Holy Week came around the oddity of our Episcopal tradition became obvious to our religious neighbors. Our priest would reassure us by saying, “Baptists have revivals, but we have Holy Week. Be sure to come to church, because this is who we are.”
As Christians in the Anglican way, Holy Week is an essential part of our faith story. We reenact and participate in beautifully ancient rites and traditions as we trace the final days before our Lord’s Resurrection. The liturgies of these days are called the Triduum. For at least 1,700 years Christians across the globe have observed Holy Week through walking with Jesus to the garden, to the cross, and to the tomb.
Our Triduum services at St. Peter’s will begin on Maundy Thursday: we remember the last meal Christ had with his disciples; we remember the institution of the Eucharist as a recollection of God’s saving acts in Jesus; and we remember Christ’s new commandment, the mandatum, that “you love one another as I have loved you” as we wash each other’s feet. At the conclusion of the Maundy Thursday service, the church is darkened and the altar is stripped in preparation for Good Friday.
On Good Friday we will hear meditations, readings, and music which reflect on Christ’s passion on the cross. Those in attendance will have an opportunity to venerate the cross, an ancient practice of touching or kissing the instrument of our Lord’s death but also the instrument of our salvation. On Good Friday, we will receive the Eucharist from the sacrament reserved on Maundy Thursday and the clergy will consume all consecrated elements in the church, leaving the church bare of any symbolic presence of Jesus. We will also walk the way of the cross by remembering the various events that took place as Jesus journeyed to Calvary.
At the Great Vigil of Easter, we will light the new fire in the churchyard, process into the dark nave with the Paschal candle, recount the history of our story as God’s people, baptize the newest Christians in the Church, and proclaim that Christ is risen with much fanfare and celebration.
These ancient practices of the Triduum are so very important because they are at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Our journey into Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, but our journey with Christ to the garden, to the cross, and to the empty tomb begins at our baptism. Maundy Thursday will begin our Triduum observance, and as we journey with Christ deeper into the mystery of his death and resurrection our guide will be his words: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Come to Holy Week. Journey with us. Discover the love of God which cannot be contained on the cross or in the tomb. Be sure to come to church, because this is who we are.
The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Associate Rector