Holy Week begins with the blessing of palms and a festive procession into the worship space.
"On the Sunday of the Passion, we proclaim the arrest, trial, sufferings, and death of Jesus as told by the synoptic gospels: Matthew in year A, Mark in year B, and Luke in year C. The synoptic accounts stress the humanity of Jesus, and each tells in its unique way about his sufferings. Yet, paradoxically, we read of his sufferings on a Sunday, the same day in which we celebrate the resurrection. On Good Friday, we proclaim the trial as crucifixion as told by John. John's gospel stresses that Jesus is the incarnate God who goes willingly to reign from the cross. Again, paradoxically, on the Friday of Jesus' death, we proclaim the gospel that boldly announces the divinity of Christ.
Christian doctrine teaches that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine, and year we strengthen this faith by listening to the passion in both a synoptic gospel and John. We hear the more sorrowful story on Sunday, the more triumphant on Good Friday. Usually hymn texts, artistic depictions of the passion and crucifixion, children's Bibles, plays, novels, and feature films about Jesus emphasize only one aspect of Christ's suffering and death. By receiving both the synoptic and Johannine narratives, our understanding of the meaning of Christ's suffering and death is made as wide and deep as possible."
- from Worship Guidebook for Lent and the Three Days (Augsburg Fortress, 2009)
As nightfall comes, Lent ends and the Three Days (the paschal/Easter triduum) begins. The liturgy begins with praise as we glory in the cross of Christ-our salvation, our life, our resurrection.
We hear Jesus' new commandment to love one another. As a sign of our baptismal vocation, those who desire share in the footwashing ritual, first by getting your feet washed and then washing the feet of another person. This act is a reminder of our baptismal call to be servants in the manner Christ modeled for us. Jesus' servanthood becomes the model for us as we seek to care for the most vulnerable in our society.
It is traditional that the offering on Maundy Thursday be designated for the poor and those in need. On this night we hear Jesus' call to be servants and to love one another. Holy Trinity's offering this night is designated for the ELCA World Hunger Appeal. At this service we gather around the altar to share the holy meal. In the eucharist we become what we eat and drink, the body of Christ, offering ourselves in love for the life of the world. As the liturgy ends, the chancel is stripped of its furnishings, recalling that Jesus was abandoned by his followers.
The liturgy of the Three Days continues as we celebrate our Lord's passion. We hear the Passion according to John. John proclaims Jesus as a triumphant king who reigns from the cross. On this solemn day we use the ancient Bidding Prayer, offering petitions for the whole world for which Christ died.
Then a large wooden cross is carried high among us. Following an ancient Christian tradition, those who desire may come forward and honor the cross with a non-verbal sign of devotion or spend some moments in meditation. In this moving ritual we touch the heart of our Christian faith: that resurrection and new life is born out of suffering and death.
This is the night of nights. The service is the most ancient and dramatic of all Christian liturgies. Though it lasts several hours there is a sense that time stops and we enter eternity. There will be fire and candles; word and silence; processions with banners and incense; water, bread and wine; spring flowers in abundance; choir, trumpet and organ. This liturgy is the pinnacle of the year at Holy Trinity--you will not want to miss it! It is both a celebration and a renewal of your faith!
Like ancient prehistoric peoples we gather after the spring equinox with a nearly full moon, when the hours of light and darkness are more or less balanced. We gather outside around a new fire, a primal symbol that announces the new creation in Christ's death and resurrection. We carry a large candle into the darkened church, even as a pillar of fire led the Israelites to freedom.
Like the ancient Israelites, we mark Passover. Even as they walked through the sea and were delivered from bondage, we proclaim that sin, death and evil are drowned through the resurrection. In baptism we walk through the waters and land on the safe side of the sea. We huddle in the darkness to ponder life in the midst of death. It's one thing to sing with sunshine, flowers and our Easter finery; it's another to be in the tomb of darkness and sing of the light.
We tell some of the great stories of our faith, including the story of the creation of the world. God creates light out of darkness, and from a watery chaos life comes forth ... sounds like baptism! We tell the story of the exodus and we are bold to say that God is the liberator from all forms of oppression, sin and death... another picture of Easter and baptism! We tell the story of the three men in the fiery furnace and we know that even in the midst of life's most terrifying moments and at the moment of our death, we are not alone. In baptism God brings life out of death.
On this night thousands will be baptized all around the world. Baptism is another profound picture of Easter: this water both drowns and saves as new life comes forth. Resurrection is made present among as Christ's new body takes on flesh and blood. On this night we often celebrate baptism and welcome new members. We affirm our baptism and feel droplets of water from the font on our thirsty skin.
Finally we share the great and promised feast. The risen Christ feeds us with the life that will never die. The feast continues as we gather break the Lenten fast with a sparkling beverage reception in Passavant Hall.