Holy Week is the most important week of the year for those of us who follow the way of Jesus the Christ. It is a week of incredible highs and lows as we end the lenten journey to the cross. As the sun sets and we experience the darkness of Jesus’ death, we are called to gather with other Christ followers to keep vigil and await the breaking of a new day.
But many will not fully experience Holy Week by going from picking up palms to Easter eggs. I feel sorry that for those who skip the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Vigil of Easter, often missing the point of the week we call Holy. The experience of Holy week is likened to attending a parent or grandparent’s big birthday bash and celebrating, but not seeing that same loved one at the end in their suffering and death. Some may even skip the wake (others the funeral itself) and instead go right to the lunch or reception because they want to remember their loved one “the way s/he was” and avoid the messiness of the realities of life.
I encourage you to be reminded of the realities of life, and death, and resurrection through Holy Week and the three-day experience of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Great Vigil of Easter. Skipping these for me it is like listening to Christmas music in November, eating Marshmallow peeps in Lent, or eating a Fenway Frank purchased in the grocery store and cooked at home. The true joy and life-giving meaning consumed out of context for me is as hollow as those chocolate bunnies whose ears I’m tempted to bite off today.
Holy Week culminates in the Great Vigil of Easter as we gather to hear God’s ancient story, to pray, to sing, and to remind one another of God’s promises of being with us and loving us, no matter what. We struggle with believing those promises some days, and that is why the vigil service is so rich—rich in liturgical ways to travel the way from darkness to light, from uncertainty to joy, from death to life. The vigil connects God’s story to ours through emotional and intense stories from Hebrew Scripture.
The vigil is shaped by stories, but words are not the only focus as there are rich multi-sensory experiences and images accompany the journey from death to life. Vivid elements of fire, water, earth, and air are featured…
- the creation story is recalled as God’s breath called and breathed life at the beginning and at the night of vigil as new life is raised up,
- the people of Israel escaping Egypt and we too at the vigil night follow a pillar of fire as we move from the fire outside, to worship inside,
- the people of Israel encountered the flood and the exodus through the red sea, and we too “come to the waters” as we are reminded of and splash in the promises of baptism.
Through the vigil experience, we hear anew that God’s story and those of the people of the promise is our story too. God’s life-giving Word will wash over us with God’s promises and salvation. I encourage you to attend Holy Week Services near you and if you happen to be in New Hampshire, join us at All Saints’ Wolfeboro Saturday, April 4th at 7:00 pm.