Often times you may hear me refer to our worship service as “liturgy.” Many people believe that liturgy is simply the way we organize our worship service and since we have communion every Sunday, we call it the liturgy. That is not what it means. If you look in the dictionary you will be given a simple definition. It says liturgy is “a form or formulary according to which public worship is conducted.” That definition is incomplete. Liturgy actually means “the work of the people.” To be more precise, in ancient Greek the word “leitourgia” was a work done on behalf of the people. In the early Church liturgy was used to describe the actual act of worship by all who are present. This means that the work we do in worship from praying to singing, preaching to receiving communion, is liturgy. We do not have a static form of worship where people sit and receive from those on the platform. Full involvement is required for the liturgy to be at its finest.
Perhaps this is best seen in our worship during Holy Week. As we live into the drama of the week, we are asked to involve ourselves completely. Beyond taking and receiving of communion, we will sit in the Garden on Wednesday night during Tenebrae as we hear Jesus ask his disciples to stay awake for one hour. But as the lights are distinguished, one by one, we realize that not only could they not stay awake but the lights get dimmer and dimmer as the climax of the crucifixion draws near. At the end of the service, the Christ candle is removed and the people sit in great darkness. A loud noise is heard, helping us come face to face with the death of Jesus Christ. Yet, the candle reappears signifying to us that death could not extinguish God’s love. This liturgy begins the story for us and enables us to focus our hearts and minds on the days that follow.
On Maundy Thursday, we meet in GrandCentral for our liturgy. On this night, we will step into the story once again. There are several movements of the liturgy. We gather in dinner much like Jesus and His disciples did on that Thursday long ago. It is an agape meal, a fellowship meal of love shared by all of us. Then we hear the story of the institution of Communion, and we will share it together around our tables where we have eaten our meal. This meal is unlike any meal the disciples had taken together as Jesus tells them that the bread is His body broken for them and the wine is His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. The next movement of the liturgy is the great object lesson of serving and leading that Jesus gave his disciples. We, too, will be invited to have our feet washed and wash others as we, once again, live into the story. Finally, the stripping of the altar completes our liturgy as we experience the humiliation that Jesus faced when he was stripped of his garments. We will be asked to leave in silence so that our reflections on the mystery of the liturgy touch our hearts and souls.
The night continues with an overnight prayer watch. You have an opportunity to sign-up to spend an hour during the night or the next day praying. We offer this in order to help us focus on our sins and wickedness and the need we have for a Savior. We will have a prayer guide for you to assist you in your prayers.
On Good Friday, there will be three opportunities to gather and reenter the drama. At noon, a brief prayer service from the Book of Common Prayer will be offered. At 2 PM we will gather in the sanctuary for a traditional Stations of the Cross. This short service is taken from both scripture and tradition. There are twelve stations that enable you to walk with Jesus to the cross. Finally, our largest liturgy of the day will take place at 7 PM in the Sanctuary. During this liturgy, we will reflect on the cross and have an opportunity to pray at the foot of the cross and receive communion from the reserved sacrament (bread that is left over from the night before). This is the only day that the Church prohibits the sanctifying of bread and wine in order that the horror of the crucifixion can stand before us. We will only offer bread and not wine. The offering of bread will be to the side in order for the Cross to be front and center.
On Saturday night, the Easter Vigil will begin at 8 PM. This is the only liturgy offered at night during Holy Week to not begin at 7 PM. We do this so that the sun will have set. In the Hebrew understanding of time, the new day starts at sunset (as opposed to midnight for us) and so we gather to hear the story of God’s redeeming love on Easter! The liturgy begins with a “new fire” representing to us the new creation in Jesus Christ. The Paschal Candle (Christ candle) is lit, and we are reminded of the new life we have in Christ. An ancient prayer called the exultet is sung followed by three lessons reminding us of God’s redeeming power. On this night, we will have baptisms which help us remember that we are reborn by water and the Spirit. All of this is done in near darkness as we wait in vigil for the resurrection. When the baptisms are finished, the lights suddenly shine forth and the Alleluias return in great joy. Following this, the Eucharist is celebrated, and we boldly proclaim that Jesus has overcome death and evil, and the Kingdom has broken into our world.
Going through these liturgies enhances Easter in ways I cannot explain. Every year that I have allowed myself the opportunity to let go and live into the drama, I leave Easter Sunday more joyful than I could have ever expected. I invite you to be present this week as we do the work of the people and allow God to transform our hearts. See you in Church!