Services & Classes
Holy Week at Epworth Chapel on the Green begins with Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, in which, because we worship within the Christian calendar, we experience with Jesus the wrenching contrast between the adulation of the crowds as he entered Jerusalem and their sudden turning on him in vocal and violent opposition.
The Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday service helps us to understand that we are the sometimes worshipful, sometimes disobedient crowd — as if to bring home to us the fact that Judas' betrayal of Jesus later in the week was not just his solitary act.
The Great Triduum
Then on Thursday evening we begin the "Great Triduum": "The Three Great Days". Taken from the practice of the early Christians, the three days from Thursday night to Sunday morning are viewed as an act of one continuous worship.
As Robert E. Webber explains in The Services of the Christian Year (Vol. 5, The Complete Library of Christian Worship), because the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus are not three separate events, but one event, integral and indivisible, the services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday/Easter Day are not three separate services but one service, integral and indivisible, celebrated over three days. The word triduum ("three days") was first used by Augustine to express the essential unity of this single, three — day service. According to ancient understanding, the day begins at sundown rather than at midnight. Thus the evening of Holy Thursday is considered the beginning of Good Friday, the first day of the triduum (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter day).
Because they are viewed as being part of one continuous service, the services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are not optional extras for the very devout, but essential elements of the entire service, without which the celebration of Easter is incomplete; the full experience requires participation in each of the component parts.
Holy Thursday: The Triduum Begins
The purpose of Holy Thursday is not to re-enact or imitate the Last Supper as an event of the historic past, but to give thanks for the institution of the Lord's Supper as an encounter with the risen Jesus in the living present; time is erased, and we experience the Supper with him, as he comes to us in the here and now.
After the Holy Thursday Communion, we observe "the stripping of the church": working in complete silence, the servers remove one by one each and every item of decoration — vessels, paraments, candles, candlesticks, vases, flags, banners — and everything used in worship other than furniture. Originally a purely utilitarian act necessary for cleaning the church prior to Easter, the stripping of the church has come to symbolize the stripping of Jesus before the Crucifixion. By the time of its conclusion the church's chancel is transformed from being a place of holy worship in the midst of beauty, to what now appears quite like a tomb — with the altar itself now appearing to be a burial sarcophagus. In that transformation a great truth is made visible: that the joy we typically experience in our worship came at the cost of the death of the One we worship.
Upon completion of the stripping, there is no final blessing, and the people depart in silence: the service is not yet over. There is more to come.
Good Friday: The Triduum Continues
On Good Friday evening, worshipers return to a bare and undecorated church for the continuation of the triduum. This historic commemoration of the Passion of Christ consists of these component parts:
The Service of the Word (the Old Testament foretelling of the Crucifixion of the Holy One, a lamentation Psalm, and a New Testament account of the Crucifixion, from an Epistle and one of the Gospels, are read aloud);
The Solemn Collects or Intercessions (We, with other Christians around the world, commemorate the passion and death of the Lord as an act of intercession on behalf of the world by offering our own intercessions in union with those of the high priest, Jesus, who "always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25, RSV).); and
The Tolling: the organ announces, in one repeating solemn tone, each of the years of the earthly life of our Lord.
Holy Communion is not received; Good Friday is traditionally the only day of the year on which Holy Communion may not be celebrated.
Again, there is no final blessing, and the people depart in silence: the service is not yet over. There is more to come.
The Easter Vigil: The Triduum Continues
The triduum concludes with the Easter Vigil, also known as the Paschal Vigil or the First Service of Easter. The Easter Vigil begins on the evening of Holy Saturday (Easter Eve), or in some churches, before dawn on the morning of Easter day. The congregation gathers outdoors, if possible, where a new fire is kindled from which the Paschal candle is lighted. The Paschal candle then leads the congregation in procession into the church as it remains darkened from the conclusion of Holy Thursday. Then the promise of the Resurrection is proclaimed in the glorious and ancient hymn known as the Exsultet.
During the Service of the Word which follows, the congregation keeps vigil in semi-darkness as it listens to Old Testament readings or prophecies which anticipate the meaning of Christian baptism. After the final prophecy is read with its Psalm and prayer, a Gospel account of the Resurrection is read. At the proclamation of the Resurrection, all the lights in the church are turned on, and the organ sounds in its full glory for the first time since Holy Thursday, as "the Epworth peal". A hymn of resurrection is sung, and the church's restored furnishings are revealed, together with flowers of the season. In this visually dramatic moment of transition, after keeping vigil in semi-darkness in a church devoid of its usual ornamentation, the essential unity of the entire triduum "comes together" as at no other time.
Baptisms may then occur, and in any event the worshipers renew their baptismal vows in unison. The service then turns to "The Great Thanksgiving", including Holy Communion served and received as at the hand of our Risen Lord, in union with him and those who worship him continually around the heavenly throne.
In accordance with long-standing tradition of the Church, those who wish to do so stand for Communion, rather than kneel, during the fifty-day Easter season which begins with the Easter Vigil. The reason is that standing for Communion in the Easter season has been thought to call special attention to the victory of Christ and to the fact that the Easter season is the least penitential season of the Christian year.