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Established 1999
A Wesleyan-Anglican Church in Boise, Idaho

Holy Week at Epworth

April 8, 2019

The Great Triduum Approaches

If you can possibly avoid doing so, don’t miss any Holy Week service. In fact, all three of the Holy Week services beginning with Maundy Thursday are actually one continuing service—“the Great Triduum”—with breaks between them for rest, prayer, and necessary activities. To miss worship on any of the three evenings is to miss part of the opportunity for the past, present and future of God’s saving deeds to become really present, through his grace, in your life today.

Indeed, no other service in the year, and no other attendance at worship during the year, can fully compensate for missing any part of the week on which all of the remainder of the year is based.

As you have attended services at Epworth, have you ever wondered why such a big deal is made, and so much emphasis is given, to the intentionality, theme, cohesiveness, scope and integrity of each Sunday’s worship service? The answer to that question is this: Holy Week. All of the meaning and drama of the liturgy throughout the year find their primary source in Holy Week. The events of Holy Week are why we’re here, why Epworth exists, and why we do what we do throughout the year. If you live fully in Holy Week and worship fully in Holy Week, the liturgy can more readily come alive for you thereafter.

Except for limited and recent aberrations, Holy Week has, for 2,000 years, been nearly universally understood among Christians as being the time of most sacred and solemn obligation for full participation by every Christian in all of the Holy Week services. That is not to say it’s easy; it never has been, and it never will be. If we think about it, however, we know that although grace is free, it is not cheap. It came at the highest possible cost. That freely given but so-costly grace demands our complete response, in the worship of our Lord, as our highest priority of the year.

Holy Week Services at Epworth

        Maundy Thursday, April 18, 7:00 p.m.

        Good Friday, April 19, 7:00 p.m.

        Easter Vigil,  Saturday, April 20, 8:00 p.m.

        Easter Sunday, April 21, 10 a.m., Word & Table

These look like separate services, but as a matter of fact, a special practice of early Christian worship was to treat the three days from Thursday night to Sunday morning as one continuous act of  worship. That practice of “The Great Three Days” has been revived in the worship renewal of the twentieth century.

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).

As part of the triduum, 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. To experience fully the meaning of the triduum, it is necessary to participate fully in each of its component parts.

Further Observations:

In the first few centuries of the Church, becoming a Christian and being incorporated into the Church took on a vastly different shape than it does in much of the world today.  Then, persons had to undergo a lengthy period of training and instruction (catechesis), which could last as long as two years.  During this period, such persons in training (known as catechumens), were allowed to be present for the first part of the Liturgy, the Service of the Word.  But before the Service of the Eucharist began, the catechumens were dismissed, where they continued their training.  The catechumenate (i.e., the formal period of training and instruction) reached its climax during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, when the catechumens would be baptized, and thereby be allowed to receive the Eucharist.  Because the sacraments – particularly the Eucharist – were seen as divinely revealed “mysteries,” great care was taken that all who were baptized into the Church were unified in their understanding and experience of sacramental grace. 

When we gather at Epworth for the Great Triduum, we do so on Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist.  The Maundy Thursday portion of the Triduum concludes with the stripping of the Altar, symbolizing not merely Jesus’ stripping before his crucifixion, but also the preparation of the tomb for his burial.  When we depart on Thursday evening, the church resembles, as much as possible, the empty tomb.

When we re-enter the sanctuary on Friday, we enter into the tomb (symbolically).  We experience the agony, the emptiness, the barrenness of death.  And it is not just any death, but the death of the Son of God.  We take ownership for our complicity in his death.  And we rejoice in the lavish love and mercy of God on our behalf, demonstrated at Calvary.  We intercede for the world.  Good Friday is the only principal service of the year where the Eucharist is not celebrated.

On Saturday we return, gathering outside the tomb, where a new fire is kindled.  We process into the darkened tomb (the Church), where the entire drama of salvation history is recited through the scripture lessons in the Service of the Word.  Then, at the Gospel reading, the acclimation is given, and Jesus is risen!  Light floods the sanctuary, and the bells peal with great joy.  We celebrate together, and in the Eucharist the Risen Christ is known to us in the breaking of the bread.  Our (Lenten) journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem has reached its climax. As we have been baptized into his death, so also we share in his resurrection.  Behold, all things are made new. 

The Triduum, then, helps to bring focus to the rest of the year, especially in terms of how we mark time and live in time.  As we so often say at Epworth, being is Christian is not merely knowing about Jesus.  Being a Christian involves living, dying, and rising again with Jesus Christ.  Through the weekly cycle of the liturgy, and especially Holy Week, this reality manifests itself to us in a profound way.

 

 

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Theme Verse

Luke 1:78-79

Scripture Lessons

Aug 25: Isaiah 28:14-22, Psalm 46, Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-29, Luke 13:22-30

Aug 18: Jeremiah 23:23-29, Psalm 82, Hebrews 12:1-14, Luke 12:49-56

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