The reason is that when the church was new we still told time like our Hebrew forebears, a new day began at sundown, so Easter Sunday actually begins the night before. And that is when the early church celebrated the Feast of Resurrection.
These three services were considered to be one service in three movements. We begin with the first movement of teaching and betrayal. At the last supper with his disciples, Jesus washes their feet and gives them a new commandment or mandate, from which we get “Maundy” from the Latin root that gives us “mandate” and “admonition”.
He breaks bread with them and gives us the Eucharist or Communion, then they go out to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays and is eventually betrayed by Judas’ kiss and arrested. He is stripped and tried. All of this is swept into the liturgy of Thursday night, with foot washing, Eucharist, and the stripping of the altar.
The service ends in silence, a fermata until Good Friday begins simply picking up the quiet liturgy in a stripped sanctuary. The communion elements on this day come from reserve from Maundy Thursday after the reading of the Gospel of John’s Passion and the veneration of the cross. We again let the liturgy fall into quiet after the choir asks us if we were there.
We enter the Sabbath at sundown resting with God the Creator and his Son in the tomb, but our desolation is turning to hope for we know that with the setting of the sun and the beginning of the first day of the week, the light of Christ comes shining quietly into the sanctuary of the world made new, Thanks be to God! and the Church takes up the ancient song of light again, we tell the story of our salvation and renew our baptismal vows, then we take the first new communion of the new life in Christ again.
I always think of the Vigil on Saturday night as “our” service, for disciples who know the deeper mysteries and wait through the long night for the rising of Christ. And then we come again on Sunday morning to shine up the brass and pull out the stops and bring in the guests and shout Alleluia again, He is Risen!
Sunday is all about the universal proclamation of the world’s salvation, so it is no wonder that is when we have so many guests. It is vitally important to throw open our arms for the one “who spread out his arms on the hard wood of the cross that all the world might come into his saving embrace” as one of the collects of Morning Prayer says.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? First, pray. Pray for Christ Church and the Church universal around the world gathering this weekend in worship and celebration. Pray about who might come to church with you this weekend. Pray for the people who will proclaim the gospel in word and song and embody it in movement and decorations and flowers.
Second, come. Come and join the body of Christ at this holiest of times. If you cannot make all the services, make one. But try to come to one each night. Once a year we enter these mysteries together, make this year holy. And bring your family and friends.
Third, give. This celebration takes preparation and sacrifice from many people. Show your gratitude by giving generously of your offerings, but also your thanks. I am privileged to see the work that goes into this week in a unique way, and I cannot say thank you enough to each and every person who does the work.
Let us rejoice together. Easter is upon us. This Tridiuum we are going to be walking as the Beloved Disciple together through John’s Passion. Walk with us as we walk with Christ into new life together.