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Holy Week and Easter at Christ Church of the Ascension

During Holy Week our services take on the particular shape of the last week of Jesus’s life, moving from simple services of faithful observation to the last meal of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday’s crucifixion, Holy Saturday’s quiet waiting, and then on Saturday night, the new flame is lit and comes into the darkened church alone as the resurrection comes shining into the history of the world with stories, songs, and baptisms. Easter Sunday is big formal joy in the packed pews of celebration and joy.

The last three days of the service are considered one long service in four movements. Maundy Thursday remembers the last supper with a simple service that includes foot washing and communion, then the dramatic stripping of the altar of all decoration as after dinner Christ went and prayed with his disciples and then was arrested and tried. The service ends in quiet as we slip away like his first followers into the night. 

We return to the foot of the cross for Good Friday, coming back in silence to a simple service centered on prayers for the church and world and the veneration of the cross as we remember Christ laying down his life for our sins and the sins of the world. It ends in a somber hopeful waiting as we again slip away to contemplate this great love of God for us.

Holy Saturday at sundown we gather for the third movement in the columbarium for the lighting of the new fire which we bring into the church with joyful singing, with story telling and readings, and finally with the first baptisms and communion together at the altar. It is a long service, true, but so joyful and wonderful and so much like a family together that it becomes the very heart of the worship of the church, as it has been for centuries in the Orthodox churches. 

Sunday Mornings are all little Easters, so on the big one, it is similar, but it is also not little. We bring in brass and open up the stops on the organ and the choir. Every Easter takes on this bright joy that seems to lift with all creation as spring flowers and sun brighten our lives again. 

I know that church can be somber and quiet at times, but that is only a small slice of the experience of worship. Our services are filled with light and joy and laughter and also remorse and reflection and hope and more. During Holy Week and Easter we experience such a range as we enter into the last week of Jesus’s life and death and resurrection and celebrate what God has done for us in Christ. 

We enter these mysteries together with the fullness of our humanity and find the hope of humanity together in God’s Spirit at work in the whole history of the world.