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I have been wanting to write about this for some time. The first real inkling was two years ago while attending Palm Sunday at All Saints’ Episcopal here in Atlanta. Most recently, I was reminded of this this past Sunday at St. Patrick’s where I’m happily attending again. If you’ll excuse this indulgence, I need to step up on my soapbox for a moment.
I honestly can’t stand the way that the liturgy for Palm Sunday is combined with Good Friday. This is the accepted method for this particular Sunday Feast Day in the Episcopal Church and it screams of laxity catering towards people who are “too busy” for real church. For my part, as a monastic, I am fed spiritually by the liturgy of our church – its liturgical seasons, its appointed feast days that allow us to relieve the story and drama of the Christ and God on earth every year. The structure of the liturgical year allows us to immerse ourselves in all the aspects of Jesus’ life so as to allow us a chance to see ourselves, see what his life means in ours, and direct us along a path that is geared toward sequential lessons that lead to growth. For instance, introspection comes before celebration. This is why we have Advent before Christmas and Lent before Easter. We need a time to clean house internally before we can really appreciate and celebrate the presence of God in our lives. While this lesson applies to every day of our lives, the liturgical seasons allow us a prolonged and intentional space in which we can really devote ourselves to that process.
By following the liturgical calendar, we get all parts of the Gospel stories. The Feast of the Nativity is lacking if it does not have the period of hopeful anticipation before it. The Easter miracle becomes stale unless we reevaluate ourselves every year in Lent so that we remind ourselves why the Easter miracle is so immediately important to us. After all, a miracle is something out of the ordinary. If we focus only on the miracle and forget the ordinary part then it’s no longer a miracle to us.
The liturgical calendar allows a way to live and imagine the Gospel stories every year. When we go from Christmas to Epiphany, we are playing our the drama of Jesus’ birth. The liturgical year tells us the story anew every year. And we as adults are never too old to hear a good story, especially if that story changes our lives.
This brings me to Palm Sunday. That which we call Holy Week, the week immediately leading to Easter Sunday, is the most condensed form of liturgical pageantry that we have in the year. From Palm Sunday to Easter, we have a feast day every day to center on. When we hit Maunday Thursday we are completely immersed in the story as it progresses day by day. For those that observe this period in its entirety, you are places intimately close to the Apostles as you live our the Passion with them. When observed in full, it is a remarkable and transformative experience. But it can only reach its full potential if one is allowed to complete immerse themselves in it. As we are playing out the story, we have to be completely in that moment. When Jesus is washing the disciples’ feet, we do the exact same in our service. For those that keep a real vigil and stay up all night just as Jesus required of the Apostles, then you know for yourself how hard it is and why those Apostles fell asleep. When you walk the stations of the cross the following day, meditating and imagining each step along with Jesus as he is led to his death, you have the opportunity to be transformed on such a deep level. Then Saturday is spent in silence. We sit with the disciples who have been left in shock and fear. Then Saturday night the great Easer Vigil begins. We stand watch at night like the women who came in the early hours to anoint the body. We spend time with the appointed readings that lay out a plan of hope, a promise of God for our salvation. We share silence between each reading to mediate on tomb, the cross, and their meaning to us in our lives this very moment. Then dawn approaches. The darkest hour of night. We keep standing watch, staying with God and focusing on the Easter Light that was lit the night before. A single light that must endure the night in order to bring us to a new dawn, a new beginning. And then the sunrises. We carry the light of Christ into the Church. We welcome a new day, both physically and spiritually.
This is how the Church first crafted the liturgy, to make the Passion a real experience for future Christians for centuries and millenia to come.
Then we get our current form of the liturgical calendar. Granted, our lives today are busier, more spread out, more demanding. We don’t all have time to break away and go to church…or do we? With the church needing to accommodate Sunday only parishioners, the only way to cram in the whole story is to combine the services. This leaves us with Palm Sunday/Good Friday, then Easter Vigil/Easter Service. I understand the need for it, sure. If you know people are only going to show up on Sundays, then you need to be sure they get the whole story. But this ruins the purpose of the liturgical progression! Here we are on Palm Sunday, after a whole season of Lent, and it’s time to celebrate the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. This period of celebration, however, is condensed down to 10 minutes…15 at most if you choose a long hymn. Then it’s right into the Passion, cross, crucifixion and all. For those that show up the next Sunday, the story picks right back up with the Easter “Vigil” and the celebration of the resurrection.
But for those of us that are actually observing all of Holy Week, we have to become practically schizophrenic. We jump from celebration to crucifixion, then Jesus is alive again and washing our feet, then he gets crucified again, then we watch over the tomb with readings of God’s promise, then we get to hear them again, and then he’s finally raised from the dead. Is it really too much to ask to have a church that honors the full liturgy and impresses upon its parishioners the importance of observing the services of the whole week rather than making allowances for the lax? The goal of churches and ministers should be to push their members to growth, not accommodate because church is now inconvenient.
Well, that’s my soapbox. To you all, a most Holy Week! God’s Peace.
The past few months have been tremendously busy and have alowed our Order two new blessings. In January Br. Charlie and I made the trip up to Sewanee to accept vows from Br. Chad Krouse who is in his last year of seminary there. Then in March, Brs. Charlie, Stephen and I ventured up to Virginia to accept vows from Br. Father Robert-James. Both vocation ceremonies were recorded, and we have Br. Robert-James’ up already. We should have Br. Chad’s up soon once I figure out blip.tv. It was a wonderful pleasure to be able to preach at both services. For Br. Robert-James’ service, click HERE. The sermons starts around the 20 minute mark and the vocation ceremony is around the 38 minute mark. If you have difficulty hearing the vows, you can find them on our website at www.ordersaintanthony.org.
Congratulations and blessings upon our newest vocations in the Body of Christ!