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What is Holy Week?

Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter when Christians around the world remember the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In the Episcopal tradition, we have special services to remember those events.  Each of these services has a different feel, a unique kind of energy, and they are structured to bring us emotionally and spiritually on the journey to new life that is promised to all of us on Easter Day.  Here’s a brief description of what that journey looks like:

Palm Sunday – In scripture, we read that Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem shortly before his death and was greeted by the people of the city as the Messiah – the king who comes in the name of the Lord (here’s a link to the story as Luke tells it).  The people of Jerusalem wave palm branches in celebration as Jesus rides a colt into the city (fulfilling a prophecy found in Zecheriah 9:9).  In our Palm Sunday worship, we also wave palm branches and sing songs about the greatness of God.  But by the end of the service, the joyful mood turns more serious as we hear the story of Jesus’ betrayal and death.

Maundy Thursday – “Maundy” is kind of a strange word and we don’t use it too often in our modern world.  The origin is from the Latin word “Mandatum” which means “Commandment.”  So on Maundy Thursday, we remember the New Commandment that Christ gave to his friends shortly before his death – “Love one another as I have loved you.”  We act out this commandment in different ways.  At some churches, there is an opportunity for people to wash one another’s feet as Jesus did prior to the Last Supper.  All Episcopal congregations celebrate the Eucharist (or “Lord’s Supper” or “Holy Communion”) to remember this last night that Jesus ate with his friends.  Some congregations (like Trinity Church in Portland) have a Seder meal like the one the disciples had that night.  At the end of the service, the altar is cleared bare of all candles and cloths and other items to prepare for Good Friday.  Folks leave the church quietly at the end of the service as some people like to stay and pray in remembrance of Jesus’ night of agony in the garden when he knows he’s about to die.

Good Friday is the day when we remember the death of Jesus.  Some congregations do this by gathering from noon to 3pm, the hours when Jesus hung on the cross.  Other congregations participate in the Way of the Cross (also known as the “Stations”), a time of prayer and reflection on the events of Jesus’ last day.  There is also a simple Good Friday service often held in the evenings…a very quiet service of mourning, and a powerful experience for anyone who has experienced loss in their life.

Easter Sunday is the day when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  His returning to life is a sign that all of us can have a new life, a life where we dwell in the love and peace of God.  It’s a sign that we don’t have to stay the same, but rather have the opportunity to be transformed into the best, fullest, and most whole versions of ourselves.  At St. Peter’s we begin the celebration at dawn on the Back Cove with a sunrise service we share with our brothers and sisters at Trinity Church.  We remember that it was at dawn when the women came to the tomb of Jesus only to discover that it was empty!  At 9:30 we have a more traditional Easter Celebration with familiar hymns and shouts of praise to God.  Our transformation as individuals and as a community begins all over again!

We invite you to join us for all or part of our Holy Week observance!  If you’d like more information on our service schedule at St. Peter’s or at our sister church Trinity, please click  here.


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