Thursday, April 8, 2010
Delayed Holy Week/Easter Reflection
There is always that underlying fear I feel as I put together the rather intense Holy Week schedule we observe here that no one will show up for one or more Services during the week, but, thus far, that fear has been unfounded. Even for daily Matins held at 7:00 a.m., I was joined every day by some of the faithful here; in fact, there were at least six of us gathered for Matins daily throughout the week. And, for all of the Divine Services, two held each day, many of the faithful here gathered together - more, really, than I expected, especially given the fact that Spring Break paralleled Holy Week this year.
Of course, the highlights of this Holy Week, as with all Holy Weeks, were the Services held during the Sacred Triduum. Our Holy (Maundy) Thursday evening Divine Service began with Corporate Confession and Absolution, included Dr. Luther's Christian Questions with Their Answers, and concluded with the Stripping of the Altar, all of which was beautifully observed. This is one of our longest Services of the year, yet I have never heard a complaint about its length, since it is also one of the most austere and moving Services of the year. Simply beautiful! And sets the stage well for our transition into Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The Chief Service of Good Friday was held at Noon and included meditation upon our Lord's Seven Words from the Cross, the Sacred Procession of the Rough-Hewn Cross, and the reception of our Lord's Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. Another very moving Service indeed! Then, eight of us gathered together at 3:00 p.m. for a Short Devotion at the Sacred Hour when our Lord breathed His last and gave up His Spirit, which is always a special time together as we kneel in awe at the foot of our Lord's Salvific Cross and plead for His mercy upon us and the whole world. Finally, our Good Friday observance was concluded in the evening as we gathered for Tenebrae. I know there are some of my brothers and colleagues who are not big fans of this Service and prefer to observe Vespers in the evening, but I wouldn't dream of changing this Service, which is also one of the most moving and meaningful Services we observe here annually. We begin the Service with the somber bells, which ring forty times. For the last twenty rings, the congregation turns to face the rough-hewn Cross in the rear of the nave. It is during this Service, and not the Noon Service, that the reproaches and their responses are shared as the Cross is processed in, with the choir singing "Lamb of God, Pure and Holy" (LSB 434) in between (the trio of ladies - Carol, Lois, and Marlene did a fabulous job of singing this hymn beautifully this year - thanks, ladies!). The Service continues with the Sentences and Collects, after which comes the reading of the Passion according to St. John with hymns and the extinguishing of candles in between each part. The homily and Bidding Prayer come next, and then the Service reaches its climactic conclusion with the reading of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the strepitus, and the complete darkness which envelops the church. It is always awe-inspiring and, yes, even emotional. Nope, wouldn't change it for the world!
Then comes our Holy Saturday Divine Service in the morning, in which we hear the account of Daniel and the Lion's Den and meditate upon the rest of our Lord, the Greater Daniel, in the tomb. After this Service, we decorate the church for Easter, which is always a welcomed endeavor following the Divine Drama we've witnessed unfold before us the previous couple of days. Then, this year, we added the Easter Vigil to our Holy Week/Easter schedule, gathering together around the new light of Christ. All in all, our first-ever Easter Vigil went very well, although there are definitely some kinks to be ironed out for next year. We had planned to begin outside around the "new fire," from which we would light our new Paschal Candle, but the weather didn't cooperate, so we began in the fellowship hall, allowing an old Christ Candle to serve as our "new fire." We followed the Paschal Candle into the darkened church, carrying our own individual candles with us, stopping at the entrance to the nave, in the middle of the nave, and at the front of the nave for the Lux Christi to be chanted (Roger, who is our default Cantor, even though he probably doesn't realize that, did a fabulous job of leading us in this and in singing the Exsultet which followed - absolutely beautiful!). Then we settled in for the trek through the lengthy readings from God's Word, which put before us the Divine Plan of salvation, beginning with the Creation account and ending with the account of the Fiery Furnace (we actually only read 6 of the 12 readings assigned, but that's still a TON). This is one of the kinks we'll iron out for next year. I read all the readings myself - not a good idea. Midway through, my throat was letting me know that it did not appreciate this at all; it was all I could do to make it through with my voice intact, and the pain was barely bearable, but more annoying than anything else. Anyway, yeah, I'll be employing some additional lectors for next year. Another kink we'll have to iron out is the carrying of the Paschal Candle by the elder. I don't know if it's the specific candle we purchased or if all wax Paschal Candles are the same, but the wax splashed all over the alb Larry was wearing and the candle holder was pelted with wax as well. Amazingly, the wax kept to the alb and the basin of the candle holder and did not get on the carpet, but, still, improvement in this area is something we'll strive for next year. But, other than that, the Vigil was beautiful, attended by far more than I expected, and I received lots of compliments on it. We didn't have any Baptisms this year, but the Service of Holy Baptism, during which we all recalled our Baptismal vows, was special - and the symbolism of dipping the Paschal Candle into the font during the Rite was stunning. The Litany of the Resurrection, the brief Service of the Word with Gospel Procession and brief homily, and the reception of our Lord's crucified and resurrected Flesh and Blood in the Supper concluded the Vigil. The Vigil actually proceeds rather quickly after the lengthy Readings are completed. Our first Vigil ended up coming in at about an hour and forty-five minutes, which is noticeably longer than our normal Divine Services, and even about 15-20 minutes longer than our Holy Thursday evening Divine Service, but what a blessing to all who attended!
After the Vigil, we held a Champagne Reception, which went far better than I ever dreamed it would. Special thanks to Carol for making all the arrangements for this. The hors d'oeurves and desserts were delicious. Everything was absolutely perfect!
The next morning it was up and at 'em early for our Sunrise Service, Easter breakfast (best one EVER!) and the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord. I was exhausted by the time Easter morning rolled around, and left without much of a voice, but by God's grace got through the morning okay. What joy it was to break out our Alleluias again (actually, we broke them out already during Vigil, but Easter morning Divine Service, packed as it was, really saw them unpacked with great vigor again after the Lenten fast). Both choirs (adult and children's) sounded amazing, as did Roger's solo of "Christians, to the Paschal Victim," during the Festival and it may have been our best celebration to date.
It truly was a blessed Holy Week this year; perhaps, for me, the most meaningful yet. Although, I have to admit that I was more wiped after this year than I ever have been in the past. Three Services a day with visits to our eleven shut-ins interspersed throughout the week took its toll on me - maybe I'm just getting old! In any event, I am thankful for the rest afforded me the last few days (we transferred our Easter Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday Services to our regularly scheduled Wednesday evening slots for the next three weeks, rather than observe them at Noon on the actual days as originally planned, which has given me not only some time to rest and visit with family, but also time for my voice to recover a bit).
Next year, we'll make some adjustments not only to the Vigil, as mentioned above, but also to our schedule. We'll start the Vigil a little earlier next year and we'll drop the Sunrise Service (it was pretty sparsely attended this year and seems a little redundant with the Vigil in place). I'm already looking forward to it! But, now, to enjoy the Great 50 Days of Easter, where fasting gives way to feasting! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Special thanks to everyone who served so wonderfully throughout the week, especially to Mary, our secretary and organist, who made sure to have all the bulletins prepared (and to the ladies who volunteered their help with that), who played absolutely beautifully during our Triduum and Easter Services, and who did a wonderful job preparing and leading our choir; to Carol, who did an excellent job, as always, caring for our altar and preparing for each Service, who oversaw the Stripping of the Altar with great care (and to the ladies who assisted in that endeavor - I strip the altar, hand the items to the elder, who hands them to the ladies), who sang beautifully, and who did a superb job, as mentioned above, with our Champagne Reception after Vigil; to my elders for assisting me so faithfully throughout the week; to all who sang in the choirs; to all who helped decorate; to all who prepared food for our awesome Easter Breakfast; to all who served in any way. "I thank my God always for you!" A Holy and Blessed Week it was! All praise, glory, and honor be to God our Father, to His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, now and always! Amen.