I felt like a Pharisee. It was the opening of the Palm Sunday service, and the kids were to process in with the Palms, coming down the center aisle and laying them on the communion table. The idea was that the Palms would be there until the end of the service, when, after having been blessed, we’d pass them out as everyone processed to encircle the Sanctuary.
But there were some crossed wires, and the kids got the message they were to pass them out as they came in for the beginning of the service. There I was up at the front of the church trying to get their attention and redirect their effort. I felt like the Pharisees in the Palm Sunday Gospel insisting that Jesus to order the crowds to stop their praising!
With that auspicious beginning of Holy Week, next I came upon an inquiry about when Lent ended. Popular opinion is very unclear about this, it turns out. The reason for the question: a penitent who had given up alcohol for Lent wanted to know when it was again legal to imbibe. In his informal poll, the answers ranged widely:
“After spin class” (14%)
“During the Egg Hunt” (18%)
“No One Knows” (47%).
The correct answer is Maundy Thursday, as 1) Sundays are always feast days and therefore the Sundays in Lent do not count as days of penitence — so the 4 days in Holy Week are needed to make up the 40 days, and 2) Maundy Thursday begins an even more stringent fast called “the Great Three Days,” or in Latin the Triduum.
So, to my friend abstaining from drinking: The answer really could be not until after worship on Easter, if you are in for the long haul — 40 days plus 3 and Easter. But as a liberal, he could have the wine at a Last Supper service without feeling he had failed his Lenten discipline.
The Three Great Days is sort of new to me. Are you familiar with it? Of course, I’ve always known ‘the Trinity of days’ that culminates with Easter — Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The high holy days of the Christian faith.
Not surprisingly then, there are a host of “great traditions” associated with these days. Could they offer us some personal observance for this penultimate stretch before we reach Easter.
“A great fast” that continues from the end of the service on Maundy Thursday until Holy Communion is received again at the Great Vigil (Saturday night)… or in our case until communion on Easter morning.
“A great silence” also from the end of Maundy Thursday until the Easter worship, broken only by participation in these services and the essential communications of daily life. This is part of the reason the three services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday all end with a simple dismissal and silence rather than a blessing. Another part of the reason is these services are really understood as continuations of the one service begun with Maundy Thursday and concluded with the beginning of the first Easter service.
“The great prayer” where congregations may leave a chapel or a prayer room open from the end of the Maundy Thursday service until the beginning Easter Sunday morning (since we do not observe the Great Vigil) to enable continuous silent intercession, with different persons taking up the prayer in shifts.
Fasting, silence, prayer: these are the hallmark practices of Christian devotion and worship as we contemplate the mystery of human violence and divine love revealed in the suffering and death of Jesus and remembered in the services of these days.
Can you imagine adapting any of these practices for your preparation throughout our faith’s holiest days?
I am thinking of how I could create a diet discipline during these three days. No meat? Or only one meal a day? I’m not sure I’m ready for fasting completely that long. But I have found that, like Kosher food rules, what one eats can make one more aware of God.
Michael silent for 3 days? I have always wanted to do a silent retreat, but worry that it might just be too much for me! How I might adopt some silence or at least speak less for these holy days? After all, in the passion narratives, it’s notable how little Jesus has to say, even when addressed by the authorities. “Never said a mumblin’ word” as the spiritual puts it.
Silence is a bit tricky as they are busy work days for me. But perhaps there is some discipline I might take on. Letting others initiate conversations? Try always responding in the fewest possible words? Curtailing nonsense and silliness? Work at listening better…
When I read about keeping the church open and having round the clock prayer, I thought about making up an online sign-up sheet to see how many hours we could as a community cover in prayer (from wherever we find ourselves). But I decided that takes more lead up time and set up. Maybe next year…
So this year, I’m trying to stop on the hour of my waking hours and take a moment for prayer. That could be approximately 36 to 40 times I deliberately pause to pray in the next 3 days. While I’m pretty quick to pray when I need God’s help. And I pray daily for those people and places I am asking for God’s help… 15 times a day would be an increase! …the least I can do as we walk with Jesus through these last days before Resurrection.
Of course, I have a built in discipline: I make all our services! I recommend that to you too. It does make Holy Week much richer and fuller of meaning…
See you in church,