Monday, March 23, 2015

Preparing for a Holy Week

   Just a few weeks ago, the Church gathered for Ash Wednesday and started this journey called Lent towards Jerusalem, the Cross, and Easter’s empty tomb. Now, in this the last week of Lent, we remember Christ’s Passion. It is a week of special devotion. The word ‘Passion’ comes from the Latin word patior, meaning “I suffer”. It was Athanasius, an early church theologian and later a bishop, who referred to it as ‘holy Paschal week.’ Greek and Roman worship books called it the “Great Week” because great deeds were done by God during this week.
   In the early church, only Friday and Saturday were observed as holy days. By the late 4th century the various parts of the Passion story given to us in the Gospels had been separated out, and people began commemorating them on the days of the week on which they had occurred. You’ll recognize these:

Palm Sunday: Jesus’ triumphal entrance into the city
Maundy Thursday: Judas’ betrayal and the first Holy Communion
Good Friday: The crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus
Holy Saturday: Jesus’ body rests in the tomb
Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ

   It was actually the ancient Christians in the church in Jerusalem that first organized dramatic ceremonies during Holy Week at appropriate local holy sites that had been restored by the Emperor Constantine. Visitors to the city were so moved that these ceremonies have spread from Jerusalem to churches worldwide. We celebrate many of them this coming week, as we remember and are transformed by story of God’s love and overwhelming grace.
   Epworth gathers this Palm Sunday, and then again on Good Friday, to hear the story of the Passion of the Christ. Long before Mel Gibson created the splendid, gruesome, and highly-profitable movie of the same name, the church recorded the story and set out to retell it every year that we might not forget. From the sight and sound of children waving palm branches into the room, through the placement of Jesus' body in a tomb, we will hear the account of the final hours before the stone is place and the story seems finished.
      May the grace and peace of waiting and anticipating be ours. Scott

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