It is the climax of the story of Holy Week and actually takes us from the death to new life. Beginning outside on the Terrace with the lighting of the New Fire – the return of the light of Christ to our midst – the Paschal Candle is lit for the first time from this fire, and by its light the congregation enters the darkened church. The story of God’s relationship with humanity is told, moving from creation to salvation. Through a series of readings we hear about times when God’s people feared that all was lost but were saved by the power of God’s love. These include the story of creation, the flood, Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea, Isaiah’s promise that salvation is offered to all, and the valley of dry bones. With the conclusion of the history of salvation, bells are rung, the lights come up and the celebration of Easter begins with the Easter greeting, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” “The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!” The service then continues with the reading of the resurrection story and Holy Communion. After the service, we celebrate Easter with strawberries and Champagne.
On Good Friday, we commemorate the events immediately leading up to and including the death of Jesus Christ as we read John’s account of those events. We pray the solemn collects for the Church and for the world. At the conclusion of the service the bell is tolled 33 times to commemorate each year of Jesus’ earthly life. We leave the service in silence, waiting for the next chapter of the story to unfold.
Maundy Thursday marks the beginning of the holiest three days in the church year. The liturgy reenacts and remembers the events of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and holding his Last Supper. At the close of the liturgy, the altar is stripped bare. This symbol is a very stark reminder of Jesus’ being stripped before the crucifixion. The congregation may stay and pray, leaving in silence when ready.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of our observance of Holy Week. The Sunday before Easter, also known as the Sunday of the Passion, recalls Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his Passion on the cross. People wave palm branches in their hands during the procession to help recreate the joyful reception Jesus received in Jerusalem. After the remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry, the service changes focus to the solemnity of the Passion. The Passion gospel is read by several people with the congregation taking the part of the crowd. It is customary to observe a brief time of silence when the moment of Jesus’ death is described by the narrator.