At the end of Lent is a week called Holy Week. It begins on Passion Sunday, also called Palm Sunday, and ends with the first Alleluia of Easter in the midst of the Great Vigil on Saturday night. Passion Sunday begins with the triumphal procession commemorating Jesus entering the Holy City on a donkey and the people waving palm branches along his way. But! we experience a stark change in the middle of things. What had been falsely understood as Jesus being crowned king soon becomes a confrontation between Jesus and the rulers of the day. Things turn decidedly dark and we read dramatically of Jesus being sought for arrest by the authorities. The color for this Sunday is the red of martyrs and the color of blood.
The name comes from the Latin for “mandate” in the liturgy for foot washing – a new mandate I give to you, that you might love and serve one another. This worship commemorates Jesus’ washing his friend’s feet as a model of servanthood and the Last Supper with his disciples. After Communion the altar area is stripped of all ornamentation and all symbols of God’s presence. No Eucharist’s may be celebrated from this time until Easter anywhere in the world.
Jesus was killed by those who hated and feared him and with the love and willingness of God to let the consequences play themselves out. We gather, often in the darkness, for one of the most profound liturgies of the year. We share our pain with God, who knows all about pain, and tears, and death, and we begin the observance of the three days of death, when Jesus was in the tomb. The lights go dim and we leave in silence to await with or without hope in God’s deliverance.
We gather in darkness and suddenly, a great flame is struck in the midst of us. This flame is the new fire of Christ in-breaking among us with New Life. The Paschal Candle is lit from the fire and the community processes into the sanctuary, all the lights come on, and we sing Alleluias for the first time since the Epiphany season. The church is beautifully decorated with vestments of white and flowers everywhere as we joyfully celebrate together the first Eucharist of the Resurrection.
The Great 50 Days
We begin with that first Alleluia and end 50 days later on the Day of Pentecost. During this season, the worship is uplifting and joyful. God has turned us full circle: from the ash heap of our lives of Ash Wednesday He has brought us into fullness of life and joy. God does, indeed, have the final word. The Paschal Candle burns in the church near the font throughout this season and at all baptisms, weddings, and funerals.