You may wonder why someone working towards interfaith literacy keeps writing so much about one religion; Christianity. Fair question. One answer is because I already know a lot about Christianity, growing up within the faith tradition so it seemed natural to start with the familiar and then branch out as I go.
The other major reason I am writing so much about Christianity is because I feel that a key to interfaith literacy is going right to the source for information. Books and Wikipedia can only take you so far. The deeply personal convictions that make up faith traditions necessitate a personal approach. I want to learn things first hand; talk to believers, go to services and sacred places. Here in the U.K. these experiences have been predominantly Christian, and mainly Church of England (Anglican). So that is what I am writing about.
With that said, this week is a very important time for the Christian world. Holy Week, as it is known, commemorates the last days of Jesus of Nazareth and leads up to His triumphant victory over death on Easter Sunday or Paschal Sunday.
I had the great privileged to interview Father Stephen Need, Pastor of the All Saint’s Church in Stock, Essex about Holy Week. Here is some of what I learned from our conversation.
Holy Week focuses on the Passion of Jesus Christ. It is the final week of the Lenten season and really represents a deepening of the movement from the relative joy of Palm Sunday into the crucifixion and then onto the victorious resurrection of the Savior. Father Stephen explained the purpose of the liturgy of lent and the Holy Week as “drawing you in” with the symbolism winding its way to an ultimate climax on the cross and with the empty tomb.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, which commemorates the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Many churches will be begin their Palm Sunday services with a procession or some sort of dramatic reenactment, sometimes with a real donkey. Father Stephen said they had a donkey at their services this year with the key thing being the symbolism and the humility shown by the Lord’s entry on a donkey. He went on to say that there can often be a pageantry feel, but that is ok as long as you keep to the spirit of the day.
Palm fronds are placed around the church and are often given to the children to hold during the procession. There are also palm crosses that are given out to those who participate and are symbolize the gospel story. These palm crosses are then burned and the ashes used the following year during Ash Wednesday. Religious Recycling. 😉
There are also gospel readings, taken from the book of Book of St. Matthew in the New Testament, which are often read dramatically or sung. This is where the Bach Passion Chorale comes from. The service concludes with the Eucharist.
Following Palm Sunday, there is Maundy Thursday, which is derived from the Latin phrase for ‘new commandment’ and therefore focuses on the mandatum novum to love one another given by Christ to His apostles at the last supper. Follow this link to read a guest post from a friend of mine about what Maundy Thursday has meant to her.
Good Friday marks the day of the Savior’s crucifixion. This is a very solemn and somber day. Usually there is no Eucharist at Good Friday services. Some churches will put on the Stations of the Cross which can be dramatic or artistic scenes of the days leading up the the Lord’s death. (My daughter Abigail participated in her Church of England Stations of the Cross Program). The music was very moving and inspirational.
Easter, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated both at an Easter vigil often held on Saturday night and at Easter morning services. Here the paschal candle is lit and often other candles are lit and passed throughout the congregation representing the return of the light of the world, the resurrected Christ. This day songs are joyous and Alleluia is once again sung, a phrase often omitted during the Lenten season.
I am very grateful to Father Stephen for taking the time to teach me more about the Holy Week. I am experiencing a little holy envy for the rich liturgy of these Easter services and look forward to gathering faith from this very symbolic season.
set forth what has come to be known as The Three Rules for Religious Understanding. holy envy
Mormon Meeting in Preston
Days of Holy Week
Thoughts from Father Stephen