This holiday week, WVFC is pleased to feature several essays on the season. We thank Rev. Elizabeth Zarelli Turner for the post below; tomorrow we’ll feature an introduction to the Passover seder by Rabbi Leah Berkowitz.
One of the things that make this stage of life interesting is the ability to choose extremes. We have the freedom and wisdom to be involved in reinvention and redefinition and the memories and responsibilities to be keepers of traditions.
This week we offer some observations on the rituals that come with Passover and Easter with good wishes for these seasons of hope and renewal to all who observe them.
Dr. Patricia Allen
The church year has nine seasons, each marked by a color: There is purple for Advent and Lent; white for Christmas, the Feast of Epiphany, and Easter; green for the Epiphany Season and Ordinary Time: red for Holy Week and Pentecost. And on one day during the year the color is black, and that day is Good Friday.
Palm Sunday (April 1 this year) marked the transition from the purple of Lent to the red of Holy Week. And so begins the weeklong journey to the black of Good Friday.
Holy Week is a time for remembering. As is the case with our Jewish forebears, this remembering is a re-experiencing and a re-living. Our Jewish friends and family re-experience and re-live the Exodus of the children of Israel from their slavery in Egypt during the Passover seder meal (see tomorrow’s post, “Why Is This Night Different?”). On Palm Sunday, Christians re-experience and re-live Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem for Passover, the crowds welcomed them by spreading their cloaks and palm branches on the ground, shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” On Palm Sunday Christians from numerous denominational traditions processed around our blocks, waving palm fronds and singing the hymn “All Glory, Laud, and Honor to Thee, Redeemer King!”
On Maundy Thursday (April 5), Christians will re-experience and re-live the night of the Last Supper. “Maundy” is derived from the word mandatum and refers to the new commandment of which Jesus spoke during that Last Supper: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” In some parishes there will be foot-washings, to re-experience and re-live that night before his death, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. On that same night Christians will re-experience and re-live that night when Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist—when he broke bread and drank wine with the disciples and commanded them to do the same in his absence: “Take and eat the bread, take and drink the wine in remembrance [re-experience/re-living] of me.” In some parishes, a vigil will be kept all night in remembrance of the time Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying for the disciples and praying that he might be spared the cup of suffering he was about to be given to drink.
And then there is that Friday that Christians call “Good”; it is “good” only from the perspective of Easter and the resurrection. At least a decade ago the comic strip B.C. succinctly summarized Good Friday. Thor says that he hates the term Good Friday because on that day his Lord was hanged on a tree. His friend Curls asks him, “If you were going to be hanged on a tree on that day and he volunteered to take your place, how would you feel?” Thor’s response was “good,” to which Curls said, “Have a nice day.”
On Good Friday Christians mark the three hours, from noon to three, when Jesus hung on the cross. Many churches will spend those three hours meditating on Jesus’s seven last phrases: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”; “Today you will be with me in Paradise”; “Woman, behold your Son”; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; “I thirst”; “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and “It is finished.” Others will spend those three hours meditating on his death with a combination of choral music, meditations, and silence.
At the conclusion of those three hours, when Jesus has breathed his last breath, the congregation will leave the worship space in the silence of grief. In the first parish I served as an assistant in Cincinnati, we would slam the doors to the church at 3 p.m.; until Easter Sunday morning, no one was there—in person or by phone. Jesus was dead. There was no church.
Good Friday is a day for re-experiencing and for re-living that day of sorrow. At 3 o’clock we will walk away from our various churches. But it was after 3 on that day of Jesus’s death that his body was taken down from the cross. It was after 3 on that day that his body was cradled in the lap of his grief-stricken mother. It was after 3 on that day that Joseph of Arimathea donated his own tomb for Jesus’s burial. It was after 3 on that day that several women kept watch near the tomb. And so, after I have marked those last 3 hours of Jesus’s life, after I have remembered his death on that cross, I will be left with the image of Michelangelo’s Pietà—the mother’s sorrow for her son’s death.
The Rev. Elizabeth Zarelli Turner is the Rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.