Maundy Thursday

Many customs have marked the Thursday of Holy Week over the centuries. Originally no Holy Communion was celebrated during the week before Easter, but by the end of the fourth century some areas were holding a celebration on Thursday and the custom spread under the name Cena Domini (the Supper of the Lord). It recalls Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. During the middle ages Christians rang bells throughout the Thursday service, then silenced all bells till Easter. The Reconciliation of Penitents was another rite associated with Maundy Thursday.

The word Maundy, which comes from the Latin mandatum (commandment), refers to Jesus’ commandment to “love one another . . . as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Foot washing, according to Jesus’ example (John 13:2-15), came to symbolize this love and service. Continue reading

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Holy Week

The Church gives to its people the period of Holy Week as a solemn time to reflect on the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ and to prepare for the celebration of his resurrection from the dead.

The origins of Holy Week are found in the practices of Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, who died in 386; fortunately these practices were witnessed and recorded by a pilgrim nun named Egeria. As pilgrims poured into the holy city for their baptism on Easter Sunday morning, Cyril would lead them out to sites that were significant to the events leading up to Golgotha.

(Note: Excerpts from Egeria’s writings can be found in Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, ed. J. Robert Wright.)

Many of the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week reflect the liturgical customs of the Church in Jerusalem in the fourth and fifth centuries. These liturgies were intended to help the people of the city spend a more intense time of walking with the Lord. The various sites associated with the last week of our Lord’s life became focal points for the devotions of the faithful. Continue reading

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Palm Sunday: Year B

Sunday of the Passion

  • Mark 11:1-11
  • Isaiah 50:4-9a
  • Psalm 31:9-16
  • Philippians 2:5-11
  • Mark 14:1-15:47

I write on this day given to remembering the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem. This year the day seems empty and abstract. The events are too overpowering. The knowledge that Christ’s entry led directly to his Crucifixion looms too (grimly) ahead. This seems the strangest holiday of the year, a celebration of misunderstanding. In this world, the (dominion) has not yet come, though our hearts long for it and our lives incline toward it. 

These words by John Leax from his essay, “Lent,” (Stories for the Christian Year: The Chrysostom Society, Macmillan, 1992) sum up Palm Sunday in most our churches today. We will begin the liturgy with The Liturgy of the Palms (BCP 270), often outdoors, in which we welcome Christ to Jerusalem and in our midst, celebrating him as King with all “glory, laud and honor.” We rapidly (depending on the weather) process into the sanctuary, waving our palm branches with joy. Continue reading

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The Fifth Sunday of Lent: Year B

Written on our hearts

  • Jeremiah 31:31-34
  • Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16
  • Hebrews 5:5-10
  • John 12:20-33

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ encounter with some Gentiles (Greeks) seem to signal to him that his mission is completed; only the cross remains. Through his brief parable about the grain of wheat needing to die before it produced fruit (12:24), Jesus tells his disciples that his time had indeed come, his time to die.

Jesus’ words become progressively more specific about the centrality of relationship with him. We are to follow and serve him, no matter the price. The people, who have concluded that, in some sense at least, Jesus is the Messiah, expect such a figure to “remain forever” as the prophets foretold (Isaiah 9:7). Continue reading

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The Fourth Sunday of Lent: Year B

Grace and Light

  • Numbers 21:4-9
  • Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
  • Ephesians 2:1-10
  • John 3:14-21

As we move closer to the events of Holy Week, our lessons point more directly to the Passion, which Paul’s letter to the Ephesians today tells us is the supreme measure of God’s grace: “By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). God forgives and restores despite human sinfulness and lack of faith in God’s love and mercy.

God does not just deal with this world, but deals with it passionately, loving it and suffering for it. “God loved the world so much that he gave his only son to it” (John 3:16). But this is not logic. This is passion. How else would God be willing to part with God’s own son for the sake of us? Nor is this a result of reasoning. It is a risk. And passion always involves risk, does it not? But only in risking will there be new discoveries and exciting experiences. Choan-Seng Song in “Theology from the Womb of Asia” (Orbis Books, 1979). 

In his conversation with Nicodemus in today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness (from our Old Testament reading) to his own lifting up. Both are instances of remedies for sin, and both require faith. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up on the cross. Continue reading

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The Third Sunday of Lent: Year B

Anger

  • Exodus 20:1-17
  • Psalm 19
  • Corinthians 1:18-25
  • John 2:13-22

We live in a world where evil is present with us, and a good deal of the evil is within ourselves. The Ten Commandments are given to us as a means to avoid evil – by following God’s perfect law. Sometimes we identify the evil through “Seven Capital Sins“: pride, anger, greed, envy, lust, sloth, and gluttony. Several of these sins are evident in today’s account of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple.

The temple in Jerusalem had a vital place in Hebrew religion. Following the return from the Exile, the building of a new temple brought the resumption of sacrifices as an expression of service to God. Yet such service can offer fertile soil for human sinfulness. Convenience can appeal to sloth; greed can motivate the official who issues licenses; pride comes to those who are able to enter the holy place where others cannot. Continue reading

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The Second Sunday of Lent: Year B

Offering One’s Life

  • Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
  • Psalm 22:22-30
  • Romans 4:13-25
  • Mark 8:31-38

What does it mean to live with full faith and trust in God’s promises, when the reality of what we see and hear appear to be at odds with those promises? In today’s readings the patriarch Abraham and the disciples of Jesus are confronted with such a dilemma when the fulfillment of God’s promises is not what they expected.

The Covenant with Abraham depended upon faithful obedience rather than on a system of rules.”Hoping against hope” (Genesis 17:18), Abraham became the father of many nations despite his age and the barrenness of Sarah – indeed, he is the father of all who come to trust in God. Continue reading

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