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One service over three days: Christian ‘Triduum’ is unique

 

April 10, 2019



Protestant Christian traditions, including Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Reformed, historically grew out of protests against abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, starting in sixteenth-century Europe. Even so, today we Protestants share many features with Roman Catholics and with each other. At this time of year we are all approaching Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ to new life following his death by crucifixion. The date of Easter shifts depending on when the full moon occurs relative to the Vernal Equinox. This year, Easter is April 21.

The season of preparation for Easter is called Lent. The transition from Lent, generally a penitential season, to the joy of Easter happens during Holy Week. During this week Christian services follow Jesus of Nazareth from his entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter) and his Last Supper with his disciples (Thursday of Holy Week) to his betrayal, trials, and death by crucifixion (Friday), and then to his resurrection on the third day (Saturday as “Easter Eve” and also Easter Sunday).

Along with others, we Lutherans think of the worship services on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before Easter as one service in three parts over three days. Called “Triduum” (The Three Days), this service marks the center of our lives. The Christian people move through three days of our most ancient ritual, our most powerful story, and our most sacred prayer. On one level, we tell the story of Jesus, and in a deep way, we grow into our own stories according to how they are reshaped by Jesus’ cross and empty tomb. His death has become our death. His life has become our life!

Maundy Thursday: Maundy means command. On this day, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another as he loves us and demonstrated a serving kind of love by washing their feet. At our service, we share tender care for one another by washing each others’ hands or feet. We also receive the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Jesus, for the forgiveness of all sins, as the three other Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) testify. (April 18, 7 p.m.)

Good Friday: After being betrayed the evening before and hastily judged by his own fellow citizens, Jesus was tried and sentenced to death on Friday by the governor of the Roman occupation, Pontius Pilate. Mark’s Gospel says he died on the cross in the mid-afternoon and was buried before sunset. At our service we hear the story of Jesus’ death; John’s Gospel understands Jesus’ crucifixion as victory and glorification, not defeat. Lifted up, Jesus draws the whole world to himself. We pray for this whole world with a bidding prayer. Then we offer honor and reverence to the cross, the symbol of Christ’s death and our hope for life. (April 19, 7 p.m.)

Holy Saturday Easter Vigil: On Saturday, Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. But by reckoning a “day” as beginning at sunset the night before (as we do with Christmas Eve), Saturday evening becomes the time for the most dramatic and beautiful service of the entire year. We kindle a new fire, hear great biblical stories of salvation from both Testaments told in various ways, and celebrate our crossing from death into life. We gather at the font to baptize and renew our baptism, also welcoming new members. Decorating the sanctuary with flowers, we have begun to celebrate Easter. (April 20, 5:30 p.m. - not after sunset in order to be especially friendly to children)

Entering into the services: The three-day service is different than any other during the year. If the ritual seems strange, it doesn’t mean you are outside the action—because with Christ there are no longer insiders and outsiders. Participants and guests are invited to appreciate the silence before we start each time. Pocket your watches. Turn your cell phones off. Imagine that your main agenda is praying with your brothers and sisters for three days, with breaks taken to attend to the daily tasks of life. Allow the experience and the Spirit to carry you. God is faithful.

 

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