Sunday, March 27, 2016

First Good Friday and Easter Vigil services

So I made it to a Good Friday and Easter Vigil services this last week, thought I'd write up a few impressions.

Good Friday commemorates the death of Christ.  We attended an interdenominational service at a local ELCA Lutheran church which was holding joint services with our own church.  The style of worship between the two churches is actually similar enough that we feel pretty comfortable there.  It was actually our number 2 choice of where we might have gone after Mormonism if not the Episcopal Church.  The biggest stylistic difference you'd notice immediately other than the differences in the building and vestments is that the local Lutheran congregation uses chant more in their worship than our parish normally does.  We chanted psalm 22, the one Jesus quotes while on the cross.  We also read New Testament passages describing the trial and death of Jesus.  The songs were mournful and the emotions raised were intense.  At the end of the service they brought out a large cross which I assume they normally use for both processions and as a room decoration and laid it on the floor.  After remembering the death of Jesus in ritual, song, sermon, and scripture we all filed out of the room almost silently after one by one pausing to give reverence at the foot of the cross- some by simply touching it with their hand, some by crossing themselves, or a few by bowing their head to touch it.  It was a solemn and beautiful occasion.  I'm certain this service would make many of the LDS people I've known uncomfortable since they are used to priding themselves in "focusing on the living Christ" and not Christ's death or the cross.  However, I honestly don't see it as fundamentally different than the remembrances of Joseph Smith's death performed at the tours given of Liberty Jail.  Other, of course, than that this is about Jesus.  Remembering the death of Jesus in this was was deeply moving and I'm glad I went.

I attended Easter vigil by myself, since its held at night after the kids bedtime.  We started outside, lighting a new fire to represent the light of God coming into the world, lit a ceremonial candle from the new fire, and then lit from that candle individual candled that we held through most of the service.  Much of the introductory and explanatory words which normally might be spoken in our parish were sung instead in a beautiful chant setting I had never heard before.  Old testament prophecies dealing with Christ were read.  The story of the Israelites passing through the sea was recounted and discussed in the context of baptism.  Baptismal covenants were renewed by literally repeating the promises, Baptism as a symbol of Christ's death and resurrection was discussed, and many songs were sung.  Easter Vigil is celebrated in the evening as if it is part of Easter itself, following the Jewish tradition as counting a new day as starting with the sunset of the old day.  So the tone started out silent and solemn but progressively turned joyous with shouts of Alleluia and laughter.  We shared a communion meal together and enjoyed a sermon about what it meant to be "dead to sin" and resurrected in Christ when one is most definitely still a sinner.  It was again a very beautiful event.

Despite having attended church 3 times over the last 6 days, I still haven't experienced the full cycle of worship in Holy Week.  I still have yet to attend a Maundy Thursday service which commemorates the Last Supper, the night watch service (which I have yet to learn about), stations of the cross commemorating Jesus's walk carrying the cross,  or a ceremonial stripping of the altar (which I have yet to learn about).  With so many opportunities for worship, there is a reason that the last week before Easter is called "Holy Week."