Holy Week

Holy Week was something that made me a bit uncomfortable when I was younger, particularly when I got back involved in the Presbyterian Church.  I was quite familiar with all the Palm Sunday and Easter traditions from my general Protestant worship attendance before my early thirties.  But the Presbyterian Church actually had services between Palm Sunday and Easter and that was unusual to me.  Even the very term “holy week” seemed foreign.  It was something Catholics observed, I knew, but what was I supposed to do with it?

When I was 32, my then pastor personally asked me to attend a Maundy Thursday Service.  I had no idea what to expect.  I was surprised to find it a meditative service which focused on Jesus’ time in the Upper Room a little more thoroughly than I had ever experienced it before.  And Easter that year was more meaningful than it had been before.  Ok, I was good with Maundy Thursday.

But then, when I became a pastor in my later 30s, I served two churches in Fort Worth who observed Good Friday.  The arrangement they had established for Holy Week was for one to hold services on Maundy Thursday and the other on Good Friday.  They would alternate each year.  I again felt I was in foreign territory.  Good Friday services?  That again was something only Catholics did in my experience (or so I thought).  But the more I looked into it, the more I found it increasingly common to observe in Protestant churches as well.  We setup a service where we focused on the cross and Jesus giving it all for us.  I found those Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services together made Easter all the more powerful for both churches.  Later, in the USAF, Maundy Thursday was attended by many and on Good Friday, Protestants would gather to remember the seven last words of Christ.  Ministers would alternate in turn with brief homilies.  One of the most powerful Good Friday messages I heard was in one of these lead by a chaplain assistant (who is a minister outside the service) in one of these services.

I personally find myself quite in the reverse position I felt going into the week before Easter when I was younger.  I find myself wishing we did more during Holy Week than we typically do.  There is so much of the Gospels that is devoted to Holy Week.  It now seems strange to me that the most common thing for most Protestants is to jump from Palm Sunday to Easter, the very thing I had done most of my life.  We Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura and yet we jump over much Scripture when we do that.  And just because Catholics have done something, it doesn’t make it wrong.  Being a 21st century Protestant isn’t being an anti-Catholic.

Of course, on a practical level, I know I am a minister and most parishioners are very busy today.  They do not have time to spend all week at church and it simply is not most of our tradition today to attend mid-week services.  Many already have full schedules, even on Holy Week.  So, it makes me wonder if we could do this in a different way.  Why does Palm Sunday have to come the Sunday before Easter, beyond tradition?  Might not there be a way to observe Lent in a way to include more of the story than we typically include?

If you live in Greater New Orleans, and you do have some extra time on your schedule, we do have two meaningful events scheduled by Parkway.  We are going to hold a Maundy Thursday service jointly with Kenner Presbyterian.  We are going to have a dramatic re-enactment of events from Jesus being annointed at Bethany all the way up to his arrest in the Garden.  And we will observe communion as well.  We also have our annual Good Friday Labyrinth Walk lead by Ms. Suzie Craig at Audubon Park.  I hope you’ll join us.

Wherever you live, how does your church observe Holy Week?  What have you found to be most meaningful?

All the best and until next time,

Tom

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4 thoughts on “Holy Week

  1. I first began participating regularly in Holy Week services in the early 1980s at FPCNO when Ed Gouedy was the pastor. I think it’s something we Protestants have come to appreciate in the last thirty years or so. At my church in upstate New York, we have an evening service on Maundy Thursday with communion and Tenebrae, and the sanctuary will be open for prayer on Good Friday from noon until three. It happens that the local schools are on spring break this week, so many of our families are out of town. That’s the other (secular) side of Easter — it’s a holiday and a time to go away or go shopping. Sigh. But I expect we’ll have a good crowd on Easter, as do most churches.

  2. That’s all odd – because I grew up where there was a big divide between those of Catholic and Protestant persuasion – and yet, Holy Week was always marked in our Presbyterian church – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday (Communion) and Friday evening services – often held with neighbouring congregations.

    It isn’t marked on the North West of Scotland eg our congregation has Communion on Easter Sunday instead. However, the more traditional congregations have a week of services (well, Wednesday through Monday) round their Communion weekends at various times of the year – which reminds me of Holy Week too.

  3. Kathy: Interesting to hear. Thanks.

    Donna: Maybe all this is a very Protestant tradition that got lost in the American branch. Great to learn.

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