Holy Week, which started last Sunday on Palm Sunday, is an intense week of devotion to recall the sacrifice Jesus made to cleanse us of our sins and give us eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~John 3:16 (NIV)
Yesterday was Maundy Thursday, commemorating Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and His washing of the disciple’s feet to demonstrate servanthood. The worship service included a foot washing ceremony in which the priests washed the feet of parishioners designed to represent us all, followed by Holy Communion. At the conclusion of the service, the altar was stripped as the congregation chanted Psalm 22. After the altar is bare, the parishioners depart in silence following the priest carrying the Presence to the Altar of Repose.
Today on Good Friday I attended the Way of the Cross service, in which the congregation walks from one station of the cross – an event in Christ’s journey on the road to Golgotha and the cross – to the next. The service our church uses has fourteen stations, where the people stop for a meditation and prayer. The service lasted only about half an hour, but it is a very powerful devotion.
After the Way of the Cross, I took my took in the Vigil at the Altar of Repose. I wrote about my experience at the Vigil last year.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked His disciples to wait as He prayed. When he found them sleeping, He asked:
“Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” ~Mark 14:37-38 (NIV)
Participating in the Vigil at the Altar of Repose gives us the opportunity to watch and pray for an hour with the Lord.
The world turned dark when Jesus died on the cross, and the veil of the altar was torn from top to bottom. The veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. When a priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year, he wore bells and had a rope tied to his leg. The bells were assure the other priests that the priest inside had not been struck dead for entering God’s presence. The rope was for his fellow priests to pull him out without having to enter the Holy of Holies if he was struck dead.
The veil was torn asunder at the moment of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and now we can each enter God’s presence without fear, but with love and joy.
Good Friday was a dark day indeed, but we know the rest of the story. Easter is coming!