From the Pastor’s Desk- April 2022

April has arrived, which for us often means spring!  But within the church, it also often means Holy Week.  Holy Week is the week spanning from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday.  It serves as the culmination of the preparatory time of Lent, with our Lenten Exodus ending on Calvary’s hill on Good Friday, and our joyful celebration of the resurrection beginning at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.  These days truly are the pinnacle of the church year.

In Holy Week we observe the three-day commemoration of Christ’s passion, death and burial called the Holy Triduum (Triduum is Latin for “three days”).  Each of the three days has a special service with its own unique focus.  However, what is particularly striking about these three services is that they are treated as one complete Divine Service spread over the three days.  Maundy Thursday begins with the Invocation, but does not conclude with a Benediction.  Instead, the congregation simply and solemnly departs in silence.  Good Friday has no Invocation, because the Good Friday service continues what began the day before.  It also concludes without a Benediction.  The Easter Vigil then is the conclusion to the three services, where we pass from death to life with Christ.  Thus, one service, spread over three days.

The first of the three days is Maundy Thursday.  The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin term “mandatum novum,” or “new command.”  The date is named after Jesus’ new command delivered to His disciples in John 13:34 that they “love one another” just as Jesus had loved them.  However, even though this date is named after this term, which comes from the traditional Gospel lesson for the evening, the central focus of the evening is not the new command.  The central focus is not the law.  Rather it is the Gospel, delivered from the mouth of Jesus during the Passover meal.  As He and His disciples celebrated the Lord’s act of deliverance for His people with the Passover meal, Jesus delivered a new meal of deliverance to His people, as He instituted the Lord’s Supper.  After we receive the body and blood of the Lord, the tone of the service quickly changes, as it concludes with the stripping of the altar and the choir chanting Psalm 22.  In the words of this Psalm, which begins “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” we are transported from the serenity of the Lord’s last meal to the stark, barren nature of Christ’s suffering and death, images to us by the bare altar and the dark words of Psalm 22.

Good Friday continues the Triduum with our observation of the Lord’s suffering and death on Mt. Calvary.  Good Friday is home to the reading of the Passion Narrative from the Gospel according to John, taking Jesus and us from the arrest in the Garden to the burial of our Lord in the tomb.  The service, solemn though it be, is not one of simple mourning, but one of mourning in hope.  For we know that, though the scene looks drear, on that Good Friday, our Lord won forgiveness, redemption, and righteousness once and for all.

The Easter Vigil is a unique service.  But it has held an important place within the life of the church.  For example, the Vigil was often where adult catechumens were welcomed into the fellowship of the Christian congregation.  Moreover, baptisms were intentionally held during the Vigil.  It is home to the reading of the entire salvation narrative, beginning with the first promise in the Garden of Eden and culminating with the reading of the Easter narrative.  The service is a gradual crossing over from the solemn into the celebratory.

The Holy Triduum delivers us into the joy of Easter morning.  On Easter Sunday, we gather around the empty tomb and we declare right into the very face of death, “He is risen!”  Easter Sunday is the center of the Christian year – indeed, it is the center of the Christian life.  All grace and blessing that come to us flow from Christ’s victory won over death itself.  “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17).  “Had Christ, who once was slain, not burst His three-day prison, our faith had been in vain; but now has Christ arisen, arisen, arisen, arisen; but now has Christ arisen” (LSB 482 refrain).  On that happy Easter morning, I look forward to joining with you in proclaiming with great joy, “He is risen!”  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Peace in Christ, Pastor Lieske