It may only be the fourth week of Lent, but I would like to formally invite and encourage you to join us for as many services of the Triduum during Holy Week as you can manage.
The Triduum is the series of three services that make up the end of Holy Week: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. (I encourage you to come on Palm Sunday and include Easter morning, too, but those happen on Sunday mornings, so attendance might already be in your plans.) Many in the church see these services not as separate from one another but as one continuing service, telling the story of the last days, death, and resurrection of Christ together as a whole. They take us through a unified emotional and narrative arc, beginning at the Last Supper and ending with the resurrection. And, as an added bonus, the Vigil contains the story of salvation history within its readings and our congregational renewal of our baptismal covenant. Plus, there’s fire!
This year, especially, I am longing for the way the Triduum captures so much of Jesus’s humanness, and our own, and in that humanity draws us closer to God. We are reminded of the ways that we are called to care for one another, and to receive care ourselves on Maundy Thursday, as we share a meal and honor Christ’s New Commandment: that we love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34). I knew a parish that had an extensive ministry with folks experiencing homelessness. Their Maundy Thursday service included not only a foot washing during the liturgy, but a foot health clinic with medical professionals to tend to the needs of people’s feet. Volunteers ran a foot washing station in hourly shifts as members of the community came through to be cared for and tended to in the most amazingly real and tender way.
On Good Friday, we remember and relive Christ’s passion. Indeed, we join together to condemn him to death. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” we shout. It is ugly and painful and it is part of us. It reminds us that even at our worst – since those instincts for violence, vengeance, and blame were not left behind in the first century, and since even when we strive to keep them at bay, they lurk in the depths of all of us – even when we turn as far from God as we can manage, we are, somehow, incredibly, still part of the family of God. What does that kind of grace and mercy mean? Our world is full of moments of unjust condemnation, of the weaponization of power: we are invited to remember again the dreadful harm that it does, not at arm’s length, but up close, as we send to death the one who came to save us. This year on Good Friday we also have the opportunity to move in our bodies with Jesus through the stations of the cross, using not only our minds, but our physical selves as well, to experience with Christ his slow journey to death. What does it mean to experience Christ’s journey to the cross as part of the crowd, calling for his death, and alongside him, moving with him in compassion and grief?
Finally, at the Vigil, we are all reborn into new life in Christ through the resurrection. This year we have three baptisms at the Vigil, but even on years we don’t, part of the service is the reaffirmation of our baptismal covenant. We remember the ways that in dying with Christ we are reborn with Christ; that just as Christ died and conquered death, and bringing about eternal life through him in God, we too are invited to partake in that everlasting life as members of God’s great, wild, messy, rambunctious family. The use of light in the service plays this out: we begin in the dark, setting out like Mary and the other women on their way to the tomb, and experience the miraculous light and praise as we proclaim Christ risen. There is fire, there is chanting, there is water and dark and light – death, birth, and new life, all together. What could be more human, more divine?
It’s not always possible to make it for each of these services. But if you can find the time and space in your Holy Week, I encourage you to try. And, if you can make it, I invite you not to keep the emotions, invitations, and stories of these liturgies to yourself. They shape us so that we might offer ourselves, changed, strengthen, humbled, renewed, to the world, to do what Jesus called us to do: to love it and one another as he loved us. And I think we could all use more of that love this year.