I’ve always loved Holy Week. And this year confirmed that I love to be a Lutheran during Holy Week. There is just something about the whole journey, actually beginning on Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes. And while I can see both sides of the “alleluia” debate, I do kind of like the absence of it during Lent, because it makes Easter that much more special. Anyway, back to Holy Week. Beginning with the palms and procession of Palm Sunday, then having the first Wednesday night “off” in a while (which to me always marked it as different), then the celebration of communion and the solemnity of stripping the altar on Maundy Thursday, to the candles, the seven last words, and the waning light of Good Friday, and the wait that is Saturday. I’ve only been to a couple of Easter Vigils in my life, and it was pretty cool. And then the MAIN EVENT: Easter Sunday. The fanfare, the flowers, the Alleluias, the music, the lights, the joy. Everyone dressed for spring (even if it happens to be snowing outside). Families we haven’t seen for a while coming together to celebrate the resurrection. It’s spectacular.
I’m guessing there are other churches out there besides Lutherans who “do” Holy Week like this, but I’m not sure. This year we didn’t go to an Ash Wednesday service. We never went to a Lenten Wednesday worship. Palm Sunday was nice, but then we were in Tennessee with family the rest of the week. We skipped Maundy Thursday altogether because we didn’t have a Lutheran church to attend and didn’t want to complicate matters of different teachings on communion. Plus it’s a little tough to explain going to multiple church services when my inlaws don’t go to church other than maybe Christmas and Easter. But we did venture into the Catholic church on Good Friday, and went with my inlaws to the Methodist church on Easter.
I’m not knocking my Christian brothers and sisters in other denominations, believe me. And the Friday service was especially interesting. But somehow both seemed to lack the panache that I’ve grown accustomed to in my Lutheran experiences. And I’m not talking about traditional versus contemporary, I’ve seen both done and done well, incorporated into the whole of Holy Week. The Catholic service had some elements that were unfamiliar to me but would probably be very familiar to life-long Catholics, including venerating the cross. It was a bilingual service too, done half in Spanish and half in English. I found that to be particularly fascinating. And I actually enjoyed the “worship calisthenics” of standing and kneeling repeatedly during the prayers. Not sure what that was for, but it added an emphasis that I liked. But I missed the growing darkness, whispering the Lord’s Prayer, and leaving in silence.
Easter was a letdown for me, too. Although folks were dressed up more than I imagine they do for typical Sundays, and there was a row of Easter lilies across the front, very little of the service felt like an Easter service. It seemed more like any other Sunday, with the exception of an interesting element of decorating the cross with flowers towards the end of the service (Travis and I simultaneously thought this would be a great thing to incorporate into an Easter vigil). But no “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, alleluia!” responses. Few hymns. No communion (not that we would have gone, but seriously! No communion?). I just kept thinking that I was thrilled to be heading back into a Lutheran church family (Easter was the day Travis accepted his new call).
After spending Christmas in a hotel without going to church and all of the absent elements of Lent, I am SO READY to be back in a church family. And it will be nice to have the months of the Pentecost season to just get to know folks without the pressures of the major festivals. But I am really looking forward to the start of the next church year and following it through the changing seasons.
One more note, I love both traditional and contemporary worship. I find joy in both types. But I sometimes wish that contemporary song writers would put some lyrics in for the events of Holy Week. So often the newer worship songs are non-specific, unless they are for Christmas. I guess my experiences during Holy Week were a reminder that not many Christian churches follow the ebb and flow of the church year any more, so song writers who are inspired to write for those particular days like Palm Sunday can’t find much of an audience. It’s kind of sad, really, because to me part of the beauty of Holy Week is the lyrics to the hymns that mark the days. And I love contemporary music, but so often the lyrics are lacking the depth and story-telling (unless it’s telling a non-biblical story, like the dreaded Christmas Shoes song that fills the radio waves in December).
But I digress. I just know I am looking forward to singing ANYTHING in ANY STYLE in our own church very soon. To belong, to be part of a family. It’s been a while.