Love Leads the Way: Series Overview
Holy Week is the heart of the church’s ritual, theological, and missional life. Everything we do in worship, doctrine and mission is grounded in, leads to, and springs from this week. The life and mission of Jesus meet their fullest test. Jesus stares directly into the face of the structures of sin and the powers of death and remains true to his calling and the work of God’s kingdom. Jesus is executed by crucifixion. Three days later, God raises Jesus from death in sure and certain pledge of raising all who are found in him. Everything is here. Life, sin, love, death, life and love overcoming sin and death. This week remembers, enacts, and participates in the hope of the renewing of all creation, starting with our lives and loves, here and now.
That is why these eight days from Passion/Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday include more worship services for the whole congregation than any other time of the Christian year. Many United Methodists will participate in at least five distinct services during these eight days: Passion/Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, a sunrise service on Easter Sunday morning, and a “main” Easter Sunday service. Some United Methodists join the larger church in adding two more to this calendar: a Holy Saturday vigil of silence and lament (some on Twitter, at #holysat18 at 10 a.m. ET on March 31) and the Great Vigil of Easter, on which the later development of sunrise services is based.
The sheer number of services is impressive, and for worship planners and leaders, a bit daunting every year. But what’s more significant is the intensity of the journey these services take us through. Hope, community, betrayal, trial, execution, death, burial, watching at the grave, and the disturbing or even terrifying surprise of resurrection and an empty tomb meet us through this week. And in gathering to observe them all, we open ourselves to the many ways the Holy Spirit has been active, is active, and will be active in the church and world throughout history, in our own lives, and in the lives of those who follow us in seeking to live the way of Jesus in generations to come.
As United Methodists who follow in the footsteps of the Wesleys, we know the power of such ritual in gathered community through this week will take deeper root in our own lives if we also practice the means of grace of family and private prayer. That is why our series of resources for Holy Week also includes guidance for ways to observe family or private prayer using the lectionary readings for each day, Monday through Wednesday.
And throughout this Holy Week, we are following up specifically on our Lenten theme of Rehab in a particular way. Rehab in nearly every form is about helping us get in touch with our bodies either more deeply or to restore our touch with our bodies after a crisis has severed or seriously impaired the connection. As Christians baptized into the apostolic faith, we affirm “resurrection of flesh,” to translate the Greek of the Apostles Creed most directly. This is a radically incarnational affirmation of the goodness of creation and the ways our bodies are mediators of divine grace and truth to ourselves and others, just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We await the fulness of what resurrection of flesh means and will mean for us all, but we have all experienced a taste of it already through the Lenten journey of spiritual Rehab we have walked together. And we will experience it even more as we continue that journey through the week now before us.
If we will take it, and take it seriously, and take the journey together with the body of Christ, Christ leading the way for us.
Our Rehab so far brings us to this very point. We have gotten back in touch with our bodies, with the goodness and truth, as well as the distortions and self-deceptions, they and we are capable of. We are prepped now to walk through the most painful part of this journey with Jesus and each other, his final days of challenge, suffering, torture, pain, agony, loss, and death. When we consider what is coming, we can choose to stay in touch with all we are experiencing, individually and together, or to disconnect, shut down our feelings. Rehab has been teaching us to stay connected, to experience it all, to take it all in, be moved by it, and trust ourselves to God’s grace and each other through it.
And to do so confident that love leads the way… even through this.
The Main Services
Palm/Passion Sunday recapitulates the beginning and the end of Christ’s final week in Jerusalem. We move from a triumphal procession and its stirring of hope as our entrance rite to hearing of a very different kind of procession, a forced march with a crucifix, to conclude it.
Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, marks the last conversation Jesus has with his disciples, a conversation grounded in what he calls a new commandment (mandatum in Latin, hence our English word “Maundy”). He illustrates and underscores the new commandment by washing their feet: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Good Friday, or Holy Friday as it is known in nearly every non-English-speaking culture, we witness the execution of Jesus, recognize our ongoing complicity with the powers of death, and are called to enter the Great Silence of all creation in response to the death of its God and Maker.
Easter Sunrise is an early morning service built on the framework of the Great Vigil of Easter. It moves from contemplation to celebration.
Easter Sunday is the principal Easter Sunday morning service of word and sacrament celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and kicking off the Easter Season of 50 days (through the Day of Pentecost).
The Weekday Devotionals
Monday through Wednesday resources are designed to help you and those with whom you choose to gather to spend time with the scriptures for each day, particularly the gospel reading, and to get deeply in touch with the events of that day through a particular sensory mode. Monday will be about hearing. Tuesday will be about seeing. Wednesday will be about physical sensation, including touch.
Links to Additional Services
Holy Saturday is a daytime (late morning, early afternoon) service of silence before the tomb of Jesus, occasionally punctuated by readings from Scripture and prayer. For more about this service, and a link to complete script you may use with whomever you gather or on Twitter (including hashtags and audio links to the readings), see “Holy Saturday: The Great Silence.”
The Great Vigil of Easter reflects the most ancient and continuing practices of Easter worship from the early Church to today. Like Holy Week in general, this service has everything: Fire, Word, Water, and Table. We have many resources to support it. If you have never offered such a service before, consider taking a group from your church to another one (notably Episcopal, Roman Catholic, or Lutheran) with long experience in doing so. Then bring the wisdom of your experience to the resources offered by United Methodists and the awareness of your particular context to design your own service for next year.
- Book of Worship Service »
- Brief Service » (Taylor Burton-Edwards)
- Preparing for the Easter Vigil » (Dwight W. Vogel)
- Reflecting on the Easter Vigil » (Dwight W. Vogel)