Sunday marks the start of the most spiritually vital week for the Christian: Holy Week. Its observation dates to a third century directive by the Roman emperor Constantine (280-337). He rose to power in 312 and by 324 was the sole Roman emperor. His edict in 324 protected Christians and he converted to Christianity on his deathbed in 337.
His interest in Christianity inspired throngs of pilgrims to travel to Palestine to observe what became Holy Week. The observation began on the Saturday before Palm Sunday with a procession of palms and olive branches led by the bishop to the Mount of Olives. On the Mount of Olives the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem was read. (Matthew 21:1-11)
On Wednesday of Holy Week, the faithful gathered in the Church of the Resurrection (Church of the Holy Sepulcher) for a reading of Matthew 26:14-16 telling of the agreement between Judas and the Chief Priests to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. (Frank Senn, Christian Liturgy)
On Thursday of Holy Week people gathered at the Church of the Martyrium to hear read Matthew 26:20-39, the account of the Last Supper. On this site it is said Constantine’s mother, Empress Helena, discovered the cross on which Jesus died. In 325/6 Constantine instructed the Bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius, to build a basilica. From the basilica the faithful went on to the Mount of Olives to hear read the story of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest.
On Friday, a three hour service was held at the place of the cross. The three hours of readings concluded with a reading from the gospel of John, “When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (19:30).
Holy Saturday began with services at 9:00 am and noon followed by a Vigil. The Vigil began with a reading from Matthew (27:62-66) reporting the request of Pilate that Jesus’ body be sealed in a tomb lest it be stolen (Frank Senn, Christian Liturgy). Psalm 88 was read, interpreted as Jesus’ descent to the place of departed spirits. Following the reading of Psalm 88, twelve readings were interspersed with readings from Psalms.
After the twelve readings, the bishop, clergy, candidates for baptism and their sponsors gathered around the baptismal for baptisms. After the baptisms, all returned to the Church of the Martyrium where Eucharist was celebrated and the gospel accounting the resurrection was read.
Pilgrims to Jerusalem, impressed with the Holy Week solemnity, brought the practice back to their homes, and Holy Week as observed in Palestine spread widely. (Frank Senn Christian Liturgy)
This Sunday, Palm Sunday, LCM worshipers will gather in the fellowship hall for a blessing of the palms followed by a procession into the sanctuary.
On Thursday evening we gather for worship at LCM as we enter the Triduum, the Three Days. Thursday is the beginning of our three day celebration of the Passover of our Lord as we recall God’s redemption of the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. On Maundy Thursday we begin our three day meditation on the Paschal Mystery, a meditation on Jesus’ rejection, death and resurrection.
“Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, if with his love he befriend you.” (Hymn 858, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty)