Sunday, April 2, 2023
THE CHALLENGE OF HOLY WEEK
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77450
This sermon was modified at the last minute to start with a Children’s sermon for the 10:30 service.
That means the text does not exactly match that of the video on line.
Once again we enter into the profound mystery of Holy Week.
I found myself thinking that the challenge of Holy Week is that it is about more than just hearing the story, it is about experiencing the story. Most of us think we know the story, but many have only heard the story. The early church understood the need to experience the story very well. The early church at the start of the period after Constantine is the source of the material for our Holy Week services
The services that were reinstated them in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer come from the time of Constantine. So even though this is our most recent prayer book, it actually contains some of the oldest services in the history of the church. The various churches and the entire Holy Week concept was put together at the request of Emperor Constantine’s mother. She knew that many did not know the story and she knew that this week of liturgies was an important way to teach a mostly illiterate population. She also knew that to really understand Holy Week you must experience Holy Week.
The records we have come from a pilgrim whose name was Egeria. She was a nun who recorded her experience of a pilgrimage for the Holy Week services that were located in Jerusalem. Holy Week in Jerusalem was designed as a teaching tool for the many new converts to Christianity. This was sort of a Vacation Bible School for adults if you will. Pilgrims to Jerusalem would re-enact the biblical story starting on Palm Sunday and moving to what is formally known as the Tridium, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Great Vigil of Easter, which began at sundown on Saturday and ended with the first Eucharist of Easter at sunrise. Pilgrims like Egeria took these traditions back to their own churches and the practice spread.
The pilgrims of Egeria’s day experienced the story, they didn’t just hear about it. That is why the liturgies of Holy Week are experiential. We wash feet, we strip the altar, we sit and pray at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. We see, feel, hear, and taste our way through Holy Week. You cannot really do all of that at home.
Ignatius knew the importance of experiencing the bible stories. In his Spiritual Exercises a person is asked to envision themselves in each of the stories and that is what I intend to do for this Holy Week in the course of our services. With each of these services I invite you to move into your heart and feel not just hear. Ask yourself the questions, of what would it have been like to be there. What would I have done if I had been there?
Take a moment and close your eyes and imagine the scene we witnessed at the beginning of today’s liturgy. Ignore the fact that you know the story, put yourself back there in Jerusalem in the 1st century.
It is almost Passover one of the biggest festivals of the year. This year you are in Jerusalem. Have you always lived here or are you a visitor? What are you wearing? As you stand on the road by the gate what do you see. Are there lots of people around? What does the road look like? It is a Roman road, paved or a dirt road? Is it warm or cold, morning, midday or afternoon? What does the sun feel like on your face?
You hear voices in the distance. He’s coming you think. You can hear the cries of Hosanna, Glory to God in the highest. What are you thinking, what are you feeling? Are you excited? Why?
Finally he comes through the massive city gate and you can see him. He is riding on a donkey and a group of 12 men are with along with quite a few women. What does he look like? Is this what you expected?
You throw you palm branches onto the road and join the crowd. He looks at you, and you catch his eye for just a moment. What does that feel like?
If you could say something to him, what would you say, what would you ask?
He rides past and you see him head towards the temple. What are you thinking right now, what are you feeling right now?
When you are ready return from this.
This type of meditation can be done with any part of the Passion story that we just heard. As we go through this Holy Week, I hope that you will come on Thursday to experience Maundy Thursday and the foot washing and the story of the Eucharist. Friday with the church stripped bare to hear again the whole story and to sit at the foot of the cross and walk the Stations of the Cross. Then you will truly have experienced Holy Week just like those in the early church. Then you will be ready to really celebrate on Easter with the Vigil on Saturday and services on Sunday morning.