Sunday, April 10, 2022
In the Courtyard
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
Palm Sunday 2022
The great challenge is that this liturgy is an attempt to pack all of Holy Week into just two Sundays, today and Easter morning. Unpacking all of this is an impossible task so do not fear I will not try to explain it all in the next few minutes. This is why we have Holy Week.
I was talking with a rector after Bishop Andy’s presentation about the state of the diocese a couple weeks ago. He said that he was doing something different for Palm Sunday and not doing they whole Passion story but bits of it and using different locations in the church to tell the story. Something like what we will do on Maundy Thursday. He sent me his plans and maybe we will consider this for next year. I found myself thinking that the problem with Holy week is that is about more than just hearing the story, it is about experiencing the story. The early church understood this very well and 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 in the 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 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 have a meal, actually wash feet, and then strip the altar, we sit and pray at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. 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?
I want to lead you through a guided meditation on one piece of today’s story. There are a month of potential meditations in today’s readings, but I would like to focus on just one moment in the story. So get yourself comfortable. Put your feet on the floor so you are grounded and then either close your eyes or look at the cross, but just allow yourself to disappear into the experience.
It is nighttime. Jesus has shared the bread and wine of the Passover meal with you and told you many things that have left you confused, worried. You watched as he was arrested in the garden and taken to the Sanhedren. You are in the courtyard outside where they have taken Jesus to be questioned by the high priest.
What does the courtyard look like? Is it paved or are you standing on dirt. It’s cold. Do you feel the cold air on your face? What are you wearing? What does the fabric feel like against your skin?
You notice that a small group is gathered by a charcoal fire close to a window into where Jesus is. You walk over to try to get some of the warmth. Can you hear what they are saying in the room where Jesus is? What does it sound like?
What are the people standing around the fire talking about? Do they know who Jesus is?
The women who is closest to the gate looks at Peter and asks him, “Are you not one of his disciples?” Peter quickly denies it. What is your reaction, what is going through your mind?
There are raised voices coming from the window. You realize you can hear the high priest. What are you thinking, what are you feeling as he questions Jesus?
Again someone else looks at Peter and says, “Surely you are one of his followers. I’m sure I saw you with him.” Peter again denies that he knows Jesus.
They lead Jesus out of the house and send him on his way to Pilate. As they leave and several of those gathered look again at Peter and say, “We are sure you are one of his followers.” And a third time he denies it and then a cock crows. You remember what Jesus had said that night. Peter weeps and runs away
Then the girl, the first one that asked Peter if he knew Jesus looks at you and says, “How about you? Are you one of his disciples? Can you tell me about this Jesus?” What goes through your mind in that moment. What do you say? What do you tell her about Jesus?
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; the meal, the foot washing, the story of the Eucharist, a conversation with Peter and the stripping of the altar. Friday with the church stripped bare to hear again the whole story and to sit at the foot 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.