From The Pastor’s Pen: Lent and the Three Day Feast

Three weeks back it was Ash Wednesday, that penitential day and service in which we are reminded of how fragile life is by marking an ashen sign of the cross on our foreheads. At that service as well, right before the imposition of ashes, we confess our sins in a very expansive way… and we don’t receive forgiveness… did you notice that?
We do so, not because God is unloving and unforgiving, but instead because we’re entering into a much larger time of confession and repentance—the season of Lent.
And now, we’re smack dab in the middle of that season. Pastor and the Sanctuary are decked out in Penitential Purple, we’re beginning the service with a form of confession and forgiveness which is a dialogue.
But this is not the end of our journey; we head toward Palm Sunday, where we march into the church, just as Jesus and the masses marched into Jerusalem, singing the greatest of praises for Jesus our humble King and Blessed One.
Yet, just as quickly as those joyous words escape our lips and theirs, we acknowledge how we sinners shift, and move to crucify our King. We recount the story of Jesus’ execution in Jerusalem.
Heading forward liturgically, but backward within the story about Jesus, rewinding and slowing down the story, if you will. On Maundy (Command) Thursday we listen to his final command and final meal, words about love and a meal of love. Then, just as Jesus is taken away from the Garden of Gethsemane, and stripped of his dignity, we strip the Altar, leaving it bare and leaving the place in silence.
After that, on Good Friday, we focus on the actual execution—at noon we recount the final seven sentences he spoke from the cross, and then that evening focus on the cross.
And then comes Saturday Evening! Traditionally (the earliest reference I could find to Easter vigil was in the year 407) we meet before sundown and don’t leave until after midnight and it is Sunday morning, at St. Stephen we’re not quite that vigorous, but symbolically we recognize that it is a new day, and that Christ is risen. In celebration of that we light a new flame, proclaiming Christ’s dominion over this new year. We read the history of God’s salvation—how He’s saved His people in the past, and how He continues to do so today. This recounting of God doing a new thing culminates with a reading about the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Then, we together do a new thing—we Baptize and remember Baptism, doing a new thing, putting on Christ’s resurrection.
Finally comes Easter morning. There is a tradition dating back to the 1700’s, of meeting outdoors at Sunrise on Easter morning, and so we gather with the other churches around town and do just that, celebrating the resurrection together at the gazebo in the park. Then, finally, we gather together here and sing Halleluiah!

In Christ’s Peace,
Pastor Chris