It’s a custom in our churches to have special mid-week services through the season of Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter. These services are a reflective time, an opportunity to contemplate the work of Jesus Christ that has brought about our rescue from sin and death, and provided eternal life. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we have a single mid-week service with a focus on our repentance, in preparation for remembering the great events of our Lord’s passion (suffering and death) and resurrection. In the final week before Easter, we have two or more special services, each with a special theme and focus.
This year, our mid-week services that follow Ash Wednesday have been about the cross of every Christian, as an echo or shadow of the cross of Jesus, by which we have been redeemed. This so-called “theology of the cross” defines the Christian’s life on Earth, yet is frequently missing or subdued in the teaching of many churches. No wonder, it’s not exactly upbeat! In the same way that some would like to portray Jesus as victorious while forgetting what He had to do to obtain the victory, so also some would like to suppose that a Christian’s life on earth is filled with giggles and rose gardens, while forgetting that these roses have long, sharp thorns. Our midweek Lent meditations are meant to refocus our faith upon the reality of every Christian’s life.
Holy Week is the climax of the season of Lent, beginning with Palm Sunday. Jesus entered His royal city on Earth to the shouts of “Hosanna!” from a vast crowd of jubilant people, in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah. Thus, we recognize that He is indeed the One chosen by God to take away the sins of the world, just as the Passover lamb was chosen by each Israelite family on the 10th of the month, in preparation for the Passover to be celebrated only four days later, when that lamb would die and become the meal of their salvation (Exodus 12:3-6).
Four days after Palm Sunday, we celebrate Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday. “Maundy” is a form of the Latin word “mandatum,” which refers to Jesus’ command given to His disciples on that night (John 13:34). Our focus is upon the feast of love instituted by Jesus during the Passover meal with His disciples, which we call the Lord’s Supper, or the Sacrament of the Altar. Following the Passover meal, Jesus and His disciples went across the Brook Kidron and ascended the Mount of Olives, where His intense prayers helped to prepare Him for His imminent suffering. See ELH 295 for a meaningful meditation on that time in our Lord’s life.
Good Friday is the day when evil seemed to triumph. But when Jesus was crucified, it was really the end of death for the whole world. The nature of death has changed as a result of the death of Jesus. It cannot hold you any more. Even the ungodly will rise to life again on the Last Day, though unbelievers will also get their wish: not to be saved from eternal punishment by the suffering and death of Jesus. The torment of hell is on display when Jesus hangs upon His cross, forsaken by His Father as He bears the guilt of the whole world. In this way, He took what would have been an ordinary Friday in the fallen world, and turned it into a day for our deliverance from God’s wrath. It became Good Friday. We will hear about the passion and death of Christ, as we contemplate its meaning through hymns and meaningful responses.
Holy Saturday follows, when we remember that Jesus rested in His tomb through the Sabbath. Then, when evening comes and the ancient Israelites would recognize the beginning of the next day, we may begin our celebration of the Lord’s resurrection with a brief service for Easter Vigil. This year, for the first time, we have planned such a service to be held at 8:00 PM, at Bethany. We will again begin to sing Easter hymns and the Hallelujah, as special readings added to the Office of Compline (ELH p. 128) lead us into the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Then on Easter morning, we plan to gather in Hood River in Idlewild Cemetery, where we will greet the sunrise on the Lord’s Day with our joyous hymns and readings. After that, we will have the festival services at the usual times: 9:00 at Concordia, and 11:00 at Bethany.
There is nothing more important in the existence of any human being than these events and deeds of our Lord, so we invite everyone to join us in our meditation and celebration of these greatest works of God.