Dear People of St. Stephen’s,
This coming Sunday is the fifth Sunday of Lent already! The following Sunday is Palm Sunday and our entrance into Holy Week. I encourage you to take part in the services that move us through Holy Week and towards Christ’s death and ultimately into his resurrection.
Our Palm Sunday services will begin with a joyful procession around the church property. At the 10am service we will be led by Lola the miniature donkey (thanks to Serafina, Jen and Rubyrose). The joyous celebration of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem will grow somber as we read the story of the passion.
On Maundy Thursday, we will celebrate the institution of Holy Communion—that on his last night with his disciples, Jesus instructed them break bread and share wine in his memory— and we will have a foot washing to help us recall and embody Jesus’ teaching, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you”(John 13:14-15).
That evening, after the service, we will keep vigil in our sanctuary until morning. You are welcome to sign up in the back of the church to sit an hour and pray, or read, or meditate. We do this remembering that Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake with him and pray while he prayed in Gethsemane the last night before his crucifixion— “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me’” (Matthew 26:36-38).
On Good Friday, we will walk the Stations of the Cross at midday. The stations hang around the perimeter of our sanctuary, each one representing a moment in Jesus’ journey to the cross. That evening, we will hold the traditional Good Friday service.
After dark on the eve of Easter, we will celebrate the Great Easter Vigil. The celebration begins in darkness as we stand in the shadow of the cross and the bleak, dark emptiness of Christ’s death. Prior to entering the sanctuary we will kindle a fire – a new fire, a new light, that represents new life and new birth- and from that new fire we will light the Pascal candle and process into our dim sanctuary. As we sit in this darkness, we hear, recall and claim the stories of our salvation history, the stories of God’s people and God’s saving work. Following these stories we renew our baptism vows.
At this point the celebration will begin: The presider declares, “Alleluia. Christ is risen!” The bells begin ringing (you are encouraged to bring bells), the organ sounds the altar candles are lit illuminating the Lord’s table, and we burst into song and rejoicing. This joyous moment is followed by the first celebration of Eucharist.
On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate at both the 8am and 10am services with more traditional hymns at 8am and a bit more contemporary and gospel hymns at 10am. At 10am the children will be invited to flower the cross at the beginning of the service and after the service we often receive a visit from the Easter Bunny.
I encourage you to participate in the services of Holy Week and Easter. It is this journey through loss and darkness that allows us to truly burst with joy and light at our Savior’s resurrection.
Yours in Christ,