At the center of the church year, the Triduum (the Three Days) forms the basis of our worship life as Christians.
Many portions of our regular Sunday morning worship service are rooted in the themes, lessons, and stories that permeate Triduum, the Three Days, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil. By that, I don’t mean to say there are direct-line relationships between these two events, but that they inform one another. When we find these same themes on Sunday morning, they have been deepened by our Triduum experiences. Similarly, our worship practice during the great Three Days is deepened by the practicing we have undertaken throughout all of our worshiping lives. Let’s take a look.
Maundy Thursday, the first among the Three Days, has Jesus giving us a new commandment, to love one another as God has loved us. We are immediately handed this love through the corporate and individual forgiveness of sin, the grace received in the form of bread and wine at communion, and through our community members serving one another through hand- and footwashing. Certainly it’s easy to see how two out of three of these actions make their way into our Sunday morning experience. We often have confession and forgiveness as part of our services and communion plays an important role in expressing the grace God freely gives to us, but we rarely see hand- or footwashing in church. While this may seem like a singular event, the service demonstrated here flows through all that we do as a community of faith. Today we may be washing one another, but later we may sacrifice our own wants, needs, and desires to help the needy get food or shelter. This part of Maundy Thursday directly interacts with the needs of the outside world and reminds us that the love God shares with us is to be shared freely outside the walls of our building.
Found in the center of our Three Day proclamation, Good Friday can be a difficult service for some. The sadness and solemnity is often more than we can bear. And yet, we know that without this important step along the journey, the resurrection story would ring hollow. Instead of mourning Jesus’ death, though, we are reminded that the cross is a sign of victory and triumph as it is processed into our worship space with great solemnity. This reminds us of all the cross processionals we’ve seen and reminds us that the focal point of worship is on Jesus, not on us. On Good Friday, in addition to hearing the Passion from John, we pray a set of “Bidding Prayers.” These prayers lift up in prayer a variety of groups of people and each one closes with a congregational response. It’s easy to see how this event shapes our worship life every Sunday morning when you think about the Prayers of the People.
Easter Vigil is THE NIGHT! While some will wait until Easter Sunday to proclaim the resurrection, we (and many other worshiping communities with us) can’t wait to share with the world that death does not win. Jesus is resurrected and with that resurrection we are assured that God’s power over sin and death is absolute. Much happens on this night. In fact, almost every aspect of a Sunday morning worship service is here and is heightened. Readings, baptism, communion, candles, prayers, and the actions of all the worship participants come together to retell salvation history. While we’re proclaiming to the world the news of Jesus’s resurrection 2000 years ago, we are also proclaiming that even now God has not forgotten God’s created and called people. Just as the Israelites passed safely through the sea and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were delivered from the fiery furnace, so does God deliver us from evil and harm. We remember and reinforce this important fact EVERY Sunday morning we gather. Every time we take communion, hear the good news, celebrate baptism, pray for others, and serve others, we are remembering and sharing God’s love given freely to us.
Three in One and One in Three
These three services work together as one three-day long church service. God gathers us on Maundy Thursday to begin this journey only to have our worship come to a screeching halt with the stripping of the altar, a portent of the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday. Yet, when we expect to find despair, we find a message of hope and salvation on Good Friday in Jesus’s mortality. Since Jesus truly dies and is truly raised, we too may have hope in the resurrection. Finally, we return for Easter Vigil where we can shout with joy for Jesus has triumphed over the grave and the tomb is laid bare.
Welcome to the center of the church year and the reason we gather every week to hear and proclaim the story of salvation. Come to practice the praise of the almighty and ever-living God in Christ Jesus with the Holy Spirit. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.