Churches across the county participated in the ancient tradition of Holy Week last week, recognizing the last days of Jesus’ life, his death and his resurrection.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and continues through Saturday, with Easter the following Sunday. Some churches observe certain days, particularly Palm Sunday, when Jesus Christ triumphantly returned to Jerusalem and the crowds put palm branches down for him, Maundy Thursday, when he had the Last Supper with his disciples, and Good Friday, when he was crucified.
Other churches hold services every day of the week, marking Holy Monday, when he may have performed acts such as the cleansing of the temple, Holy Tuesday, when he went to the Mount of Olives and predicted his death, Holy Wednesday (or Spy Wednesday) when some churches note Judas was arranging the betrayal of Jesus and when Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with costly perfume, and Holy Saturday, marking his burial. Easter marks his resurrection three days after his death.
First United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church held a joint Maundy Thursday service.
The Rev. Dr. Sarah B. Kalish and the Rev. Dr. Carl Dumford, pastors of First United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church, respectively, led the joint service.
Parisioners were seated as Dale Wood played “The Old Rugged Cross” before Dumford extended the greeting, and the congregation responded, with a responsive reading.
The hymn, “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed” and a time of prayer followed before Dumford read John 13:1-17 and John 13:31-25.
Kalish offered the homily.
“So here we are,” she said. “We’re at the beginning of the 24 hours that changed the world.”
Kalish said that while Jesus faced tremendous betrayal that led to his death, betrayal is still an everyday occurrence even within the church.
“In our own age, when church leaders have abused children, embezzled funds, and more, we realize how common betrayal is,” she said. “When have each of us been Judas? When have we been Peter or the other disciples? When have we betrayed or denied him?”
Knowing that Judas would betray him, Jesus still treated him as a friend and had dinner with him, Kalish said.
“We take comfort in that knowledge, knowing that he will for us, as well,” she said.
She noted the importance of Holy Communion, which began with the Last Supper, when Jesus told his disciples that the bread and wine represented his body and blood, and to remember him when eating it.
“In breaking bread with him, he taught them one last time, showed them his love, and gave them a meal they would remember for the rest of their lives,” Kalish said.
The congregation did a responsive prayer of confession and pardon and another, hymn, “O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done,” before Dumford spoke to the congregation about the importance of the new covenant.
Dumford also stressed the importance of communion and of Christ’s death, comparing the Old Testament covenant between God and his people with the New Testament covenant. In the Old Testament, God’s people offered animals as a blood sacrifice to him, while Jesus’ spilled blood represents the new covenant. God offered his son, and Jesus died on the cross, for God’s people despite their continuous wandering from him, Dumford said. Communion marks that covenant.
“One loaf, one cup, one body,” he said.
Kalish led the congregation in a final responsive reading before she and Dumford blessed the communion and served it to the organist, choir and congregation. The choir sang, “Go, Congregation, Go!” and the pastors shrouded each cross in the sanctuary before Kalish said the benediction, ending the service.
After the service, Kalish said the importance of marking the last week of Jesus’ life and his death and resurrection is important for Christians to remember. She and Dumford led Thursday’s service, but the other days of the week had services held by various churches within the Interchurch Council marking the holy days.
“The importance of it is to remember all that Jesus did for us,” Kalish said. “It’s that simple.”
Some churches don’t mark each day, but Kalish thought it a missed opportunity.
“You can’t go from Palm Sunday to Easter without going through Thursday and Friday and Sunday,” she said. “They were waving palms and celebrating, and Sunday resurrecting him, and you can’t understand his resurrection without seeing what he went through.”
She said that Easter service has become “like Christmas, with the secularization,” and that the importance of the date is often lost, and that fewer younger people attend services either on Easter or for the rest of the year. The issue of bringing in younger members is something she, and others, have discussed addressing, she said, but they have not found the solution.
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.