Holy Week and The Great Three Days at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church | Woodbury, NJ
The forty days of Lent culminate in the Great Three Days of Jesus’ passover from death to life. This oldest and most holy festival bids us to walk in real time with Jesus to the cross and away from it to eternal life. It is the heart of our faith. It is the center of the church year. You and everyone you know are most welcome to experience this transformational time.
At the center of Christian faith is Jesus’ death and resurrection, and so this is a perfect time to reconnect with your faith. Whether you long for a spiritual experience, or you are having a hard time, or you want to learn more about the story of Jesus, this extended festival tells it all. It brings us to the depths of our sin and death and to the heights of the risen life.
We begin on Palm Sunday, April 2 at 9:30 AM Worship. Here, we take our palm branches and process into the church, just as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We sing with the voice of the crowds, “Hosanna!” meaning, “Lord, Save us!” For, though he was going to his death, Jesus was greeted as a king. And though his crown would be of thorns, Jesus finds glory on the cross.
Holy Week continues with the first of the Great Three Days, Maundy Thursday at 7:00 PM on April 6. This is the night Jesus is betrayed by Judas and handed to the authorities. On the night he is handed over, Jesus takes bread and wine and shares it, telling us that it is his body and blood, celebrating his Last Supper and the first Holy Communion. He also gives us the New Commandment (Mandatum, where we get Maundy), to love one another, and he washes his disciples’ feet. Likewise, we celebrate communion, and some churches (not ours) wash each others’ feet. At the end of the service, the altar is stripped and a penitential psalm is read, preparing us for the next day.
Good Friday, celebrated at 7:00PM on April 7 is the most somber day of the church year. This is the day Jesus was crucified for our sin. This brief service without communion begins with the reading of the passion story. We then bring in a large cross and give thanks for God’s salvation. Towards the end of the service, we have an extended prayer for the whole world, and we leave on a triumphant note, singing a hymn of God’s victory over death. Though Jesus died, we call it “good,” because by his death, Jesus gave us all life.
This year, we will be celebrating The Great Vigil of Easter at 7:30 PM on April 8. This most ancient holiday was the earliest yearly celebration in Christian history. Early Christians would gather in homes all night to sing songs and tell stories of God’s goodness, and then they would celebrate the Easter eucharist at sunrise. This year, we’re trying something ancient-and-new.
First, we will light a new fire outside, and we will light our big Easter candle from it. Then, we will give thanks for God’s triumph over death and move into the fellowship hall. In the fellowship hall, seven stories of salvation will be told by anyone who wants to. We’ll then move to the sanctuary, where we will give thanks for baptism and celebrate the joy of Easter. Afterwards, we’re having a small reception featuring foods commonly given up for lent (think chocolate). This is all the Christian faith in a nutshell, a time of meaning and thanksgiving. It’s going to be fun and joyous.
After this week of deep meaning and practice, come celebrate the joy of Easter Morning on Sunday, April 9 at 9:30 AM. This traditional service will celebrate that Christ is risen, and that we too shall rise again. Like we always do, we will have good preaching, good stories, and good music. St. Stephen’s is overjoyed to share the heart of our faith with you this season.