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Apr 17 2014
Why the extra services and special meals of Holy Week are good for us.

As a child, I'm not sure I would have told you Easter was a holiday. Christmas prompted weeks of preparation on a church musical; commandeered displays at every store; and mustered a parade of boxes in the mail bearing presents from far-off relatives. In comparison, Easter seemed like just another Sunday.

Except for a few special songs at church, little girls' new Sunday dresses, and my parents' goofy jelly bean hunt in the living room, little marked Easter Sunday as the other high, holy holiday of the Christian calendar.

As an adult, I didn't see Easter much differently until a few years ago. Compared to the mad social jockeying of December, with everyone competing for precious weekend slots to host their holiday dinners, carol sings, and white elephant gift exchanges, Easter made few demands on my calendar.

Then I joined a Protestant church that observed the liturgical calendar. We hold an Ash Wednesday service and go on to speak of the Lenten season as we do advent in December. Even our corporate singing changes: Where advent brings carols, Lent means more contemplative songs and a particular emphasis on repentance.

One year I learned we were also following the ancient practice of not singing any "hallelujahs" during Lent. A Chicago pastor explains that his church practices this "communal fast" as a way to "remember the already and not yet nature of the Kingdom of God. In recent years, my church's worship pastor has also added a weekly penitential refrain based on Psalm 51 that the congregation sings during Lent.

Holy Week brings the biggest change of all. While church services usually take up no more than 75 minutes on a Sunday, this week they also claim my free evenings Thursday, Friday, and Saturday — with a Maundy Thursday supper, Good Friday service and Saturday night Easter vigil.

It's a lot to ask, no question, especially given our ubiquitously "busy" schedules. It's not uncommon to schedule catch-up phone calls with loved ones, as if they were meetings, and determine church attendance around sporting events. But how we spend our time shows what's important to us.

Why shouldn't the church get to make a big demand on my time at least once a year?

It takes such work to remember, you see. It takes work to remember that Easter is a holiday. It takes work to remember that Christmas and Easter are inextricably bound up in each other. It takes work to remember that these high, holy holidays are such because they celebrate God's preeminent work of redemption in Jesus' incarnational birth, death, and resurrection.

Related Topics:Easter; Holy Week
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