This post is also in this week's newsletter from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. To read the rest of the newsletter, click here.
We begin something strange tonight. Every year, as we begin the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, we start a service that does not really end until Easter has come. Tonight’s service opens in the traditional way, but, after Communion, instead of offering a dismissal, we dim the lights and strip the altar and leave in silence. Tomorrow, the Good Friday liturgy opens without the usual greeting and, again, ends in silence. At the Holy Saturday service, we pick up where we left off—with prayer and scripture and an anthem—but, yet again, we leave without any sort of liturgical conclusion. Finally, on Saturday night, when we gather for the Easter Vigil, we keep watch in the dark until it is time to proclaim the resurrection of our savior. Only then, when the Vigil is over, do we offer the dismissal, bringing to a close three days of worship.
Why do we do it that way? Partly it is because the story of Jesus’ passion and death cannot be finished until we reach his resurrection. Liturgically speaking, however, that theological continuity is bound up in the services themselves, making them, in effect, one, long service. Each section is integral. The church cannot celebrate them in pieces. They must be held together. Of course, members of the congregation can pick and choose, coming to the parts that they enjoy most. And, even if we omitted Holy Saturday morning or skipped the Vigil, Jesus would still be raised from the dead on Easter Day. But something would be missing.
The Triduum is a single, three-day journey with Jesus Christ from the upper room, across the Kidron valley, into the garden, to the high priest’s residence, to Pilate’s headquarters, to the Place of the Skull, into the tomb, down amidst the dead, and back to life again. This is one story. Even the waiting is important. There is no intermission. In the Anglican tradition, what we believe is expressed through our worship, and the liturgies of the Triduum remind us that every step of this journey is essential.
Borrowing from the example of a colleague and friend of mine, Scott Gunn, I want to make you a promise: if you join the congregation for every liturgy within the Paschal Triduum, you will be changed for the better. You cannot engage this holy journey without experiencing transformation. Even if you have walked this path for years and years, I promise that this year will again bring you something new. If it is your first time or your first time in a while, hold on! These three days are filled with the most exciting, most emotional, and most dramatic moments of our corporate life. You could come once or twice, but why would you want to miss any part of the story? Join us, and let God work within you the great Pascal mystery.