Holy Week

A Reflection on Embodied Worship

For years I’ve been trying to articulate for myself and for others what makes the way we Anglicans celebrate Holy Week and Easter unique. In my time in the Anglican church, I have been deeply formed by Holy Week. Holy Week has profoundly shaped how I think about the church as the family of God, God’s Kingdom, and the purpose of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It’s been difficult for me to find the words to describe what I feel and have experienced. But this year, I’ve realized that the Resurrection is embodied to me through our worship in a way I hadn’t experienced before becoming an Anglican, and it’s our embodied worship that makes an immense difference in our discipleship.

Holy Week is a deeply embodied experience. In our celebration, our bodies play an active role. Our bodies are active in our worship across the church calendar: we sit, we stand, we kneel, we taste, we sing. But during Holy Week, we take this embodied worship to the next level by marching around outside the church and waving palms, by washing one another’s feet, by touching the wood of the cross. We can feel the heat from the new fire and the candles. We hear the announcement of the good news in the ringing of the bells. We dance around the aisles, sweating because we’re so tightly packed and the air conditioning can’t keep up. At the end of Holy Week, on Easter Monday, I always feel bone-tired.

All of this lively worship leads me to contemplate death. I think we find it easy to think about Jesus’ death in the abstract only—we don’t yet know Jesus’ literal body personally, and he ultimately wasn’t dead for very long. It’s more comfortable to disembody Jesus’ death than to identify with Jesus’ death in our own dying bodies. We like to think about Jesus as a person who ate and drank and ran and danced and enjoyed his body in the ways we enjoy ours. It’s scary to think that Jesus’ body experienced the destruction of Sin and Death the way that ours do and will. In our Communal Lament devotional for Lent this year, the stories and their authors returned to the idea of bodily suffering again and again. I was struck by how even our mental and emotional suffering affects our bodies. We don’t want to die, but Holy Week doesn’t let us escape the truth that it is only in dying that we will find true life. Jesus could only give us life through the death of his own body.

A few weekends ago, at our youth retreat, we focused our teaching and reflection times on the theme of “Embodied Spirituality.” We wanted our students to wrestle with the mystery that we are “embodied spirits” and that at the same time we are made of “spiritual flesh.” We wanted them to contemplate the importance of their bodies primarily because our internet saturated culture is literally killing the bodies of young people. Suicide is spiking among teenagers, and I suspect that it has something to do with how having a “life” on the internet can denigrate our embodied lives. Hating our bodies is not new to humanity, but the internet allows us to think that we can get away from our bodies or that we don’t really need our bodies to be ourselves. This kind of death does not bring life.

In all of this, I am reminded of Paul’s message to the Corinthian Christians about what the gospel has to do with bodies:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. . . .
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.”

— 1 Corinthians 15:1-6, 20-27, NIV, emphasis added

I love how this passage brings to light for us both the humanity and divinity of Jesus’ body. The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus demonstrate that there is a clear degree of similarity between Jesus’ old body that died and his new resurrected body. But most importantly, Jesus’ resurrected body is a new body, and both of those aspects are important. Our bodies are now subject to Death. In his resurrected body, Jesus defeats death. And someday, we will also have death-defeating, resurrected bodies. They will be similar to our earthly bodies now, but they will be also be transcendent, resurrected, and almost unrecognizable in their resistance to death. And as we look forward to Ascension Sunday, we can be confident that we have an Advocate who stands on our behalf at the right hand of the Father in his body. This is the same body that we share now in the Eucharist, and this is the same body that we will share at our own resurrection.

So when I think about how God met me during Holy Week, how he continues to meet us through Easter season, how he meets us in our Anglican worship, I continue to be humbled and encouraged that he meets us in his body.

Ellen works at Savior as the Youth Coordinator. She is also an Editor of Bibles & Reference at Tyndale House Publishers; she has worked there since 2014. She has worked and volunteered in a variety of youth ministries over the past decade and she began attending Savior in 2017.

Ellen works at Savior as the Youth Coordinator. She is also an Editor of Bibles & Reference at Tyndale House Publishers; she has worked there since 2014. She has worked and volunteered in a variety of youth ministries over the past decade and she began attending Savior in 2017.


Help to Enter Holy Week

It’s intense and only once a year. What is going on?

For Christians, the most important week of the year is Holy Week—the name we give the final and ultimate week of Jesus’ earthly life.

We don’t so much study that week as enter it. The celebration of Holy Week began in the 4th century, as Christians in Jerusalem wanted to worship Christ in the exact places where he had been, to retrace his steps during those momentous events. Therefore, our worship during Holy Week is tactile, often primal—waving palm fronds, touching a wooden cross, lighting a candle, washing feet, dancing, ringing bells. (This is also why it’s a great week for kids. They often enter this worship better than we do.)

We celebrate Holy Week as one unified week, one giant wave rising and cresting and carrying us toward the shore. We aren’t used to thinking this way. Most folks I know grew up viewing Maundy Thursday as wholly optional, Good Friday as a funeral service, and Easter Vigil as that weird thing Anglicans do. Actually, those 3 services are 1 joint service. We don’t “end” the service after Thursday or Friday; there is no closing hymn, no recessional, no dismissal. We simply allow you a break to go home and sleep, then come back to continue in worship.

And now a few pastoral and practical words for each service:


Liturgy of the Palms: Service of the Passion

As the service starts, we are the crowd along the road into Jerusalem, waving palm branches and singing to welcome Jesus as he enters Jerusalem as King. (Dress warmly, since this part of our service goes outside.) Back in the Sanctuary, we hear the Passion reading—the account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Now we are the crowd that turns against Jesus, shouting “Crucify him!” (Join in loudly at this part of the reading. If it feels jarring, that’s the idea.)


Maundy Thursday

The word “maundy” comes from “mandate,” because on the Thursday night before he died, Jesus gave his followers a mandate: “Love each other just as much as I love you” (John 13:34). In this service, we are the disciples, and we see how much Jesus loves us: (1) He washes our feet (wear socks and shoes easy for you to remove); (2) He gives us his life in the Last Supper; (3) He prays in agony in Gethsemane until he can take on the suffering for our sake (you’re invited to stay and pray, as the disciples were invited by Jesus to pray with him.)


Good Friday

Christians call this disastrous day in Jesus’ life—an event of government-sponsored torture and public execution—“good.” In what possible way could “Good Friday” be good? Because a greater plan was at work. Several times Jesus predicted that he would be betrayed, tortured, and killed (Luke 9:22; 9:44; and 18:31-33)—and, incredibly, this was part of God’s plan (Luke 22:22) and the reason Jesus came (John 12:27-28). Therefore, our worship is somber but not funereal. As Ellen Richard Vosburg has written, “This is not a somber recapitulation of Jesus' death, but rather a thankful and reverently joyful recollection of his death that gave us life.” On Good Friday, we are eyewitnesses of Jesus’ suffering and death. We hear and participate again in the Passion narrative. And we spend time in prayer at a wooden cross, taking in that God would love us enough to suffer this for us.


The Great Vigil of Easter

In the early church, new believers could not receive the sacred mystery of Communion until they had been taught and trained. The final night of their training was the night before Easter. They would stay awake all night. At dawn, as the Easter sunrise began to light the sky, they would be baptized and put on white robes. That’s how the Easter Vigil began.

Like those early believers, we spend a long time in worship (so bring water and maybe a power bar). The service comes in 4 parts:

  1. Service of Light: a new fire is kindled, and from it the Paschal Candle (meaning Easter Candle) is lit, symbolizing Christ, the light of the world. We share in that light by lighting our own candles (When lighting candles, tip only the unlit candle).

  2. Service of Lessons: we hear how God saved his people in ages past and respond with songs and prayers. That culminates in the Acclamation that “Jesus is risen!” which is shouted and celebrated. (Bring a bell to ring!)

  3. Baptism: we baptize new believers and also renew our own baptismal vows (which includes the sprinkling of baptism water on the congregation, so if you wear glasses, you might want to remove those for that brief time).

  4. Communion: we celebrate the victory of Life over Death in this holy feast and continue the celebration with singing and dancing (wear comfortable shoes).


Easter Sunday

Our joy continues with singing and Communion—this year, an Agape-style Communion around tables. And we share a leisurely brunch with one another, enjoying community and thanking God for all he has done among us during Holy Week. (You’ll be tired, so enjoy some coffee, and if you can, go home and take a nap.)

Thanks to Erik Peterson for the Holy Week graphics.

Kevin Miller was editor and vice-president at Christianity Today for 26 years and then associate rector at Church of the Resurrection for 5 years. He has been the rector at Savior since January 2017, and is also the co-founder of PreachingToday.com and CTPastors.com.

Kevin Miller was editor and vice-president at Christianity Today for 26 years and then associate rector at Church of the Resurrection for 5 years. He has been the rector at Savior since January 2017, and is also the co-founder of PreachingToday.com and CTPastors.com.


Prayer Requests for Holy Week

As Holy Week approaches, we invite you to use the following suggestions as you pray for our services and our community:

For our preparations

  • For all of us to enter our Lenten practice of communal lament

  • For Sandy Richter, our Holy Week coordinator, to have strength, health, and wisdom as she leads our planning

  • For Erin, our minister of music, and all our musicians to be drawn upward in worship as they prepare to lead us

  • For wisdom about how to handle any limits in parking or seating

  • For God’s Spirit to anoint and guide each preacher: Father Kevin on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday; Mother Karen at the Easter Vigil; and Mother Linda on Maundy Thursday

For our people

  • For our children and youth to deeply experience the love of Jesus and the life of the church, and for Pastor Mary, Sarah Lindsay, and Ellen Vosburg to be strengthened to serve them.

  • For our members who are sick and suffering, and those who love them, to have grace to bear with these limitations and still meet the Lord

  • For people who are new to Savior or returning to church in general, to be gently opened by God’s Spirit to receive all God has for them

  • For at least one person to return to God

  • For the many who serve in hidden ways, that they will enjoy the smile of Christ

  • For God to lead us as a people through these services, giving us discernment about the people and places He would have us serve

  • For God to raise up people with gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers who can lead a new Savior community when the time is right

For our worship:

  • For the Word of God to be proclaimed boldly and creatively through the Scripture readings in each service

  • For our prayers to be honest and Spirit-led, particularly during the Prayer Watch on Maundy Thursday and the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday

  • For people to have the grace to give freely, joyfully, without compulsion to the Good Friday gift, and for our gift to bless immigrants and refugees

  • For all the arts—music, drama, dance, banners, craftsmanship, and more—to be more fully released in our midst

  • For a deep taste of resurrection joy at the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday services; for heaven to come down during our worship at these services