Last night we gathered at the rectory for the third book discussion in our series, Reading the Works of Refugees. We had a great time, and so far all three books have produced lively conversation and food for thought. Last night's book, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner, resulted in several of us exploring more information about Cambodia. Besides giving us a window into the stories of another refugee experience, this book introduced us to a culture and country we knew very little about. Gathering together for discussion has also reinforced the need to share these books with others. The group gains new insights into the story by hearing the reflections of others. Had we not come together, our understanding would have been flat, limited by one's individual understanding. There are three more books in this discussion series, and you can still join us.
This Sunday is the Fifth Sunday in Lent, and the statues in the church have already been veiled in violet. My experience is that the first few weeks of Lent always move slowly, and then suddenly, this time of preparation for Holy Week ends quickly. If you have not joined us yet for Stations of the Cross on Fridays or Wednesdays, there is still time. (However, if you were hoping to hear the choir at Stations next Wednesday, you will have to wait until next year. Next Wednesday will be lead by a cantor, and since we are almost at Holy Week, the music will be much starker.) This coming Sunday is also the last Lenten Gathering on Being Disciples by Rowan Williams.
Last night after Stations of the Cross and Benediction, one of our guest worshipers expressed their gratitude that St. Mark's offers weekday Lenten programs. This person had done a survey of church websites, and they discovered that Lenten programs during the week, offered at times for people who still work, were virtually non-existent. I have not done my own survey to corroborate this experience, but it does remind me that St. Mark's must not take our programming for granted. If it is true that there are very few Lenten gatherings happening among Episcopalians, I fear what this says about our depth of discipleship. Is a church that gathers only on Sundays, especially in Lent, vital? This is a reminder to safeguard our Lenten practices at St. Mark's, for such practice is becoming less available.
Holy Week is almost here, and the schedule of services is online. On Palm Sunday at the High Mass we will begin in the garden for the Blessing of the Palms, weather permitting, after which we will have our neighborhood procession, and then hear the Passion according to Saint Matthew chanted in the church. On Palm Sunday evening we will walk the Stations of the Cross in place of the normal Sunday evening mass. On the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in Holy Week, said masses are being offered at 12:00 noon and at 6:00 pm. Confessions may be heard after either mass on the Wednesday in Holy Week for those desiring this Sacrament before the Triduum. (Confessions will also be heard on Good Friday afternoon at 2:00 pm.)
On Maundy Thursday, the Liturgy of the Three Days, or the Triduum begins. This is one liturgy, in three parts, spread over three days, re-enacting our Lord's death and resurrection. On Thursday night we gather at 7:00 pm to recall how our Lord washed the feet of his disciples and instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The All-Night Vigil follows at the Altar of Repose. On Good Friday we gather at 12:00 noon for the liturgy's second part which includes the Passion according to Saint John and the veneration of the cross. On Saturday, the third part of the Triduum happens at 7:00 pm, the Great Vigil of Easter, when we light the New Fire, celebrate baptisms, and enjoy the first mass of Easter. A dessert reception follows the Easter Vigil, so bring your favorite dessert to share. I highly recommend attending all three parts of the Triduum, which is the highlight of the year according to our prayer book. It will be worth it.
When Easter Day arrives, we will celebrate our normal Sunday schedule with masses at 8:00 am, 10:00 am, and 6:00 pm. I encourage you to attend an Easter Day service, even if you attended the Easter Vigil. This year we are sticking to our normal schedule, so please bring some friends. The 8:00 am mass will not have music, so if you desire music, please attend one of the later services. After the 10:00 am high mass, there will be an Easter Brunch in the Parish Hall. The suggested donation is $12 for adults, and parents may decide how much to donate for their children's meal(s). As is always our St. Mark's practice, no one is turned away. The Easter Sunday Evening Mass will use the specific mass readings for Easter evening. Did you know that there is a mass with specific readings for Easter Day evening? I have always wanted to do this service, and now because of our regularly scheduled Sunday evening mass, we have the chance.
Much preparation goes into our worship at St. Mark's, and it is our passion for Jesus Christ that makes such robust worship possible. Two Saturday altar guild work days have been scheduled on April 8 and 15, both at 9:00 am. Brass needs to be polished, the church needs to be cleaned, and the space needs to be prepared and decorated for the liturgies. Please consider joining us as more hands make for quicker work.
We often hear people talking about how churches are declining in the Episcopal Church. Where there were two priests, now there is only one priest. Where there were two Sunday morning masses, now there is only one Sunday mass. Many Sunday Schools have disappeared, and many churches no longer conduct Bible studies outside of Sunday morning. Weekday programming can be minimal, giving the appearance that the church only does ministry and formation on Sundays. We must not submit to this culture of decline, depression, and death. The truth of the Gospel is that growth happens when the clergy and the laity do ministry together, but it does require work and dedication coupled with passion and desire. As is the case every week at St. Mark's, we will be open every day of Holy Week, and once Easter Day comes, we will be open for ministry every day thereafter. We have a story to proclaim that the world must hear, and the liturgies of Holy Week are the greatest way that we can share our story. I hope you can join us for all of Holy Week and Easter, because we need you to be with us as we proclaim our Lord's death and resurrection. The storytelling will not be the same without you among us.
Blessings to you and your loved ones this Holy Week and Easter.
Father Paul Lillie+