Holy Week this year is from Palm Sunday, April 14, to Easter Sunday, April 21. The days within the week signify the last week of Jesus’ life. On Palm Sunday, he arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and it’s written in the Gospels that his arrival was celebrated by the people. He’d been preaching about social justice and redemption, drawing crowds — which didn’t sit well with the high priest in Jerusalem, nor with the Romans who had taken charge of Judea not long before this time. In other words, a miracle worker coming to town in the middle of the biggest celebration of the year, when the streets would be filled with people who were angry with the Roman presence in the city, and with the corruption going on at the temple, might not be a welcome sight to those with power, including the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. He was likely there to celebrate Passover, and to let the people know who was in charge.
So Jesus arrives in the city, and starts to shake things up pretty early in the week by chasing the moneychangers out of the Temple. The Temple was a holy place, but Jesus finds the commerce going on there contrary to Judaism. Maybe he thought the travelers were being taken advantage of by the moneychangers, and the people would have wanted to purchase animals for sacrifice as well — maybe they were being cheated. The Gospel says Jesus said this: “It is written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” You can see why those in power might have been afraid he’d upset the applecart.
By Thursday, they’ve got their eye on Jesus because he’s got a following, and they have to come up with a way to stop him to avoid unrest among the people. Everyone is preparing for the Seder meal, which of course for Jesus and the disciples is the Last Supper, commemorated on Holy Thursday. In the Catholic tradition, the priests (and even the pope) wash the feet of followers, like Jesus did for his apostles almost 2,000 years ago that day. Later that night, Jesus is turned in to the authorities by Judas, one of his disciples. By Friday he’s condemned to death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, hence Good Friday. He carries the cross he’ll be nailed to through the streets of the city. He’s scourged and ridiculed as the King of the Jews. People follow in his footsteps from the place where he was found guilty to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he is believed to have died; it’s called the Via Dolorosa, or way of suffering. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre contains both the site where it’s believed Jesus died and the tomb he arose from on Easter Sunday. That’s the story in a very, very small nutshell, of course, and the story as I know it.
Most Christian churches across the Island will celebrate this week in various ways, but with the same theme. This is the week that Lent has been leading us to. All that sacrificing and doing good deeds culminate in this week. Some churches offer more time for reflection, more church services, and more opportunities to look forward.
At the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, they host a Tenebrae service on Holy Thursday, April 18, at 7:30 pm. I spoke with Libby Fielder, a member of the church, about this special service. She said that the choir sings, and there are 12 readings over the course of the hourlong service, and candelabras that hold 12 candles add to the solemnity and drama of the event.
“It’s very dramatic, and the readings trace Jesus’ last days,” Libby said. “Partway through, the reading becomes about the disciples, and we light the candles as they name them. As they abandon Jesus, the candles are put out one by one, leaving us in darkness.”
Libby said she found a quote online about staying in the darkness for awhile so that we appreciate the light that much more. She also said going to church on a weeknight might seem like a foreign idea to some people, but that they’re missing out if they don’t go to this service: “After all the candles are extinguished, we take down the cross from the altar and we remove the communion elements and we remove the cloths and we just sit for a little while in the darkness. It’s very beautiful.”
I think that sounds like a great recommendation.
Easter services around the Island
Grace Episcopal Church, Woodlawn Avenue, Vineyard Haven: Palm Sunday liturgies will be held at 8 am and 10 am. On Wednesday, April 17, a children and families’ Tenebrae service will be held at 6 pm. On Thursday, April 18, a 5 pm community meal will be held, followed by a Maundy Thursday liturgy at 6 pm. On Good Friday there will be a liturgy at 12 pm, followed by a children and families’ Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 20, at 6 pm. Easter Sunday celebrations include a Eucharist at 8 am, a festal choral Eucharist at 10 am, and a children’s Easter egg hunt at around 11:30 am. The Rev. Stephen Harding will also hold a service at 8:15 am on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week.
First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, 1051 State Rd., West Tisbury: Join the church for a Palm Sunday service starting at 10 am, followed by a Tenebrae with a service and communion on Thursday, April 18, at 7:30 pm. On Easter Sunday, the church will hold a traditional service in the church sanctuary at 9 am, along with a community Easter service with childcare and church school at the Ag Hall at 11 am, followed by an Easter egg hunt in the Ag Hall field.
Chilmark Community Church, 9 Menemsha Cross Rd., Chilmark: An Easter Sunday walk from the church to the beach will start the day early at 5:30 am. At 6:30 am, a sunrise service will be held on Menemsha Beach, with easy access to parking. Then, at 7:15 am, a breakfast will be shared by worshippers. The Easter Sunday main service will begin at 9 am, along with Sunday school, followed by an Easter egg hunt immediately after.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 51 Winter St., Edgartown: A Palm Sunday service will start at 8 am with the Procession of the Palms and Passion Gospel. On Maundy Thursday, a foot washing and stripping of the altar will take place at 7 pm, with a prayer vigil immediately following throughout the night. On Good Friday there will be a 12 pm worship with choir singing, followed by Stations of the Cross at 4:30 pm. The Easter egg hunt will start at 9 am at the rectory at 10 Bold Meadow Rd. in Edgartown. Finally, Easter Sunday will be celebrated with a Eucharist at 8 am, a family Eucharist at 9:15 am, and a choral Eucharist at 10:30 am.
Federated Church, 45 South Summer St., Edgartown: On Palm Sunday, the church will host a service at 10:30 am in the meetinghouse, where palms will be distributed. On Maundy Thursday, a 7 pm Tenebrae service will be held in the parish house. Good Friday services include a prayer and reflection period in the meetinghouse from 1 pm to 3 pm, where people can find peace and comfort. At 6:30 am on Easter Sunday, a sunrise service will be held on the lawn of the Mayhew Parsonage, 75 South Water St., followed by an Easter service at 10:30 am in the meetinghouse. The egg hunt will kick off at 12 pm on the lawn of the Mayhew Parsonage.
Good Shepherd Parish: On Palm Sunday, there will be mass at St. Augustine’s Church in Vineyard Haven at 9 am and 5 pm. There will also be a Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, starting at 7:45 pm at St. Augustine’s. Good Friday worship will include a veneration of the cross at 3 pm at St. Augustine’s, followed by confessions in Portuguese and English at 6:30 pm in the Good Shepherd Parish back room. An Easter vigil Mass will be hosted Saturday at St. Augustine’s at 8 pm. Easter Sunday worship begins with a sunrise service at Sheriff’s Meadow, West Chop, at 6 am, followed by Easter Mass at 8 am, 9:30 am, and 11 am at St. Augustine’s. An Easter Mass in Portuguese will be held at 11 am immediately following.
United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard, 40 Trinity Park., Oak Bluffs: On Palm Sunday, a special service will be held at 10 am following a choir rehearsal. Maundy Thursday will feature a church service at 7 pm. An Easter Sunday sunrise celebration will be held at 5:30 am at Inkwell Beach, followed by Easter service at 10 am. The Covenant of the Rock service will start at 7 pm on Easter Sunday.
Vineyard Assembly of God, 1048 State Rd., Vineyard Haven: Palm Sunday starts with a special baptism service during regular morning service hours at 10:30 am. A joint Good Friday service will be held at 7 pm with the Vineyard Assembly of God, the First Baptist Church, and the Beacon of Hope Church, at the First Baptist Church. On Easter Sunday there will be a normal worship service celebrating Easter, as well as an egg hunt for children directly after the service.
Beacon of Hope Church, 35 Robinson Rd., Edgartown: A Palm Sunday service starts at 10 am at the Edgartown School, with Sunday school included for kids ages 5 to 11. On Easter Sunday, the Beacon of Hope will meet at the Edgartown School for resurrection Sunday service at 10 am.
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