Forward Today: Engaging with Holy Week

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter from Scott Gunn and the Forward Movement team, Scott reflects on why you should push yourself to try Holy Week services, even—indeed especially—if they seem like a challenge.

Dear friends in Christ,

Last week, I wrote about the importance for all Christians of gathering for the Three Holy Days. As we are on the eve of the Three Holy Days–Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Eve–I’d like to urge you once again to attend these services and to encourage others to do the same.

It’s tempting to skip one or more days. As a parish priest, I was always interested to hear the reasons why some people didn’t want to come to one or another of the services of Holy Week. To be honest, there have been times in my life when I wasn’t especially eager to go. Most of the time when I was in those periods, I forced myself to go, and I was always glad in the end.

The foot-washing on Maundy Thursday can be off-putting. Some churches even avoid this with hand-washing or something less difficult. But the whole point of foot-washing is that it’s awkward. It’s hard to touch another person’s feet–something that our culture programs us to avoid. Perhaps it’s equally hard to let another person carefully wash our feet. This is the entire point. Being a Christian and caring for others is not something we do just when we feel like it. We must be ready to undertake tasks that make us uncomfortable, and we must be ready to let others take care of us. The Maundy Thursday liturgy shows us this brilliantly and beautifully.

Good Friday is hard for some people because the service displays a violence that should make any sensible person uneasy. Again, this is just the point. To understand the depth of God’s love for us, we must gaze on the Cross. There we see our Redeemer with outstretched arms offering himself for us and the whole world. There’s just no way to sugarcoat it. The Cross is both an instrument of brutal torture and the instrument of our salvation. God enters the depths of all our personal and collective sins to save us. If we can’t look into the depths, we can’t see that.

Finally, as a parish priest, people used to tell me the Great Vigil is “too long.” I would always respond, “So you’ve never tried it then?” Awkward moment. Then I’d say, “Here’s the deal. The first hour is in near-total darkness. Come and sit in the back. If you’re bored, get up and leave. I will be grateful you came by for a few minutes, and no one else will know. A few people took me up on this, and no one ever left. As one person said at the end of the service, “That was astounding. I can’t believe I’ve waited this many years to come celebrate Easter this way!”

Give the services a try. If you pour yourself into the services with an open heart, and if the church offers the liturgies our prayer book gives us with reckless abandon, it will change your life. Every time.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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