One Unbroken Time of Worship

John ArmstrongChurch Tradition

Holy Week is the greatest of all weeks for Christians. Many churches have various celebrations throughout the entire week. I have already commented on Maundy Thursday. Today is Good (in the East it is Great) Friday. This darkest of days, when our Lord was crucified, is a good, or great, day because on this day our salvation was secured by the action of Jesus our Lord. When I am now asked, "When were you saved?," I answer, "On a Friday outside of Jerusalem about 2,000 years ago!"

In reality Christians are saved by all the actions of this entire three-day period from Thursday evening to early on Easter morning. I was reminded last evening, as we left the Maundy Thursday service in silence, that Lent has come to an end. The preparation is finished. Now we retrace the last days and hours of Jesus’ death and resurrection remembering that this is where our hope truly lies for eternal life.

At the conclusion of the Thursday service the table and sanctuary are stripped of all adornments. The elements of bread and wine are removed, the Holy Scriptures are taken from the pulpit, the beautifully colored Scripture banners removed from our church walls, and the purple coverings and white cloth taken from the table of the Lord. This is all done to quietly remind us in symbol that our Lord was stripped of everything in order to go to the cross for our salvation.

No benediction is given on Thursday evening because the whole of these days is seen as one continuous service. We departed in silence, ready to continue the celebration of the Three Days on Good Friday. I awoke this morning to continue what I entered into last evening.

For those evangelicals who resist this as mere ritualism I ask: "How can you so easily dismiss this ancient practice, rooted so directly in the gospel and Holy Scripture, while you make a big deal over Mother’s Day and July 4th?" For those who do enter into these holy rituals I urge you to prepare your heart deeply and participate in holy faith. This is why Lent was so special, since it prepared me for these hours. Sadly, in the church of my birth we celebrated Christmas and Easter and that was it. (We didn’t even celebrate Good Friday in my childhood church.) I could never go back to this kind of Christian practice. One reason I share in the life of the church, and there are dozens of good reasons to do so, is because you cannot celebrate these kinds of things in private with the same effect and meaning. You need a body of believers, real flesh and blood people, to sit at a table, to take a meal together, to wash one another’s feet, and to sing with profound joy in the midst of a congregation of redeemed people.