Holy Saturday and Easter Week

In his post this week, Canon Howe gives us perspective about Holy Saturday and Easter Week:

For many Episcopalians, Holy Saturday is a liturgical down day – of preparation for Easter dinner. Some are fortunate enough to attend a well-executed Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. I grew up with an earlier version of this service more than 50 years ago. This is the heart of our liturgy, and if you have never experienced the Easter Vigil I urge you to get to one, if possible, or to read 239-250 in Hatchett’s Commentary. The Exultet is one of our most glorious liturgical hymns, and encompasses the whole history of salvation. It is followed by what used to be called the Prophecies, a series of readings, psalms and collects which again recount the history of salvation from Creation to Zephaniah’s vision of the gathering of God’s people. Then follows the oldest celebration of Baptism, and the Eucharist.

Several decades ago, I had a generous sabbatical which found me studying atSt. George’sCollege,Jerusalem. It was a rare year in which Passover, Western Easter and Eastern Easter all happened at the same time. In Jerusalem Holy Saturday is the day of Holy Fire. Thousands of pilgrims squeezed into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher/ Resurrection on Good Friday evening, and in the late morning of Holy Saturday police and ecclesiastical officials escort the Greek Patriarch, the Armenian Patriarch and the Coptic Archpriest through the crowd to Jesus’ tomb. For some time nothing happens, while expectation builds.  Then the two Patriarchs thrust bundles of lighted candles through oval gaps in the sides of the tomb structure with cries of “Christ is risen!” There is a scramble to light many candles from the first two. Pilgrims burst from the Church to light the candles of those who wait in the courtyard and others light lanterns and run for taxis to the airport so that they can fly home to carry the flame to their own Easter Vigil.

I would not presume to improve upon the collects for Easter Day and Easter week, but if your parish doesn’t have daily Eucharists during Easter Week, a careful study of the readings can be rewarding. The Year B readings from Acts trace the beginnings and early growth of the Church, with Peter’s first sermons, and a major healing.

 The Gospel portions for the week are the cornerstones of our faith. We have Matthew and John’s accounts of the resurrection, in which the one constant is Mary Magdalene, the first witness to Jesus’ new life. Jesus may have called only male disciples, but he certainly called Mary too. Then there is the beautiful Emmaus story, which has fascinated many great artists. Could it be that we don’t recognize our risen Savior until the bread is broken? The week ends with Luke’s promise of the Holy Spirit, John’s post-resurrection appearance in Galilee, where it all began, and the ‘long ending’ of Mark. Many scholars have assumed that this is a later addition – that the Gospel ended with verse 8. This is certainly more comforting than “they fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.”

To learn more about Canon Howe and the work of the Custodian, check the previous post dated April 26.

The photo of Holy Fire was taken at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Fr. Johannes Jacobse – 2011) and the painting is Walk to Emmaus (c. 1565) by Lelio Orsi, an Italian Renaissance painter.

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