On the eve of so many holy weekend services, and questions about how we will worship at Our Shepherd this Easter, now’s a great time to reflect on the character of each worship service of holy week! To aid our understanding, we will explore each of the services in light of Zechariah (not the most well-worn portion of most Bibles). The prophet gave the Old Testament saints a beautiful preview of what Christ would accomplish through His life, suffering, death and resurrection. We look at this passage with New Testament eyes, rejoicing in what He has done for us.
Our Palm Sunday service began with our reenactment of the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem. Our children processed into worship, waving their palms and singing, “Hosanna!” “Lord save us!” This festival service was full of loud singing and praises reserved for this particular holy day. Worship was celebratory and resounded with praise and thanksgiving. The first verse of Zechariah 13 is particularly appropriate to Palm Sunday.
Zechariah 13:1 “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness."
According to three of the four gospels, the first thing Jesus did in Jerusalem after the triumphal entry was to cleanse the Temple. While we don’t have a service to commemorate that event during holy week, it’s good for us to remember when this happened. It correlates well with the first section of Zechariah’s prophecy from chapter 13.
Zechariah 13:2-3 “And on that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more. And also I will remove from the land the prophets and the spirit of uncleanness. And if anyone again prophesies, his father and mother who bore him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord.’ And his father and mother who bore him shall pierce him through when he prophesies.
While verse three may be an enigma to us, we know that it was because of the greed, power-lust and jealousy of the religious leaders that Jesus would be arrested. We are no less guilty than they were of these sins. The somber character of our Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday services demonstrate our realization that we are the reason Christ suffered and died. While the sins of the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day may be better documented that our own sin, we are no less guilty. But this is precisely why Jesus came into Jerusalem. To cleanse the Lord’s house and our hearts from the idols we cherish and choose over Him. He came to redeem us from sin and remove every barrier to God’s love for us.
Maundy Thursday we gather for a solemn and somewhat somber service of Holy Communion. Our gospel lesson recounts Jesus stripping-down to his undergarments and ministering to His disciples as their servant. In this act, He assumes the lowest place. We are humbled by His humility and receive Him in reverent awe. Our service concludes with the stripping of the altar and chanting of Psalm 22.
(You can’t have a 23rd psalm, without the 22nd, and if you don’t know what this means, you should read Psalm 22 before worship! When you read it, keep in mind these words were written a thousand years before Christ went to the cross. What it describes in such vivid detail would be unbelievable, if it weren’t in the Bible.)
Zechariah 13:4-6 “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies. He will not put on a hairy cloak in order to deceive, but he will say, ‘I am no prophet, I am a worker of the soil, for a man sold me in my youth.’ And if one asks him, ‘What are these wounds on your back?’ he will say, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’"
Our first Good Friday worship service will be our school chapel at 8:45 a.m., open to all who want to come. This brief service of the Word will feature an empty cross painting and opportunity for all to come forward and place a black mark on the cross representing their sin. At the conclusion of the service, the cross will be removed and the children informed that their sins were buried when Jesus was buried, but when He rose, our sins remained buried. It was for the forgiveness of sins that God the Father struck His Son Jesus, so that we can be forgiven.
Zechariah 13:7 “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones."
Our second Good Friday worship service is the Tre-Ore service from noon-3:00 p.m., the three hours Jesus hung on the cross. This service is divided into seven mini-services, each twenty minutes long, with a five minute musical interlude between each movement, allowing worshipers to come-and-go as their schedule permits. We will read the entire passion account and extinguish seven candles, one for each of the seven last sayings of Jesus from the cross.
Our final Good Friday service is Tenebrae, a service of darkness. There will be no sermon, so that the Word may speak for itself as we read the seven last words of Christ responsively, meditate, praise and pray. The darkness that covered the earth is the darkness of our sin. We depart in silence with nothing to say in defense of our sin, and in the quiet hope of the resurrection.
Zechariah 13:8 "In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive."
The Easter vigil service of Saturday evening is subdued as we worship while Christ’s body lay in the tomb. The disciples were sorely tried by Jesus’ death. Death continues to haunt God’s people today. Although Jesus has died, death can’t extinguish the light of life, which is why this is a service of light. The service concludes with the lighting of candles as we anticipate the joy of Easter morning and the hope we have of everlasting life.
Zechariah 13:9a "And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested."
All of our Easter morning services, including the sunrise and festival services, will feature full choirs, lots of special music and loud praise as we join in celebrating Christ’s resurrection! We’ve reserved our Alleluias for this special day and will sing with gusto for our God. His victory is our victory because He has made us His people, washed away our sin, and given us the hope of everlasting life.
Zechariah 13:9b "They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
We hope and pray that you are able to join us for worship this weekend! We have so much to celebrate and so much to share. Bring your friends and family. Bring everyone you can to join in our worship and, by God’s grace, come to know Jesus as their personal Savior or grow in their faith. --Pastor Lepley