This past Palm Sunday after the high mass aloha hour had finished, I went over to the church and garden to reflect upon the morning. We had two wonderful Palm Sunday liturgies. The 8:00 am mass was beautiful in its simplicity and minimalism, and I have come to appreciate that this mass has very little music. In contrast, Sunday's high mass had a glorious procession, wonderful music, and extravagant ritual. It was quite the spectacle to see our congregation marching down Kapahulu Avenue, palms waving in the air with thurifer, crucifer, and banner leading the way. Twice traffic came to a halt on Kapahulu as our procession crossed the avenue. Everyone seemed to enjoy the walk through the neighborhood. There was more traffic this past Sunday on Kapahulu due to the Hapalua Half-Marathon, and thus many more people witnessed our walk than on past Palm Sundays.
As we have done in the past, we followed the traditional Palm Sunday liturgy that is outlined in the prayer book. Some churches are moving the passion story to after communion, and more churches are completely omitting the passion on Palm Sunday. The Liturgy of the Palms with the Mass of the Passion has worked well for us at St. Mark's. The three choir men who chanted the Passion of St. Matthew did a stellar job. I also appreciate hearing two passion narratives every Holy Week, the first being on Palm Sunday and the second being on Good Friday. All of us need to hear more scripture on a regular basis. I have always been grateful that we are not allowed to shorten the readings at the Sunday masses in the Episcopal Church, but we do have the option of lengthening the readings. Hearing more scripture is always a good thing.
As we welcome the resurrection of Jesus Christ this weekend, we will hear a lot more scripture. At the Easter Vigil we will have five Old Testament readings, an epistle, and the resurrection story from Matthew's Gospel. At the Vigil the Exodus story is required, but we will also hear stories of the creation from Genesis, Noah's ark, the sacrifice of Isaac, and Ezekiel's valley of the dry bones. You can see the full options for readings in the prayer book's Easter Vigil service.
If you come to church on Easter Day in addition to Easter Eve, you will hear even more sets of readings. There are actually three to four possible Easter mass choices (depending on how you do the counting), beginning with the Vigil on Easter Eve and ending with the evening mass on Easter Day. Early in the morning on Easter Day at 8:00 am we will hear Matthew's account of the resurrection once more. Later in the morning at the 10:00 am High Mass we will hear John's account of the resurrection with Mary Magdalene in the garden. On Easter evening we will hear a resurrection story from Luke's Gospel - the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus when they encounter the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread.
If you desire an Easter mass with full choir and organ, you should come to the Easter Vigil or the Easter Day Solemn High Mass. If you want a quiet, contemplative mass without music, you will be happiest at the early 8:00 am mass on Easter Day. Sunday evening's mass is contemplative, but with the music of chant. All four masses have their beauty and purpose. Why so many Easter masses you might ask? The Easter story is a broad story that spans several hours and places, whether it is the early morning or the evening sunset. Each of these Easter masses recalls a specific moment in the resurrection drama, and thus these liturgies are celebrated at the times that match the resurrection events.
All worship is mission. As a church, we are challenged to have our doors open as much as possible, inviting people to come and encounter Jesus in as many ways as possible. William Temple, a former archbishop of Canterbury, is famous for saying, "the Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members." When we come to worship this Easter, let us remember that we come for the Risen Christ, and we come so that we might share the Risen Christ with others. Too often churches fall into the trap of becoming a closed family, existing for the desires of the members. Membership is not our goal or concern. We strive for discipleship. As we celebrate another Easter at St. Mark's, let's remember that we open our doors for others and not just ourselves, and that ultimately, everything we do is for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Father Paul Lillie+