Different congregations, different ways to celebrate Holy Week

Published: Saturday, March 23 2013 9:15 a.m. MDT

Rev. Rick Lawson, right, and Caryl Marsh, center, wash Carole Merril's feet during Maundy Thursday mass at St. Mark's Cathedral in Salt Lake City in 2008.

Tim Hussin, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The heady scent of something delicious drifted from the kitchen in the office area associated with the Cathedral of St. Mark in downtown Salt Lake City Wednesday afternoon.

"I'm cooking lamb," said the Very Rev. Ray Waldon, the jovial, personable dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Mark. "It's for a series of presentations we've been doing on the last seven words of Jesus. Each time we've served a dish from the time of Jesus — something Jesus might have eaten.

"Of course," Rev. Waldon adds, playfully, "he didn't leave us any recipes."

Recreating tastes and smells that Jesus might have tasted and smelled is consistent with the Episcopal approach to Holy Week worship, during which certain events of the last week of Jesus' life are recreated "to help us remember."

For example, on Palm Sunday — this year, Sunday, March 24 — worshippers will have a procession that will take them outside the cathedral complex, waving palm fronds just as Jesus' followers did during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the first day of Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday — traditionally the day of Jesus' Last Supper with his apostles and the night of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane — a priest will reenact Christ's washing of his disciples' feet, which took place on that night.

"We also remove everything from the altar — the candles, the cross, the kneelers, everything — and the priest cleans the altar with a palm brush," Rev. Waldon said. "This signifies what the world would be like if Jesus left. It's a very moving part of our liturgy. It always overwhelms me as a priest, and I've been doing this for two decades."

Good Friday features a big wooden cross as well as a series of prayers at the 14 Stations of the Cross, placed on the walls around the cathedral. It is a day of sober meditation and contemplation on the crucifixion of Christ. On Saturday there is the Easter vigil, and then on Sunday there is an intentional liturgical movement from sadness into great joy — joy that is enhanced, Rev. Waldon says, because of a full week of recreating the events of Holy Week.

"I think that's why for Episcopalians Easter is so joyful," he said. "We've lived the week. We've taken part. We've remembered."

Remembering Jesus Christ at Easter is also important for Pastor Matthew Johnson and his congregation at Grace Baptist Church in West Valley City. But their approach is less focused on programs and physical re-creations, and more focused on what Pastor Johnson calls memorializing.

"Baptists have historically taken a memorial view of things," said Pastor Johnson while sitting at his desk in an office just off the church's sanctuary. "Things like communion or sacrament or baptism or holy day celebrations are viewed from a memorial perspective. On Easter we remember his death and resurrection. We don't have a liturgy that we have to follow — we have a lot of freedom how we choose to remember his resurrection as a congregation."

Even among different Baptist churches there are differences in Easter observance.

"Here at Grace Baptist we believe that Jesus was actually crucified on Thursday, so we will have a Thursday evening service during which we will spend some time in solemn prayer considering this," the pastor said, adding that "another Baptist church I know celebrates on Friday because they believe Christ was crucified on Friday."

"We don't have a beef with them," he continued. "It's a matter of choice and of conscience — for them and for us. We believe what we believe and we're going to follow our conscience, even if that means we're going upstream."

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