As Christians worldwide begin the final leg of their Lenten journey, heading into Holy Week this week, local churches have had many offerings throughout the past weeks and into the coming week that connect the traditions from Lent and Easters past to the present day. Throughout the Lent and Easter season, as well as throughout the entire liturgical year, parishes work to meet the needs and desires of parishioners spanning several generations, helping them to deepen their faith experiences as much as they wish to.
At Saint David's on the Hill Episcopal Church in Cranston, there have been many types of Lenten activities, special events and offerings throughout the 40-day period that appeal to both young and old, as well as to those who wish or are able to immerse themselves the wide variety of Lenten activities and traditions.
As Reverend Peter Lane explains, the traditions of Lent and Easter date far back in history, and he likens the levels of participation in Lent and the personal results to the climbing of Mount Washington.
"If you climb the mountain by foot, you get to the summit and you take in the incredible vistas, the view of the Adirondacks, the view of the Mount Washington Valley, and you think about your journey, the times you stumbled or wondered if you'd make it through," he said. "If you go by car up the auto road, you hop out, look at the vista, take some photos and some selfies and get back into the car and head back down the mountain. My hunch is that those who hoof it up the mountain on their own, struggling for hours, will experience that summit in a very profound way. Lent is just like that. If you put the time in, you attend the liturgies and go to church and you focus on personal disciplines, take advantage of all that Lent and Holy Week have to offer, you experience that celebration of Easter in a whole new way."
He explains that Lent provides people of faith the ability to set aside the time to focus on and to wrestle with the struggle of who they are as human beings, who they are called to be.
"Lent is the invitation to walk with Jesus, to look at our own lives, to look at his life and to be honest with ourselves about our yearnings and all the things that tug on us, all of the fantasies and temptations that we use to distract us and to numb us," Reverend Lane said.
According to Lane, going back in history, Lent developed formally in the fourth century, as the early church became more formalized under Constantine and the Roman Empire.
"The early church after Jesus focused on the Easter celebration as a big annual event. They used to baptize new members into the church at that time," he said. "In preparation for baptism those who were preparing for baptism would spend that time in study and prayer, learning the teachings of Jesus and the tenants of the church. The time of preparation was filled with fasting and being mentored, all leading up to the baptism, which took place on Easter. As the church became more formalized, this time of preparation also became more formalized. From the fourth century on there were all sorts of structures added, councils held, and bishops were added in, the Bible was added in."
He explained that although the Protestant Reformation threw out a lot of the trappings of the original Roman Catholic Church, including Lent, the Episcopal Church straddled both worlds, maintaining a lot of the ceremonies of the church.
"As a result, in recent years the Episcopal Church has gone even further to reclaim the ancient liturgies of Holy Week," he said. "It used to be that you go on Ash Wednesday, you go on Good Friday and then Easter was the big celebration. Some might've gone on Holy Thursday, but many folks didn't grow up with a lot of the traditions leading up to Easter. All we can do now is invite folks to try something that might appeal to them in their Lenten journey. That is part of the role of the church, to faithfully and carefully make these offerings and create these opportunities for people to explore the depth of what Lent and Holy week are all about. Unlike a business that crunches the numbers and dumps a line that might not be profitable, we aren't about the numbers. We are about faithfully offering a way for people to more deeply connect with God."
To that end, Saint David's on the Hill is and has been working to faithfully offer those opportunities to its parishioners. Throughout the month, the Sunday School students at St. David's have been working on large posters depicting the Stations of the Cross, which will be hung in the church alongside the traditional Stations of the Cross in time for Good Friday's 4 p.m. Stations of the Cross service. Additionally, there have been many Lenten events that help to foster the fellowship so many in the parish enjoy, with weekly Compline services held on Tuesday nights, consisting of a Lenten service and a simple supper enjoyed together, and fun events such as Bible Jeopardy and Charades have been mixed in throughout the month. Parishioners have also had the opportunity to participate in the Blooming of the Cross, in which they place a Lenten promise to either give something up or to take on something positive, on a slip of paper which was then pinned to a draped cross in the entryway of the church. During Holy Week, the cross was replaced with a replica of the tomb in which Jesus was buried, and the promises could be placed inside the tomb by moving away the stone in front. All slips of paper will be later burned as the Paschal flame is lit during the Easter Vigil on April 15.
Holy Week began with a blessing of the palm on Palm Sunday and a procession by the parishioners, in and around the grounds, through the church and outdoors, with their palm. On Tuesday night, the weekly Compline service will take place at 7 p.m. and a Tenebrae service will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night, an ancient service reclaimed in past decades with a dramatic retelling of the passion gospel done in candlelight. A Maundy Thursday Liturgy including a hand blessing, the stripping of the altar, and an all night watch will take place beginning at 7 p.m. on Thursday and on Friday the Good Friday Liturgy will take place at noon and at 7 p.m. A Prayer Labyrinth will be set up on Saturday, April 15 from noon to 5 p.m. for those wishing for a unique Lenten prayer experience which although looks like a maze, differs from a maze in that the end result is not to get lost, but rather to grow in spirituality and in prayer. The Great Vigil of Easter will take place on Saturday as well, beginning at 8 p.m. with a Vigil party directly following the service. A traditional Easter Sunday service will take place on Easter Sunday morning at both 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., followed by a family Easter Egg Hunt for children 12 and under after the 10 service.
"There is joy and fun to be experienced during Lent and Easter in addition to all of the seriousness," said Reverend Lane. "There is nothing contradictory about that, and the youth activities give kids an entry point into Holy Week and a chance to talk about these things in a way that is accessible to them. Part of what I love about the services of Holy Week is that there is such a depth to them, whether you are seven or eight years old, or 78 years old, there's still new ways of understanding what this all means and why we do it, and new ways of appreciating what Jesus reveals to us."