WHEN VISITING older people, my eyes often catch the sight of a palm cross tucked behind a picture of our Lord, family photo or dresser. I see their faith and their gratitude for the self-giving love of God in Christ. Many of those seniors, through great age or frailty of health, are no longer able to participate in the public liturgies of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. But in spirit they are making the same journey.
“We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes, an ancient sign speaking of the frailty and uncertainty of human life, and marking the penitence of the community as a whole.” (p. 282, Book of Alternative Services [BAS]). The litany of penitence for Ash Wednesday reminds us of those deeply personal sins and those that are of a corporate nature; sins in which we are all entangled. We acknowledge sins of commission and omission.
Having made our trek through the 40 days of Lent, we arrive at Holy Week. With the people who welcomed Jesus in Jerusalem, we greet him as our king though we know “his crown is thorns and his throne a cross” (p. 297, BAS). The palm branch we receive on that day is a sign that Christ’s victory over sin and death comes through his self-offering on the cross. The liturgies for Holy Week draw us into the upper room, to Gethsemane, the judgment hall, to a hill called Calvary, and to the garden. Day by day, hour by hour, we are drawn closer to Christ in his passion and his death.
Then the chains of death are broken and Christ rises triumphant from the grave. Coming into the darkened church, each one receives a taper. In silence, a new fire is lit and the Paschal candle is lit. As the deacon carries it among the people, each one draws light from it.
By the time the great candle is placed in its stand, every face is radiant with resurrection light. The word is proclaimed, baptismal promises renewed, and the eucharist celebrated. Then we are sent into the world, bearing witness to the Risen Lord – bringing pardon where there is injury, hope where there is despair, and joy where there is sadness. The taper is a sign of our calling in Christ.
I ask you to remember those who would gladly participate in these liturgies but are not able. Take them some ashes, take them a piece of palm, and take them a taper so that together we can rejoice in our redemption.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.