St. Luke’s East Hampton

A description of our Holy Week Services


Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a time in which he was greeted as a king with the waving of palm branches. Very quickly after arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus was arrested, condemned before Pilate, and crucified.  The Palm Sunday service enacts these events, beginning the blessing of the palms and a joyful procession and the moving quickly  the reading of the Passion Gospel, done as a play with the congregation playing the part of the crowd who themselves move from saying “Hosanna” to “Crucify him”.  This service leads us into Holy Week reflecting on our own role these events and need for forgiveness and hope.



This service commemorates Jesus’ last night with his disciples. Scripture tells us that this was the night of the last supper (the first communion service). It also tells us that, after supper, Jesus washed the disciple’s feet as an example of love and of being servants to one another.  This service contains both a celebration of communion and the washing of feet. The name Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word "mandatum" coming from the Antiphon based on our Lord's "commandment" in the Gospel, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another even as I have loved you."  (John 13:34)



At the end of the Maundy Thursday service,  Psalm 22 is read or sung and the Altar and Sanctuary will be ceremonially stripped and washed, leaving the church barren and empty for Good Friday.



While the Sanctuary is prepared for Good Friday, the lights will be dimmed.  The congregation may then remain in prayer for The Watch, in which we remember the Agony in the Garden, or they may depart in silence.

The Altar of Repose symbolizes the Garden of Gethsemane, wherein Jesus asked his followers to watch with him for one hour.  You may wish to keep The Watch in silence after the Stripping of the Altar.  The Church will be open until 10:00 pm on Thursday and from 8:00am to noon Good Friday, for those who wish to take advantage of this opportunity for prayer and reflection.  



The observance of Good Friday as a separate service dates back to at least the 4th century.  Until that time there was only the Paschal Vigil - a single observance of Christ's victory and death and rising to life again and of the Christians' death and rebirth through baptism.  It is a day of fast, abstinence and penance.  The liturgy includes a litany of penance, a veneration of the cross, and a reading of the Passion. Good Friday, together with Holy Saturday, are the only days in the year on which no celebration of the Holy Eucharist takes place.  In this case, "Good" derives its meaning from the Middle English usage of "godly" or "holy."  On Good Friday we remember Jesus’ Passion and reflect on the meaning and message of the cross.




Beginning as early as New Testament times and continuing into the practice of the early church, the Great Vigil of Easter was a very special time for Christians.  The first record of the Great Vigil comes from a service manual used in Rome about AD 215. Besides the Eucharist itself, this Christian adaptation of the Jewish Passover rite is the closest we have to the worship of the early church and that of Jesus himself.

By the eighth century, the liturgy for the Great Vigil had become very elaborate. The service began with the kindling of the new fire, the procession of the Paschal candle and the chanting of an ancient hymn known as the Exultet. Then up to twelve Old Testament readings followed, interspersed with psalms, canticles and prayers.  The water of the baptismal font was exorcised and blessed; and the people were sprinkled with water as a reminder of their baptism.  The candidates for baptism were then called to make a three-fold renunciation of Satan, followed by a three-fold confession of faith. After immersion, they were anointed and then clothed in white garments to symbolize that in Christ they were a new creation.  At the Eucharist which followed, the newly baptized would make their first communion.  The Great Vigil liturgy was filled with images which showed the connection between baptism and the Eucharist.  This was a celebration not only of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also of the individual Christian’s own death and resurrection in Christ through baptism.

Our vigil will contain much of the rich symbolism of the liturgical practices of the early church. The service begins with the Service of Light, when the new first is kindled and then the light of Christ, symbolized by the Paschal candle, is processed to the front of the cathedral.  The Exultet, which is chanted next, recounts the victory of Christ over the forces of darkness, Christ’s deliverance of his people form sin and death, and finally praises God for his loving-kindness in sending a son to redeem His people.  The service of Lessons contains only a few lessons, not eh twelve used in the eighth century church!  First, the Creation story reminds us that God is the creator as well as the restorer of the dignity of human nature. Second, the story of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea reminds us that, just as Israel was delivered from their bondage in Egypt, so through baptism, all Christians come to be numbered among those saved from the bondage of sin and death.  The service continues with the renewal of Baptismal vows and concludes with the Eucharist, as was the custom in the early church.  As Jewish custom dictates that the day begins at sundown the night before, this service of Easter Eve is the first service of Easter, much in the way that Christmas Eve is the first service of Christmas.