This coming Sunday marks the beginning of Passion Week or Holy Week, the time on the ecclesiastical calendar when the world remembers the final days before Jesus went to the Cross. This Sunday, the first day of Holy Week is called either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. Those who call it Palm Sunday tend to focus on the entry of Christ into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11.9). Those who refer to the day as Passion Sunday tend to focus on Jesus’ suffering – the word “passion” coming from the Latin word for suffering. If there is a “high time” of the Christian year this would be it. (Although many would also argue that there is no “high time” that every day is a good day when God is present.)
As is our tradition at Grace Covenant, we will be holding our annual Maundy Thursday service, next Thursday night, April 1, at 7pm. Maundy Thursday is a service of sober reflection, remembering Jesus initiating the practice of regularly and frequently observing the Lord’s Supper through his partaking of the Last Supper with his closest disciples. While we give thanks for the gift of the Lord’s Supper, Maundy Thursday is sober and reflective, rather than celebratory, because we are reminded that the elements of the table point to Jesus’ death – and because it was our sin that necessitated his self sacrifice. (The sober tone is intended to be lifted as we look forward to the news of Resurrection on Sunday.) This service also reminds us of the instruction Jesus gave to his disciples that evening, as he was washing their feet: “A new mandate I give to you: That you love one another. Jus as I have loved you, so you are to love one another”. (John 13.34) The word “maundy” comes from the Latin, meaning “mandate”. Jesus “mandated” that those who belong to him must love others. For this reason, on Maundy Thursday each year we take up a special offering for our Mercy Fund, which our Deacons use to help both church members and neighbors in need. While we will not pass a plate, we do ask that you prayerfully consider supporting this offering, either with a gift that can be offered by placing it in the baskets at the exits of the sanctuary, or by making a special offering online. Either way, please indicate that your gift is intended for the Mercy Fund so that it does not mistakenly get put with the general offerings.
Because we are continuing to practice social distancing, which limits our seating capacity at any single service, and because our Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday services are among the most attended each year, we have had to implement a reservation system for these services. (No reservation is required for Palm Sunday.) If you would like to attend in-person for Maundy Thursday and/or either of our Easter Sunday services, please click this link: GCPC Passion Week Reservations. Seats will be assigned on a first come first served basis. Please note, for Easter Sunday we will also be setting up speakers on the lawn in front of the church for those who might like to gather to worship with others in person, but for any number of reasons would enjoy the less formality of being outdoors. We had discussed also putting up a screen, but there was no screen available that would be bright enough to see. However, for those who would like to worship outdoors, we invite you to bring your lawn chairs and/or picnic blankets, claim your spot, and worship together with others, both those on the lawn and those indoors. (Song sheets will be provided for those worshipping on the lawn.)
Now, unfortunately, I need to communicate some bad news. A technical issue totally outside of our control will prevent us from LiveStreaming our services this Sunday, and possibly for Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. Again, this is not an issue with any of our equipment nor of our tech teams, but entirely because of Cox Communications. For the past few weeks we have had technical difficulties streaming our 11am service. After exploring the root of the problem this past week, Tim Nargi spoke with Cox and found out that Cox has been having service problems in the area around the church. In short, because of an equipment problem, when online traffic gets to a certain level, Cox is unable to serve the homes in our area, nor our church. In hours when traffic is lighter there does not seem to be a problem. This is why we have been able to stream at 8:30. But as morning advances, and more people awake and get online on Sunday mornings, the 11am traffic is too heavy for Cox. (They had apparently started working on the problem, but had not notified us of the problem. Nor will they give us a timeline to expect the issue to be resolved – other than it will not be fixed before this weekend.) Because we were not given advanced notice, we were not given opportunity to find an alternate solution. So here is the plan for Palm Sunday, and perhaps for Maundy Thursday and Easter. There will be NO LiveStream at 8:30. Our equipment does not allow us to both LiveStream and record the service at the same time. Because there is no guarantee that we can LiveStream at 8:30 (if online traffic gets heavier) we have decided to record the 8:30 service, and post it online by 11am. So, you will be able to watch online. Around 11am on Sunday morning (or anytime Sunday after 11am), go to the homepage of the Grace Covenant web page, and there you will be able to find the link to the worship service. Because of the inconvenience, we will leave the services up for all of Sunday, rather than taking them down at the time the services end. We are very sorry about this. It could not come at a worse time for us. But there is no way for us to fix the problem until Cox Communications fixes their issues. We hope, and pray it will be resolved before Easter. If you would like to “encourage” Cox to get it fixed, we would wouldn’t mind if a few of you contact Cox Customer Service at 757-369-6208. Not sure it will help. But it sure can’t hurt.
As you prepare for this upcoming Passion Week, let me offer a brief video from The Gospel Coalition, and a few other resources you may find of spiritual benefit:
I will end with this provocative thought from Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen:
“Jesus went to Jerusalem to announce the Good News to the people of that city. And Jesus knew that he was going to put a choice before them: Will you be my disciple, or will you be my executioner? There is no middle ground here. Jesus went to Jerusalem to put people in a situation where they had to say yes or no. That is the great drama of Jesus’ passion…”~ from A Spirituality of Waiting
And that is the great drama we remember during this next week.
Grace & Peace,
W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor