St. Stephen's Lutheran Church
To Love, To Invite, To Serve
1301 N Broom Street Wilmington, DE 19806
You are Invited!
Lent is over, Palm Sunday is upon us, and you are invited into the Paschal mystery – the mystery of faith, the mystery of life and death, and the mystery that defines who we are and what we do. Without this mystery, without the sorrow and joy, the life and death, we are not able to reach into the Scriptures and seek out the one true God calling each and every one of us by name. Together we enter into the same mystery of Christ's passion, starting with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey through the betrayal on Maundy Thursday and the death remembered on Good Friday and the long night of Saturday that brings us into the glory of Easter morning’s resounding alleluias.
Please join us and be filled with the dramatic stories, songs, and prayers that tell the story of who we are. Below are the service times along with a bit about The Three Days and what to expect. God bless and sustain you – perhaps this might be the year you take part in Palm Sunday and the Three Days and allow your Easter to never be the same again!
March 25 Palm Sunday 9:40 am and 4:00 pm
March 29 Maundy Thursday 7:15 pm
March 30 Good Friday 7:15 pm
March 31 Easter Vigil 7:30 pm
Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. In the gospel we hear how Jesus rode in on a donkey – or two depending on the account – while those around him shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David" and "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 118:25 - 26) They believed, as we believe today, that this was the entry of the messiah into the city of Jerusalem.
The celebration of Palm Sunday dates to the late fourth century Jerusalem Church. Then, the Palm Sunday ceremony consisted of prayers, hymns, and sermons while the attendees visited the many sites across the Holy Land. At the final site, the place of the ascension of Christ to heaven, the clergy would read from the gospels concerning the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the early evening they would return to the city shouting: "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" The young people would carry palm and olive branches as the people returned through the city back to the church, where they would hold evening services.
By the fifth century, the Palm Sunday celebration had spread as far as Constantinople. By the sixth and seventh centuries, two new Palm Sunday traditions arose – the ritual blessing of the palms, and a morning procession instead of an evening procession. By the eighth century, the celebration received the name "Dominica in Palmis," or "Palm Sunday".
On Palm Sunday we will take part in these ancient traditions, blessing palms on the steps of our church and making a morning procession to the Luther Towers. When we return to the church we will once again process together into the sanctuary waving palm branches (adults and children are invited to do so) singing and rejoicing at Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem – joining our voices with the saints shouting “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” and “Hosanna in the highest!”
Then, in the early evening, we will join together for a service of healing and anointing. We will once again hear the scripture concerning the entry into Jerusalem. Then, calling to mind the procession Jesus took, we will make a procession through the city on behalf of those we are called to serve as his church in Wilmington. In lieu of visiting holy sites we will visit sites that stand to call us to burn with a passion for justice and to stand with the poor and disenfranchised, the young and the old. Together we take this walk to proclaim the kingship of Christ – the kingship of the one who came to save all.
The Three Days: Easter Vigil*
The Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter are the Paschal (Greek for “Passover”) Triduum (Latin for “Three Days”). Together they form our Christian Passover. And they are about nothing less than life and death.
Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed—and risen indeed: this is the center of our year, the core around which everything else revolves, the source from which all other celebration springs.
These Three Days are three—but they’re not. It is one liturgy that we enter, pause from, and re-enter; one mystery of such depth that we need three days to even begin to absorb, articulate, and respond to it. The Three Days are days, but they’re not: we reckon them sundown to sundown. We gather at night three nights in a row.
And why are these nights different from all other nights? They are uniquely rich in silence and sound, word and gesture. Uniquely rich—because they’re about nothing less than the contending of life with death. And so we see and hear and do things that occur only once a year. We hear the words of personal absolution, strip the chancel, touch the cross. We kindle fire, chant in darkness, praise God for bees. We liberally (and conservatively) retell the best parts of the story of salvation. Sinners are reconciled, catechumens baptized; the whole church is reborn, made new. Stark space and great silence give way to the light of Christ, banks of flowers, ringing alleluias.
Saturday night the church or outdoor gathering area is dark. Against the darkness the new fire is kindled, the new paschal candle lit. “Christ our Light” leads the way like the pillar of fire in Exodus, scattering the gloom and radiant with promise. Bathed in the light of Christ, we praise God for the wonders of this night, when heaven is wedded to earth and humankind is reconciled with God. All creation is redeemed; the earth exults. The church sounds trumpets; angels sing: Christ is risen!
We allow generous time to listen to the stories and songs of God’s providence throughout all ages. We begin with the creation of the world and move through covenant, exodus, conquest, and exile. The words of the prophet echo: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!” And then water is poured and new Christians are made. Old Christians refresh baptismal promises. The table is spread for the simple and glorious feast.
Why do we go through all this—carry wood, splash water, dye eggs, play with fire? Because our paschal celebration is not only about what God wrought for the Israelites in Egypt, or what once happened when Jesus shattered the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave. It is equally about the resurrections God is accomplishing in and among us here and now. It is the redemption of our own lives and the re-creation of the whole people of God that we celebrate.
One by one, each of us has traced on our forehead the sign of the cross, the mark of the blood which ransoms us from death. One by one we pass through the waters of baptism, where we receive new birth. One by one we are delivered by God—born into a people vastly larger than our immediate family or household. To continue the exodus we have to join people from other dwellings and walk together. Together we walk away from bondage to sin and death; together we learn and remember the story of our redemption; together we taste the feast of victory for our God.
We leave our homes and enter into the liturgy of these Three Days never to come back through our doorways the same. We approach our three-night night of vigil ready to be freed from captivity. We come out on the other shore like Miriam and Moses, singing and dancing our praise of the God who has triumphed gloriously, whose love is everlasting.
*Taken from "The Three Days: Images of the Season" (pages 170 - 171) in Year A Sundays and Seasons 1998 - 1999 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1998)