The last couple of Easter Sundays, I–along with whichever family members I can drag out of bed–have attended the Great Vigil of Easter at an Anglican church in Nashville. It’s still pitch dark outside when the service starts (5 am), but as things progress, the daylight begins to filter in, and the birds begin to trill, and by the time the last prayer is prayed, it’s full-on day. The Great Vigil is the most scripture-intense service I’ve ever been to. The scripture readings begin with Creation, through the Flood, to Abraham and Isaac, to the crossing of the Red Sea, through the prophets (major and minor both) and on into the Gospels and Epistles. As the light dawns, it dawns on the worshipper that, as Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it in The Jesus Storybook Bible, “Every story whispers His name.” Our church isn’t nearly so liturgical; I love the reminder on Easter morning that we’re participants in a story that has continued uninterrupted since the dawn of time. If you’re interested, here’s a link to a version of that liturgy.
Update: Father Thomas McKenzie sent me the actual liturgy he used a couple of years ago. Here it is in PDF format.

Another Easter tradition at the Rogers house is to sing “Low in the Grave He Lay” in tones so dramatic as to be described as operatic. It used to make the younger members of the family cry.

Commenter Charles Atkinson introduced the word triduum–the period of time between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. What traditions do you participate in during the triduum?

  • Canaan Bound
    3:45 PM, 22 April 2011

    What a tremendous triduum tradition! (Yes, I had to look up that word, too.)
    I read through that link you posted. Wow. Intense scripture, but oh, so necessary. Thanks for posting. Now I’m off to find a local Anglican church.

  • JJ
    4:16 PM, 22 April 2011

    Sadly I don’t have any traditions yet (other than hoping to eat my weight in Peeps). But due to some major life events in the last 3 years (marriage and becoming a father), and in the years before that gaining a greater appreciation and understanding for what was accomplished on Good Friday and Easter almost 2000 years ago, I want to start some traditions. My son is only 2 so it’s probably too early for him to understand to any great extent, but I want to begin to think about things I can do as a husband and father to direct our gaze to the cross and the empty tomb over these three days. The cross was a pivotal point in history. The empty tomb sealed it. What a glorious moment this time is, both in somber reflection but even more in rejoicing for the victory that our Lord accomplished on our behalf over sin and death. I want to establish traditions to remember and celebrate it.
    All that to say, I look forward to hearing what you all have to say. 🙂

  • Charles Atkinson
    10:49 PM, 22 April 2011

    My family used to celebrate the Passover Seder meal together on Maundy Thursday. Several years ago we stopped, I don’t know why, and I’ve always missed the tradition. But just yesterday, I received an e-mail from my mother informing me that (1) she’s sending me a package of hot cross buns (another cherished Easter tradition) and (2) my family back home was going to start the Seder meal tradition again.
    I remember when I was younger being very impressed by its solemnity. The sound of my father praying the ancient Hebrew prayers in Hebrew and English in a deep, guttural voice over the meal and his family. The sweet taste of the wine and bread. The bitter horseradish. It was both strange and familiar. I felt transported across time through this tradition to join our Jewish ancestors in faith at the first Passover.

    In the evening I always go to the Holy Thursday mass where there is a special part in the Catholic liturgy where twelve men have their feet washed by the priest. Yesterday I was needed by the Spanish church down the road who wanted to represent all cultures at the foot washing. Needless to say, I was there to help fill the Caucasian quota. It was a beautiful mass. Most of it was in Spanish or Haitian French and I did not understand a word of it except for the stray “Jesucristo” or “Santa María Virgen.” However, I was struck by the beauty of the diverse unity of the Body of Christ gathered together for this liturgy. And there was certainly one language I understood when the priest cradled my foot in his hands and lovingly washed it clean.

    Then there was adoration of the Eucharist. Ahe Church kept watch with Christ (though that late it is easy to be as sleepy as the disciples) until the priest, sometime before midnight, removed the Eucharist, the altar was stripped bare, and all the tabernacles in the Catholic churches around the world are emptied of the Eucharist. It is really soul-wrenching. The tabernacle is empty because He has been taken away by violent men and, at the level of symbol, we cannot know the rest of the story. I went to sleep uneasily.

    The liturgy for today, Good Friday, was sparse and austere and the only day in the liturgical year when mass is not celebrated. Instead the communion for the service is consecrated the day before. I actually just returned from it to finish writing this (maybe a sign that this comment is too long!). We read the Passion from the Gospel of John and the whole congregation read the parts of the crowd. I lived out my proper place in the story, yelling “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” and declaring “We have no king but Caesar.” I remember as a child dreading this part of the liturgy because it went on for so long. Today I dreaded it for different reasons. Today I wept because I knew that in a very real way I am part of the selfish and easily swayed crowd at the Praetorium in Jerusalem and the foot of the cross at Golgotha.

    Luckily, we know the rest of the story. Though Christ is in the tomb and my heart is hollow like the tabernacle, I look with expectation to the Easter Vigil liturgy tomorrow night where I will hear the whole of salvation history from Genesis to Jesus, like you were mentioning. It is a night of tremendous joy when catechumens all around the world are baptized, confirmed, and received into the Church. And, we get to hear the “H” word again, which is absent from all of the Lenten liturgies.

    Finally, to complete this trajectory of traditions, after the vigil I am going to my friend’s family’s house to feast and celebrate the Resurrection with desserts, and meats, and wine, and joy in the Lord!

    I apologize if this was a bit of a lengthy response. I tried to make it as short as I could and still answer the original question, “What traditions do you participate in during the triduum?” Thank you for posing this question. Thinking about it has really made me appreciate how all the different aspects of the readings, liturgy, and symbols (and the coming feasting!) whisper His name.

    God bless,

  • Jess
    3:58 PM, 23 April 2011

    Oh, Charles, that was wonderful! I was afraid no one had any Easter traditions (we don’t–we’re really random when we do our holidays; sometimes I feel like I’m missing something), and then you came up and wrote a nice, long, beautiful post! 🙂 Thanks.

  • Loren
    7:55 PM, 23 April 2011

    My husband and I have been working to incorporate more traditions for Easter for our kids (and us) as our church really has nothing 🙁 . Our Good Friday service last night could have been any other service for all the emphasis it put on Good Friday.
    Sorry! Venting a little, there….

    One thing we have enjoyed doing with our kids for the past couple years are Resurrection Eggs (sometimes called “Lenten Eggs”). You can buy them or make them–each day for twelve days (or double up!) the kids open a plastic egg and take out a symbol of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and you read a couple verses that go with it. This site has all the info:

    It’s a neat, tangible thing to help the whole family make Easter so much more than jelly beans and chocolate (though this year the kids are looking forward to that as well….).

  • […] head on over to his blog, it is worth the read (and while you’re there you can check out his ‘Audience Participation Friday’ prompt about Triduum traditions; his question had me writing for over an […]

  • Fellow Traveler
    4:13 PM, 24 April 2011

    Loren, that reminds me of a story my folks used to tell. One year they attended an Easter service where the sermon’s Easter moral was…wait for it… that we should all go home and color Easter eggs! I wish I were kidding. Christ resurrected was sadly nowhere to be found.

  • Loren
    12:03 AM, 25 April 2011

    Oh dear, FT, not good! Thankfully this morning there was a lot of focus on the resurrection! The doctrine is solid; it’s the heritage and traditions that are few and far between.

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