Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | March 29, 2024

Congregation Update: Ritual Reminders

Blog|The Rev. Joe C. Williams

Dear Friends,

We’ve finally arrived at a turning point of the liturgical year, a time we’ve been preparing for the last several weeks and that many anticipate annually—Holy Week. This week is full of symbolism and meaning as we go from Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem to his crucifixion, burial, and miraculous rising from the dead. For many, this is a deeply moving and emotional time, whereby we recall some of the most holy events in our history; this week also invites us to experience them as Jesus’ disciples experienced them, through acts of ritual remembrance.  

By the time this message lands in your inbox, we will have already observed Maundy Thursday, washed one another’s feet, celebrated the last eucharist until tomorrow’s Great Vigil, and venerated the cross on Good Friday. These three days, or the Triduum, are meant to be one continuous liturgy. If you’ll notice, there was no dismissal after the consecrated elements were placed on the altar of repose in the Chapel of the Nativity on Thursday. The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday has no opening acclamation or dismissal, and we arrive at the Great Vigil and are greeted by fire, a light in the darkness; we welcome our friends into the household of Christ through the waters of baptism, reaffirm our own baptismal vows and after, join together at the table.  

The Great Three Days have always been a special time for me, a time of both focus and excitement. When I was in seminary during the height of COVID, the first opportunity we were able to gather as a community was to celebrate The Great Vigil, although distanced and outdoors. It remains one of my most cherished memories. Although we were in the heart of the city of Austin, our campus sat on one city block, with an enormous outdoor space at the center. Ancient and gnarled oak trees kept watch over us as we built the great fire, and friends sat around the fire on blankets and lawn chairs as we recounted God’s saving deeds through history. It was primal in a way. Our toes were in the dirt and grass, we renewed our baptismal vows in the living water that flowed near campus, and our shadows danced on the stone buildings that surrounded us. I was struck by how comfortable it felt, and wondered how centuries of believers ritually remembered these events that shaped our faith. In the early church, catechumens, or those preparing for baptism, were escorted out of the church before the eucharist, and, at The Great Vigil, were baptized fully immersed in water, and had oil poured over their heads – most likely shivering and feeling as if they had been born anew. They were then clothed in white robes and were invited to participate in the breaking of bread and prayers. We still embody this movement in a similar way, but on a smaller scale.

I invite you to come, join us for The Great Vigil, and our Easter services this weekend. Participate if you feel so called, pray with us, and join in the continuation of centuries of ritual that attempts to help us understand the great mysteries of our faith. If you’re unable to join in person, please join us online. There is always room for you at this table.  


The Rev. Joe C.Williams

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