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Holy Week: Lesson Learned and Gifts Received

This past Holy Week, in the shadow of the slowly receding pandemic, the community of Seminary of the Southwest gathered to celebrate the Triduum in the style that has come to define Southwest: celebrating the liturgy in new and creative ways.

Building on the lessons learned throughout year where most worship has occurred outdoors or online, the students and faculty of Southwest, led by the Christ Chapel Sacristans, designed an expansive set of worship services that were adjusted or adapted to elegantly allow for worship and safety to coexist. At the core of most of these services was the usage of the large green-space at the center of the Southwest campus, known affectionately as ‘the Motte’.

“To observe the liturgies of Holy Week together on the Motte was an enormous gift and grace. We worshipped in person in the natural space that has become such an important focus of our community life this year. The brilliant colors of the vestments, that we have not seen in a year, against the green trees and grass, announced on Maundy Thursday that the Triduum was underway,” said the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kitredge, dean and president.

For all services, participants wore masks and observed social distancing.

On Holy Wednesday, students and faculty in the Latinx Studies Program at Southwest held a shortened Vía Crusis, or Stations of the Cross. Meeting on the Motte, they briefly discussed its historical background, made a traditional “tapete” or carpet, and walked a shortened Via Crucis, sharing ways that the body of Christ throughout Latin America continues to suffer the way of the cross.

“As we walked the Vía Crucis/Stations of the Cross, we carried a heavy wooden cross with us. In addition to remembering the suffering of Jesus at each station, we also remembered ways the body of Christ suffers in our Latin American siblings. We recalled sanctions and poverty in Cuba, the need for fair wages for Guatemalan artisans, and the caravan of migrants walking to the US/Mexico border among other issues. For me, it was a reminder to look outward and as well as inward during Holy Week,” reflected Sasha Bilow, MDiv Middler, and one of the event organizers.

Later that evening, community members and their families – some clad in pajamas and ready for bed – gathered on the Motte for Tenebrae. This short service of chant and scripture and light helped the Southwest community center itself and enter the Triduum in prayer.

Maundy Thursday saw members of the community gather on the Motte and on the Southwest livestream to worship. While the traditional washing of the feet was omitted for reasons of safety, this service included a Holy Eucharist and was followed by a simple Agape meal that was enjoyed picnic style, with the members of the community spread out on blankets and chairs brought from home.

That evening at 8p.m., students began holding vigil in Christ Chapel. Carefully orchestrated to ensure only a few people were inside the chapel at any given time, students kept vigil in one hour shifts until 7a.m. the next morning. For many students, this was there first time to be inside Christ Chapel since the pandemic began.

A Service of Solemn Collects marked an in-person gathering on the Motte for Good Friday. The service was also highlighted by the use of a revised liturgy that included a new solemn collect. This collect affirmed God’s covenant with the Jewish people and lamented the harm that Christians have caused them over the centuries. This revised liturgy arose from the ‘Undoing Anti-Judaism’ class co-taught by the Rev. Dr. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski and Rabbi Neil Blumofe of Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin. Joslyn-Siemiatkoski reflected that to offer these prayers represented a turning point for both the life of the church and the seminary community as they both seek to deepen reconciliation with the Jewish community.

Holy Saturday was observed via Zoom, especially to allow for participation by the handful of students who have been unable to return to campus amid the pandemic. Worship over Zoom has become a substantial part of the worship life of the community of Southwest during the pandemic.

Finally, amid a large fire and lily plants, and with lights strung in the trees, the community gathered for the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday evening. As night fell, and under the oak trees and the Texas sky, the community gathered in celebration of the Risen Christ. For the second straight year, the tradition of the observing the Triduum at Southwest had been re-imagined and reinvented. And amidst this creativity and improvisation, once again, the experience felt exalted.

“The church is changing and the pandemic created an opportunity for us to question, explore, and become creative in how we enacted our Holy Week liturgies.  Myself and the rest of the sacristan team put everything on the table and began to question everything we had done in the past.  What happened was nothing short of an act of the Holy Spirit.  We engaged more expansive and inclusive music and because we moved everything outdoors we became one with the rest of creation. It showed us that if we empty ourselves and open ourselves we will find new ways to experience God,” said Brandon Haynes, MDiv Middler and rising head sacristan.

The Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Great Vigil of Easter services were each live-streamed, and can be viewed at the links below:

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

Great Vigil of Easter

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