“Our old history ends with the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection.” – Watchman Nee, Chinese evangelist
The most important day on the Christian calendar is coming up April 20, and Toledo-area churches are busy preparing for the occasion. The pivotal point in Christianity, if not in human history, hinges on Easter Sunday when Jesus’ followers celebrate his resurrection.
For many Christian denominations, prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter begins on Ash Wednesday and continues through the 40-day period of Lent. The seven days leading up to Easter are rich in ritual and spiritual intensity as churches hold services on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. This year the Eastern Orthodox observance of Pascha, or Easter, coincides with the Western church calendar.
“Palm Sunday, or the official title of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, is a kind of introduction to the celebration of the coming week,” said Monsignor Charles Singler, director of the Office of Divine Worship for the Toledo Catholic Diocese. “It is an introduction that provides a focus to the events that culminate at the end of the week with Easter.”
CedarCreek Church, the nondenominational Christian megachurch, expects up to 17,000 people to attend eight services scheduled at each of its four campuses, for a total of 32 Easter services. Ben Snyder, regional campus director, will preach the Easter sermons.
Lee Powell, senior pastor, said Easter is a day that many people who normally do not attend church find their way inside a sanctuary, invited by a friend or relative. CedarCreek seeks to make those visitors feel comfortable.
“I would say there is a little less congregational participation and more watching of a spectacular event that communicates the death of Christ and his resurrection, and the significance of that,” Powell said. “We’re hyper sensitive to people visiting with us for the first time. We don’t take anything away, but we consider them in planning our Easter services.”
The Rev. Chad Gilligan, senior pastor of Calvary Church in Maumee, said he is hoping for a combined 2,000 people at four Easter services in the former Maumee18 movie complex. The church, at 1360 Conant St., is holding a Good Friday service at noon and three Easter morning services at 8:30, 10 and 11:30. In addition, Calvary will start streaming its services live on the internet for the first time on Easter Sunday.
“For us, Christmas and Easter are like the Super Bowl. They are a time of opportunity, for whatever reason, to see people’s lives touched by talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Singler said Christmas and Easter are “the hinge feasts” that generate the largest crowds at parishes. “Christmas is the incarnation of God and Easter is the redemption and salvation by way of the Lord’s resurrection, and that’s what we live by in the Christian faith. Christ’s death brings about the opportunity for all believers to share in the hope of the redemption themselves,” he said.
The Toledo Catholic Diocese has a full schedule of Holy Week services planned at its mother church, Rosary Cathedral, 2535 Collingwood Blvd.
The week leading up to Easter will begin with a Palm Sunday Mass at 10 a.m. (April 13) with Monsignor William Kubacki presiding.
The distribution of palms on Palm Sunday, following the biblical account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21), is a tradition in many Christian denominations including Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches. (In some countries, Christians wave plants other than palms, including pussy willows in some parts of Russia.)
More than 300 million palm branches are imported into the United States every year at a cost of more than $4.5 million.
Among the notable Holy Week traditions are foot-washing ceremonies held on Maundy Thursday, observed at most Catholic parishes and a number of Protestant churches including St. Matthew’s Episcopal in Toledo. Participants follow Jesus’ demonstration of servanthood when he washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:5) after the Last Supper.
“The two main parts of the Holy Thursday Mass are the foot-washing, which is an act of service, and our partaking of the Eucharist,” Singler said. “Just as Jesus washed the feet of 12 apostles, we’re asked to do this to be of service to others.”
Pope Francis made headlines last year, shortly after his election, when he washed the feet of young inmates – including those of a Muslim girl – at an Italian juvenile detention center.
A re-enactment of the Last Supper will be presented by four Toledo-area churches at 7 p.m. Thursday (April 17) when they team up to re-create the Lord’s Supper at the Ohio Theatre, 3114 Lagrange St.
CityLight and Master’s House Church in Toledo, New Life Church in Petersburg, Mich., and River of Life Community Church in Dundee, Mich., will portray Jesus and the disciples at the Passover meal. The event is free, with any donations going toward restoration of the historic Ohio Theatre.
“The cool thing is we are helping the community by helping the Ohio Theatre restoration get off the ground,” said the Rev. George Williams, pastor of CityLight. “The churches can help communities in a lot of ways, not just religious ways.”
The Church on Strayer, at 3000 Strayer Rd. in Maumee, is holding four Easter services – 7 p.m. Friday (April 18), 6 p.m. Saturday (April 19), and 9 and 11 a.m. on Easter Sunday.
The Rev. Tony Scott, senior pastor, said he plans to interview Jesus and ask him some of life’s big questions, including, “Is there only one way to heaven?,” “Did you have to die?,” “Was I born this way?,” and “Why do we suffer?”
The Catholic diocese’s Holy Week services at Rosary Cathedral will include the annual Chrism Mass, at 11 a.m. Tuesday (April 15), when the sacred oils used in all 124 parishes will be blessed. Auxiliary Bishop Michael Byrnes of the Detroit Archdiocese and the Rev. Charles Ritter, the Toledo diocese’s administrator, will concelebrate with the other priests in the diocese.
A solemn Tenebrae service that depicts the apostles’ desertion of Jesus will be held in Rosary Cathedral at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The Rosary Cathedral services continue with a Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7 p.m. Thursday; a Good Friday prayer and meditation on the Stations of the Cross starting at noon, and a Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion at 1 p.m. A blessing of Easter foods will be performed on Holy Saturday after the 9 a.m. prayer service, and an Easter Vigil Mass starts at 8:30 p.m. Saturday (April 19).
Singler said Good Friday is not just about Jesus’ crucifixion, but also about the promise of new life. “The liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Friday is not so much a solemn funeral about the fact that Christ died, but the victory won by the sacrifice of his life for the redemption of the whole world.”
Christ’s resurrection will be celebrated with Easter Sunday Masses in the cathedral at 8 a.m. with Ritter presiding and at 10 a.m. with Kubacki presiding.
“We no longer refrain from saying ‘Alleluia,’ which we’ve refrained from doing during Lent,” Singler said. “We move from penitential mode to joyous mode in celebration of the resurrection.”
Easter is also a time when the Roman Catholic Church welcomes new members. The Toledo diocese expects 611 new members to join the church during the Easter vigil, according to the Catholic Chronicle. The number includes 223 catechumens, 336 candidates, and 52 Catholic candidates. Catechumens are people who have not been baptized and will be fully initiated into the church. Candidates include those who were baptized in another Christian faith and will receive the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist. Catholic candidates are baptized Catholics who will be received into full communion through the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist.
Lee Powell of CedarCreek Church sent a link to an eight-minute Easter video by Refresh Ministries to his email followers.