This evening I had the good fortune to be able to attend the "Passion Vespers: Meditations on the Passion of Christ" at the Church of St. Michael & St. George, St. Louis. It was billed as "service of the spoken word and music featuring readings selected from Scripture, the ancient Church Fathers, and modern-day poets interspersed with seasonal music, sung by the Choir, to illuminate the texts."
There is something compelling about the idea of worship on the Evening of Palm Sunday. The festivity of the morning being ended, Holy Week has entered its dark, preparatory intensity. A service on this day, or early in Holy Week, can draw is further in to the mystery and simply allow us a place to reflect, pray, and praise.
The service at St. Michael's was splendid and well appointed. It followed a pattern of non-biblical reading, anthem, versicle and response, collect. Two hymns were included.
The only comparison I have for this type of liturgy is the "Meditation on the Passion of Christ" service at St. John's, Cambridge. By comparison, I found this service to be much less noisy (the John's service begins with "All glory, laud, and honor" in procession) and more focused. The procession in and out of the church was done in silence.
I was concerned about the readings being entirely non-biblical, but they were so well chosen, and so compelling, I have to say I didn't mind at all.
Having been to the service, and with my leaflet still in hand, I can amend the published music list with a few more details. Most of the music was new to me, and all of it perfectly chosen for this liturgy. The cumulative effect was one of true meditation.
It was interesting that the mention of Jesus' triumphal entry appeared at the end of this liturgy, but in the words of Henry Millman, it is not Jesus' entry into Jerusalem that is ultimately the focus of Passiontide, but his entry into battle–"Thy last and fiercest strife"–which causes us to plead "Then take, O God, thy power and reign."
It's easy to see a service like this abbreviated on a music list and think that it must be a slapdash "Lenten Lessons and Carols". This service was nothing of the sort. This year the start of my Holy Week has been immeasurably enriched by the very thoughtful, carefully prepared liturgy held at St. Michael's.
O Lord, Christ, Lamb of God, Lord of Lords, call us, who are called to be saints, along the way of Thy cross: Draw us, who would draw nearer our King to the foot of Thy cross: Cleanse us, who are not worthy of approach, with the pardon of Thy cross: Instruct us, the ignorant and blind, in the school of Thy cross: Arm us, for the battles of holiness by the might of Thy cross: Bring us, in fellowship of Thy sufferings to the victory of Thy cross: And seal us in the Kingdom of Thy glory among the servants of Thy cross, O crucified Lord; who with the Father and Holy Ghost livest and reignest one God almighty, eternal, world without end. Amen. –Eric Milner-White
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