A Brief Historical Background

for Lent and Holy Week


From the earliest days of the Christian Church, the celebration of Easter was preceded by a period of preparation known as Lent.  Perhaps the most talked about custom of Lent is the practice of fasting.  At first the length of the period of fasting varied widely, though what has become known as “Passiontide” – the two week period leading up to Easter – was the most broadly accepted preparation period.  Eventually, the time for fasting and penitential contemplation was extended to 40 days, to coincide with the period of the length of Moses’ time on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:29; Deut 9:9) as well as the duration of our Lord’s temptations in the wilderness (found in Matthew 4 and Luke 4).   Lent always begins on Ash Wednesday, which always falls 46 days before Easter.  It remains to this day a period of penitential reflection upon our sins and our Savior’s supreme sacrifice for us.  During Lent many congregations incorporate into their worship schedule additional midweek services which focus on the penitential character of the season.   By tradition, the four Gospel accounts that chronicle the final days leading up to Christ’s crucifixion are read during these services as a way of enhancing our understanding of and appreciation for Christ’s sufferings.   The period of Lent (from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday) technically spans 46 days.   Christians who observe this season typically subtract from those 46 days the 6 Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter, reserving them as moments of modest relief from the extremely penitential character of the season, and so as days of celebration pointing ahead to Christ’s resurrection.  Thus, the days of Lent are 40 in number.


Wednesday of Holy Week has been given the name Spy Wednesday,” owing to the Gospels recording it as the day when the treacherous covenant to betray Jesus was consummated by Judas and the chief priests (Matthew 26:1-2; 14-16).


Thursday in Holy Week has always been a day of great significance in the Church, chiefly because it commemorates the institution of the Lord’s Supper.   The name by which it is most commonly known, Maundy Thursday (from the Latin Dies Mandati, “Day of the Commandment”), has particular reference to the Savior’s injunctions of humility and love among the brotherhood of believers (John 13:34).  An ancient custom connected to this day was the practice of carrying gifts to the poor in hand baskets which were called “maunds.”


 Good Friday,  The day on which Christ was crucified had, as its earliest name “Parasceve,” which means “preparation.”   Other names were “Day  of the Lord’s Passion” and “Day of the Cross.”  The designation Good Friday is a peculiarly English expression.  It reflects the joy of completed redemption and protests against the superstitious notions that all Fridays are “unlucky” as well as the idea that this particular Friday should be observed in funeral gloom and despair.    Nevertheless, it is a day of deep mourning.   Worship services on this day obviously emphasize the death of Christ as our sin substitute.   Some Christian congregations commemorate the three hours Christ spent on the cross with a “Tre Ora” (Three Hours) service which lasts from noon to three in the afternoon.   This was a worship practice used primarily by congregations found in the Western Church (Western Europe).   Another traditional style of worship service employed on this day is known by the Latin name for “darkness.”   This “Tennebrae” service is usually observed after sunset, and is developed around the reading of and commentary on the seven statements (words) of Christ while on the cross.   As the service progresses, at the conclusion of each of the seven commentary/readings the lights of the worship area are progressively dimmed until everything is completely darkened upon the announcement of Christ’s death.  A “Resurrection Candle” is then lit and brought to the altar while a brief statement is read reminding the congregation that Christ has promised He will not remain in the grave, but will rise after three days.  The congregation then pauses for silent prayer and exits the worship area and church building in silence, meditating on all that God suffered and accomplished for us on that first Good Friday.   The service of Tennebrae was generally practiced in the early Eastern Churches (Eastern Europe, including Greece, plus Russia).   Incidentally, fasting is often practiced during the time between the close of the Maundy Thursday evening worship service and the end of the Good Friday service.  It is a fine custom whereby we are able to share (be it ever so lightly) in a portion of our Savior’s physical sufferings for us, and thus better appreciate His tremendous sacrifice for our benefit.


Finally, Holy Saturday focuses on our Lord’s rest in the tomb and His descent into hell, the two stages mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed as “dead and buried;  He descended into hell.”   The descent into hell is typically misunderstood by most Christians.   It does not indicate that Christ continued to suffer for a time for our sins while in the captivity of hell.   Some of His final words on Good Friday, “it is finished,” tell us that with His death, Christ’s suffering for sin was complete.   Rather than suffer in hell, Christ descended to proclaim and demonstrate His total victory over sin, death, and Satan by going unhindered into the “headquarters” of the Devil.   Scripture supports the understanding of Christ’s victorious descent into hell in Colossians 2:15 and I Peter 3:18-20 .  Also, the I Peter reference clearly indicates that the descent occurred, not on Holy Saturday but following Christ’s coming back to life (His vivification) very early on the third day.   As with Good Friday, Holy Saturday is observed with a solemn spirit, yet it also contains an element of anticipation in preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection on the next morn.




Some Points To Ponder on Maundy Thursday

Throughout this Lenten season we have heard once more how our Lord Jesus Christ, on the face of opposition from His enemies and rejection by His people, nevertheless  walked the path of suffering and sorrow which led Him to the cross for our forgiveness and salvation.    We have also heard our Lord’s call to intensify and to be more faithful in our personal struggle against sin and Satan…..a struggle which too often hinders us from loving God and each other as we ought.    It was to this struggle that we were committed in our Baptism, with the firm reliance upon God’s forgiveness and the power of His Spirit, now dwelling within us, to amend our sinful lives and to live more humbly, obediently, and joyfully in the glow of His love for us in Christ Jesus, our Savior.

When we confess our sins collectively this evening and hear God’s absolution from our pastor, may none of us doubt – but rather firmly believe – that our sins are fully forgiven forever before our God in heaven, and that through faith alone in Christ our eternal salvation is assured.


Then, having been reminded once more of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, may we all gratefully recognize that we have been called to love our Lord above all else, to be faithful and obedient to Him even to the point of death, to love one another as He has loved us, and to be servants to each other, just as Jesus humbly chose to become our Servant and Savior.

Furthermore, in the Sacrament of Holy Communion which was inaugurated by Jesus on the first Maundy Thursday,  we have the privilege of proclaiming – as we stand beside each other – our unity of faith in Christ and the comprehensive commitment we have made together to everything that God gives us and teaches us (His doctrines) from His Word.    In addition, we are to be mindful of that fact that, in the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup, miraculously we are experiencing a real, intimate, physical connection with Christ’s body and blood (His “Real Presence”) for the purposes of reassuring us that our sins are all forgiven, as well as for the strengthening of our faith.   Finally, please bear in mind that in the Lord’s Supper we also find the promise of that greater,

heavenly banquet in which we will share with all the faithful when our Lord returns for the end of this sinful word, and for the deliverance and glorification of His Church, on the Last Day.



Silent Prayer For Worship Preparation



We Ask Our Lord To Bless This Service


The Introduction and Invitation to Worship


The Invocation


Pastor             We begin our service this evening, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.   Amen.



We Join in Confession of Our Sins


P:         Let us confess our sins to God our Father and humbly seek His forgiveness  of all our sins.


C:        Almighty God, merciful Father,   +    I confess to You that I am a poor, miserable sinner   +    in my deeds, words, and thoughts.   +    I have not loved You with all my heart.   +    In what I have done and left undone,  +   I have pursued too often my sinful desires   +    instead of Your righteous ways.   +     I have not faithfully and selflessly loved You with all my heart the way I should,   +     nor have I loved my brothers and sisters as myself.   +     For these and all of my other sins, +   too many for me to recall,   +  I admit that I deserve nothing less than your punishment   +    both now and for eternity.   +    But…

I am truly sorry for my sins. +    And I do sincerely repent of them.    +   And now I beg You,   +   in Your boundless mercy, O Lord,   +   for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Savior:   +  Forgive me all my sins.   +  Release me from the burden of my guilt.   +  Give me again the assurance that I am at peace with You.  +   And Grant me Your Holy Spirit to reform my sinful life.


Silence for meditation.


P:         The almighty God has been merciful to us and has sent His one and only Son as our Substitute in holy living and to die sacrificially for all our sins – indeed, for the sins of the whole world.    For Jesus’ sake, our Heavenly Father has forgiven us all our sins and calls us now to live obediently, faithfully and joyfully in response to His marvelous grace.   In order to provide you, personally, with that reassurance and encouragement, as a called servant of Christ and by His command and authority, I now forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.    May the peace of God be with you all.


C:        Amen.

We Share and Receive Instruction from God’s Word


The Old Testament Lesson                                                                                                          Exodus 12


The Lord told Moses and Aaron this in the land of Egypt:

2 This month is to be the beginning of your calendar. It is to be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the entire Israelite community that on the tenth day of this month, they are to take a lamb or a young goat for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, one lamb per household. 4 But if the household is too small for a whole lamb, then that person and his neighbor next door to him must select one, based on the number of people. Determine what size lamb is needed according to how much each person will eat.

5 Your lamb must be unblemished, a year-old male. You may take it from the sheep or the goats. 6 You are to keep it until the fourteenth day of this month. Then the whole assembly of the Israelite community is to slaughter the lambs at sunset. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses where they eat the lamb. 8 That night they shall eat the meat that has been roasted over a fire, along with unleavened bread. They shall eat it with bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over a fire—with its head, its legs, and its internal organs. 10 You shall not leave any of it until the morning. Whatever remains until the morning, you shall burn in the fire. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt ready for travel, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.

12 For on that night I will pass through the land of Egypt. I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both people and animals. Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. There will be no plague among you to destroy you when I strike down the land of Egypt.

14 This day shall be a memorial for you, and you are to celebrate it as a festival to the Lord. Throughout your generations you must celebrate it as a permanent regulation. 15 For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you must be sure to remove all yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day will be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you are to have a holy convocation; also on the seventh day there is to be a holy convocation. You shall not do any work, except to prepare what everybody needs to eat. That is all you may do.

17 You shall observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because on this very day I brought your divisions out from the land of Egypt. You shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent regulation. 18 In the first month, you shall eat unleavened bread from the evening of the fourteenth day of the month until the evening of the twenty-first day of the month. 19 No yeast is to be found in your houses for seven days, for whoever eats something leavened must be cut off from the Israelite community, whether a foreigner or native-born of the land. 20 You shall not eat anything leavened. You shall eat unleavened bread in every place you live.

21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and take lambs for yourselves according to your family size, and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 You shall take a bundle of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and paint the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you are to go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 When the Lord passes through to strike Egypt and sees the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.

24 “You shall observe these instructions as a perpetual regulation for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you just as he said he would, you shall observe this ceremony. 26 So when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 you will say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Passover to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. When he struck the Egyptians, he spared our houses.’”

The people bowed down and worshipped. 28 The Israelites went and did all this. They did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron.

29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on his throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, even all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 During the night Pharaoh got up—he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians—and there was a loud outcry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not someone dead. 31 Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron that night and said, “Get up, get away from my people! Both you and the Israelites, go, serve the Lord, as you have said! 32 Take also your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go! But also bless me!”

33 The Egyptians urged the people to leave the land quickly, for the Egyptians said, “We are all going to die!” 34 The Israelites took their dough before it was leavened. They carried their kneading bowls, which were wrapped in their clothing, on their shoulders. 35 The Israelites did just as Moses had said, and they asked the Egyptians for articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. 36 The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians so that they let the Israelites have what they asked for. In this way they plundered the Egyptians.

37 The Israelites set out from Rameses to Sukkoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides their families. 38 A mixed group of non-Israelites also went up along with them, as well as a large amount of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 The Israelites baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into unleavened loaves, for it had not been leavened, because they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay. They also had not prepared any provisions for themselves.

40 The amount of time that the Israelites lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. 41 At the end of four hundred thirty years, to the very day, all of the Lord’s divisions went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It was a night that the Lord kept vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt. This same night is dedicated to the Lord. All the Israelites are to keep vigil throughout their generations.

Passover Restrictions

43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the regulation concerning the Passover: No foreigner may eat it. 44 But any slave whom you have purchased may eat it if you circumcise him. 45 A temporary resident or a hired servant may not eat it. 46 It must be eaten inside one house. You are not to carry any of the meat outside of the house. Do not break any of its bones. 47 The whole community of Israel shall do this. 48 If a resident alien among you wants to observe the Passover to the Lord, every male in his household must be circumcised. Then he may take part in it. He will be treated like a native-born of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat it. 49 The same law will apply to the native-born and to the alien who resides among you.” 50 So that is what all the Israelites did. They did just as the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 That same day the Lord brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, lined up by their divisions.


The Gospel Reading                                                                                                       Matthew 26:17-30


17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him the Teacher says, ‘My time is near. I will observe the Passover with my disciples at your house.’”

19 The disciples did as Jesus commanded them and prepared the Passover. 20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.


21 As they were eating, he said, “Amen I tell you: One of you will betray me.”

22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I, Lord?”

23 He replied, “The one who dipped his hand in the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man is going just as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for that man if he had not been born.”

25 Judas, who betrayed him, replied, “Surely, not I, Rabbi?”

He said to him, “Yes, you are the one.”


26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples. He said, “Take, eat, this is my body.” 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the new testament, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you that I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 After they sang a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.


We Meditate Upon God’s Word


The Pre-Sermon Salutation


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ!  And grace and peace to you from Him Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come.  Amen.


The Sermon Text                                                                                           Tonight’s Scripture Lessons


The First Passover and the Last


            after which the Congregation will remain seated for


The Post-Sermon Blessing


Now to Him Who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, for ever and ever.  Amen.

We Bring Our Offerings and Prayers Before our Lord


The Offering



Tonight’s Special Prayers


Tonight’s Prayer

Almighty God, through the sacrificial death of Your Son You atoned for the sins of the whole world and in Him You reconciled the world to Yourself, not counting our trespasses against us. Receive our humble thanks for this precious gift of salvation by which You comfort and console our troubled hearts. Strengthen our faith that we may receive Your forgiveness and be at peace.


Dear Father, in Holy Communion, a foretaste of the heavenly feast, Christ’s benefits and blessings are proclaimed, offered, and delivered. Through this wonderful gift, strengthen us in faith toward You and in love toward our neighbor. Enable us always to confess that under the earthly forms of bread and wine Your beloved Son gives us His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of our faith. Grant us grace always to partake worthily of the Supper of Christ for our salvation.


Keep us in Christ, the Bread of life, and feed us with heavenly manna throughout the days of our earthly sojourn, until we stand before You on the last day. And as we have been reconciled to Your Father by Your sacrificial death, even so move us to be reconciled to those with whom we are estranged.   Let the spirit of reconciliation so fill Your people that our lives and words may witness to Your forgiving love.   As You, O Jesus, prayed for Your executioners, “Father forgive them,” enable us to love and bless our enemies.


Faithful Lord, guard and keep us so that temptation to sin may not come upon us.   When we are tempted, grant us Your strength and preservation, so that we, trusting in Your mercy, may overcome and be victorious through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.   Clothe us with the full armor of God, allowing us to withstand every assault of our Wicked Foe.


Good Lord, strengthen and keep us steadfast in Your Word and in the true faith to the very end so that, by Your grace, we may abound in love and in all good works.    Having been saved by Your gracious, good will, move us to do Your will and to keep Your commandments, walking in godliness all our days  by the power of the Holy Spirit.


God of all comfort and hope, be with those who struggle against sin, those who are afflicted with bodily ailments, and those who are saddened by the death of loved ones. Shine in the darkness of their lives and uphold them by Your mighty deliverance.


All these things and whatever else You see that we need, grant us dear Father, in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ Your Son, our Lord, Who, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we might be rich in Him, and Who, with You and the Holy Spirit, lives and rules as the one true God, now and forever.


And in Whose name we also join in praying:


Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.



We Leave With the Lord’s Blessing


The Benediction


Pastor Receive now, with believing hearts, the benediction of your Lord.


The LORD bless you and keep you.

The LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.

And the LORD look upon you with favor, and grant you His peace. Amen



The Sacrament of the Altar

from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

As the head of the family should teach them in the simplest way to those in his household.


The Institution of Holy Communion

First: What is the sacrament of Holy Communion?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine,

instituted by Christ for us Christians to eat and to drink.

Where is this written?

The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and the Apostle Paul tell us: Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”


The Blessings of Holy Communion

Second: What blessings do we receive through this eating and drinking?

That is shown us by these words, “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Through these words we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in this sacrament.  For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.


The Power of Holy Communion

Third: How can eating and drinking do such great things?

It is certainly not the eating and drinking that does such things, but the words, “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  These words are the main thing in this sacrament, along with the eating and drinking.  And whoever believes these words has what they plainly say, the forgiveness of sins.


The Reception of Holy Communion

Fourth: Who, then, is properly prepared to receive this sacrament?

Fasting and other outward preparations may serve a good purpose, but he is properly prepared who believes these words, “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  But whoever does not believe these words or doubts them is not prepared, because the words “for you” require nothing but hearts that believe.