Worship Experiences

ADVENT
CHRISTMAS EVE / CHRISTMAS
EPIPHANY
BAPTISM OF THE LORD
TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD
LENT
SHROVE TUESDAY
ASH WEDNESDAY
WEDNESDAY LENTEN BREAKFAST
Holy Week PALM SUNDAY
Holy Week MAUNDY THURSDAY
Holy Week GOOD FRIDAY
Holy Week EASTER or RESURRECTION OF THE LORD SUNDAY
PENTECOST
TRINITY SUNDAY
WORLD COMMUNION SUNDAY
REFORMATION SUNDAY
ALL SAINTS’ SUNDAY
CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY

ADVENT   November 30, December 7, 14, 21, 2020

Advent began in the early Church as a 40-day time of preparation and self-examination before Epiphany, a January holiday that observes the visit of the Magi to Jesus (by the Western, or Catholic and Protestant, Church) and the Baptism of Jesus (by the Eastern, or Orthodox, Church). During Advent, the Church welcomed new Christians into the Church to be baptized. Over the years, Advent was eventually tied to honoring Christ’s birth and anticipating his Second Coming.

Advent started off as a time of solemn preparation like Lent, but by the fourth century, the season had evolved into a more celebratory occasion in the Western Church. In contrast, the Orthodox Church has always tended to observe Advent in a more reflective, somber manner.

The lighting of the Advent wreath is the most popular tradition of the season. An Advent wreath is a circle of evergreens with four candles, three of which are usually colored violet purple (symbolizing royalty in some churches and penance in others) and the fourth colored rose red or pink (representing the joyous expectation that people have in the coming Messiah). One of the purple candles is lit during the service on the first Sunday (highlighting the theme of hope) and another purple one on the next Sunday (love). On the third Sunday (joy), the rose-colored candle is lit; and the last purple candle on the final Sunday before Christmas (peace). Some wreaths include a white candle (for the purity and holiness of Christ) in the center, which Christians light on Christmas day.

The origin of the wreath started as a pre-Christian practice by Germanic peoples as a symbol of the hope of a coming spring. Christians kept the tradition but changed its meaning as they looked forward to Christ’s return.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited as displaying the first Christmas nativity scene, a re-creation of the manger scene, during Advent in 1223.

CHRISTMAS EVE / CHRISTMAS   December 24, 25, 2020

Christmas is the observance of Jesus’ humble birth to a virgin in a stable in Bethlehem. The holiday also celebrates the events surrounding his birth, such as an angel’s appearance to shepherds, telling them to visit the newborn king.

Although the Church doesn’t consider it the most important Christian holiday, Christmas is certainly the most popular, at least in terms of cultural and social significance. But the early Church, believing that events later in Jesus’ life should be the focus, didn’t even consider it all that significant. What’s more, when Church leaders first discussed observing the birthday of Jesus, some argued against celebrating it like you would another great person in history. Nonetheless, the Church had enough pro-observance support to mark the calendar.

Neither the New Testament nor any historical record marks the exact date of Jesus’ birth. As a result, the Church initially considered many different dates, including January 2, March 21, March 25, April 18, April 19, May 20, May 28, November 17, and November 20. The Western Church first observed December 25 in the fourth century, and eventually Eastern Churches followed suit.

Desert Palms celebrates with Christmas Eve services at 4:00 and 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary. The latter service includes communion.

EPIPHANY  January 6, 2021

Epiphany is the celebration of God’s manifestation or self-revelation to the world in Jesus Christ. In particular, we celebrate the revelation of God’s promise and purpose to the nations of the world, as the magi came from the East to worship to the Christ child, and God’s covenant of grace is extended to all who believe the good news of Christ Jesus. The symbolism of light is important: not only because of the star that guided the magi, but as it relates to the bright dawning of God’s self-revelation in Christ.

BAPTISM OF THE LORD  JANUARY 10, 2021

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus presents himself to John to be baptized in the Jordan. The heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends as a dove and we hear the voice of God: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (see Psalm 2:7).

At this festival of the Christian year, we not only remember Jesus’ baptism, but we celebrate our own: the baptism we share with Christ. Accordingly, this Sunday is an appropriate time to celebrate the sacrament of baptism or the reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant. It also foreshadows the season of Lent, as Jesus was immediately driven into the wilderness for 40 days after his own Baptism.

TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD   February 14, 2021

Transfiguration Sunday celebrates the glorious revelation of God in Jesus Christ and Christ’s manifestation as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Jesus’ radiant appearance on the mountaintop evokes the devouring fire of the glory of the LORD at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24.17). Here, as at Jesus’ baptism, God claims him as a beloved child, in whom God is well pleased.

In their account of this event, the synoptic gospels offer an enlightening tableau vivant, with Christ flanked by Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophetic tradition. With this vivid image, the gospel writers demonstrate the relationship of the human Word of God to the tradition of Israel and set forth the hermeneutic by which they read the Hebrew Scriptures.

LENT  February 17 to March 29, 2021

The season of Lent begins 40 days before Easter. It is a period of time for self-examination and preparation for Easter. Lent was first observed in the fourth century as the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Its focus was on self-examination and self-denial, and Christians used fasting (abstaining from eating food) in the early years as a visible demonstration of this process.

Lent for Christians starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on either the evening of Maundy Thursday or on sundown of Holy Saturday (day before Easter Sunday). However the practices of Lent do not end until sundown on Holy Saturday for all Christian denominations. Notice that it is 44 days from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday and another two days with Good Friday and Holy Saturday added to give a total of 46 days for Lent. But Sundays are excluded from fasting during Lent and with 6 Sundays removed from the count we get Lent being a 40 day liturgical period.

SHROVE TUESDAY  February 16, 2021

Desert Palms usually celebrates Shrove Tuesday with a congregational meal and a concert.

Shrove, derived from shrive, refers to the confession of sins as a preparation for Lent, a usual practice in Europe in the Middle Ages. Although the day is sometimes still used for self-examination and introspection, Shrove Tuesday eventually acquired the character of a carnival or festival in many places and is often celebrated with parades. As the final day before the austerity of the Lenten fast, Shrove Tuesday also has many customs pertaining to food. Pancakes are traditional in a number of European countries because eggs, sugar, and fat, commonly forbidden during the Lenten fast, are used up so they will not go to waste; the day is known as Pancake Day or Pancake Tuesday in Ireland and in many countries. Similarly rich pre-Lenten treats, sweet pa?czki are traditional in Poland, and king cake is an iconic part of Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) in New Orleans

ASH WEDNESDAY  February 17, 2021

Desert Palms celebrates Ash Wednesday with a 7:00 p.m. worship service in the sanctuary. This service includes preaching the Word, the imposition of ashes on the forehead and communion.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent with a public act of confession and contrition. Acknowledging that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we stand in solidarity as fellow creatures before our Creator, acutely aware of our mortality.  In the face of our transience, we pledge ourselves anew to live unto God’s Word in Jesus Christ, the eternal Word that remains forever.

Historically, Ash Wednesday was a time when penitents were presented for church discipline during Lent, culminating in reconciliation on Maundy Thursday. Ash Wednesday is also the occasion when would-be disciples of Christ known as catechumens were enrolled in the catechumenate, a special time of learning the basics of the faith in preparation for baptism on Easter Sunday or during the Easter Vigil.

WEDNESDAY LENTEN BREAKFAST  February 24, March 3, 10, 17, 24, 2021

Join us for a continental breakfast at 8:00 a.m. in the Conference Room and then at 8:30 a.m. for a 30 minute worship service in the sanctuary. These five services focus on a particular theme related to the Lenten season.

HOLY WEEK

PALM SUNDAY  March 28, 2021

Christians observe Palm Sunday on the Sunday before Easter, celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The reason for the name Palm Sunday stems from the fact that when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, a large crowd of people in the city spread out palm branches on the ground before him as a sign of his kingship. Throughout Jesus’ three-year ministry, he downplayed his role as Messiah and sometimes even told people whom he healed not to say anything about the miracle to others. Palm Sunday is the one exception in which his followers loudly proclaimed his glory to all.

Today, Christians often celebrate Palm Sunday in a joyous, triumphant manner during worship services, emphasizing the glory of Jesus Christ. Some churches spread palm branches at the front of the sanctuary as a way to commemorate the event.

HOLY WEEK

MAUNDY THURSDAY    April 1, 2021

Within the midst of the Easter season, Maundy Thursday is one Christian holy day that many Christians and even many churches often overlook, yet it symbolizes a critically important truth of the Christian faith — Jesus as a suffering servant and the call for his followers to do the same. It also draws a connection between the Passover sacrifice, a Jewish tradition, and Jesus Christ’s sacrificial role on the cross.

The night before Jesus was crucified, he had a Passover supper with his disciples. (Passover is a Jewish holy day that celebrates God’s deliverance of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.) After supper, Jesus knew that this would be his final opportunity to instruct his disciples before the crucifixion, so he talked at length about his purposes, what his followers should do in response and the promise of the Holy Spirit to come. He then washed his disciples’ feet in an incredible demonstration of humility and servanthood. Finally, he gave bread and wine to his disciples and asked them to partake of it in remembrance of him. The act of partaking bread and wine is called Communion (or the Last Supper) today.

The word Maundy (pronounced mawn-dee) comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” The command to which this holy day refers is the one that Jesus gave to his disciples during the Last Supper:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just like I have loved you; that you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  -John 13:34–35

Desert Palms celebrate Maundy Thursday with a worship service at 7:00 p.m. in the sanctuary. The service includes communion.

HOLY WEEK

GOOD FRIDAY  April 2, 2021

Good Friday marks the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross for the sins of the world. Good Friday isn’t a happy day, but its name is a reminder that humans can only be considered good because of what happened on that day. Some believe that its name was originally God’s Friday, which, over the years, became its present name. In Germany, Christians call it Quiet Friday (from noon on Friday until Easter morning, church bells remain silent). Christians in other parts of Europe call it Great Friday or Holy Friday.

Good Friday is a day of mourning and sorrow over the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ and a reminder that the sins of all people made it necessary for Him to die in the first place. It’s also a day of gratitude for the supreme sacrifice that He made.

Desert Palms celebrates Good Friday with a Tenebrae Service (Service of Darkness) based upon Jesus’ seven last words on the cross. The service is held at 7:00 p.m. in the sanctuary.

HOLY WEEK

EASTER or RESURRECTION OF THE LORD SUNDAY  April 4, 2021

The festival of the Resurrection of the Lord (or Easter Sunday) is the center of the Christian year. On this occasion the church joyfully proclaims the good news that is at the very heart of the gospel: that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

Easter Sunday is something like the keystone of an arch — the top and center stone upon which all the other stones lean and depend — both in terms of its theological significance and its relation to other events in the Christian year. Theologically speaking, the faith we claim and the life we live depend on the affirmation, celebration and proclamation of Christ’s resurrection. In a chronological sense — since Easter is a “moveable feast,” taking place on a different date each year — all the other events of the Christian year (from the Transfiguration of the Lord and Ash Wednesday through Pentecost and Trinity Sunday) pivot around the date of Easter Sunday, shifting accordingly.

PENTECOST  May 23, 2021

Originally, Pentecost was a Jewish holiday held 50 days after Passover. One of three major feasts during the Jewish year, it celebrated Thanksgiving for harvested crops. However, Pentecost for Christians means something far different. Before Jesus was crucified, he told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come after him (see John 14:16). And 40 days after Jesus was resurrected (ten days after he ascended into heaven; see Luke 24:51), that promise was fulfilled when Peter and the early Church were in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

TRINITY SUNDAY  May 30, 2021

On Trinity Sunday we proclaim the mystery of our faith in the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One-in-Three and Three-in-One.

The celebration of Trinity Sunday began among Western Christians in the 10th century and developed slowly until it was formally established on the Sunday after Pentecost by Pope John XXII (1316-1334).

Unlike other festivals in the church’s liturgical calendar, Trinity Sunday centers on a doctrine of the church, rather than an event. It celebrates the unfathomable mystery of God’s being as Holy Trinity. It is a day of adoration and praise of the one, eternal, incomprehensible God.

Trinity Sunday, in a sense, synthesizes all we have celebrated over the past months which have centered on God’s mighty acts: Christmas-Epiphany celebrating God’s taking flesh and dwelling among us in Jesus Christ; Easter celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection for us; Pentecost celebrating God the Holy Spirit becoming our Sanctifier, Guide, and Teacher. It is, therefore, a fitting transition to that part of the year when Sunday by Sunday the work of God among us is unfolded in a more general way.

The triune God is the basis of all we are and do as Christians. In the name of this triune God we are baptized. As the baptized ones we bear the name of the triune God in our being. We are of the family of the triune God. We affirm this parentage when, in reciting the creeds, we say what we believe. Our discipleship is rooted in the mighty acts of this triune God who is active in redeeming the world. The triune God is the basis of all our prayers — we pray to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit. The Trinity holds central place in our faith.

In celebrating Trinity Sunday, remember that every Lord’s Day is consecrated to the triune God. On the first day of the week, God began creation. On the first day of the week, God raised Jesus from the grave. On the first day of the week, the Holy Spirit descended on the newly born church. Every Sunday is special. Every Sunday is a day of the Holy Trinity.

WORLD COMMUNION SUNDAY   October 4, 2020

The first Sunday in October is designated as World Communion Sunday, which celebrates our oneness in Christ with all our brothers and sisters around the world.

World Communion Sunday (originally called World Wide Communion Sunday) is a gift of the Presbyterian Church to the larger ecumenical church.  The first celebration occurred at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933 where Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr served as pastor.

John A. Dalles, a PCUSA pastor who has researched the history of World Communion Sunday notes this in his blog entry, reprinted from the October 7, 2002, issue of Presbyterian Outlook:

Davitt S. Bell (the late Clerk of Session and church historian at Shadyside) recalled that Dr. Kerr first conceived the notion of World Communion Sunday during his year as moderator of the General Assembly (1930). Dr. Kerr’s younger son, the Rev. Dr. Donald Craig Kerr, who is pastor emeritus of the Roland Park Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, was sixteen in 1933. He has related that World Communion Sunday grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another. When I asked Donald Kerr how the idea of World Communion Sunday spread from that first service to the world wide practice of today, this is what he replied,

“The concept spread very slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold, because we were trying to hold the world together. World Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

REFORMATION SUNDAY   OCTOBER 25, 2020

The Church celebrates Reformation Sunday on the last Sunday of October, commemorating a significant event in the history of the Reformed tradition. It was on October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg.

ALL SAINTS’ SUNDAY   NOVEMBER 1, 2020

In early Christian tradition, saints’ days began as a way to mark the anniversary of a martyr’s death — his or her “birthday” as a saint. By the middle of the church’s first millennium, there were so many martyrs (particularly due to the persecution of Diocletian) that it was hard to give them all their due. All Saints’ Day was established as an opportunity to honor all the saints, known and unknown.

During worship Desert Palms remembers all those in the congregation who have died in the past year.

CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY   November 23, 2020

At the conclusion of the Christian year, the church gives thanks and praise for sovereignty of Christ, who is Lord of all creation and is coming again in glory to reign (see Revelation 1:4-8).

This festival was established in 1925 by decree of Pope Pius XI. Originally it took place on the last Sunday in October, just prior to All Saints’ Day. Now it is celebrated on the last Sunday of the Christian year, a week before the season of Advent begins.

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