Monday, March 14, 2016

Holy Week Dilates and Contracts Time

There is something about a weekly gathering. It's hard to make a weekly commitment, but those things I do weekly are incredibly life-sustaining. My mid-week huddle. My Monday morning prayer. Sunday worship. 

In fact, there are a few more things I wish I was more committed to weekly. Like a weekly date night, or weekly RPG session. Doing something once a week, neither more nor less, is the right human pace for meaning-making, I think.

This is why I feel sad for the shift in our culture away from weekly worship. Almost everyone knows that when you commit to something weekly, it does something in your life. If you practice and play soccer every week, you get better. If you take piano lessons weekly, you improve. So too with worship. It's a commitment, but it bears fruit.

Holy Week warps the liturgical time continuum in this way--it "leans in" on weekly worship and magnifies it. It turns a whole week into worship.

This Sunday, March 20th, we begin the journey with a procession of palms. We recognize that before Jesus was crucified on the cross, he entered into Jerusalem in a triumphant procession, the crowds cheering him on as the Messiah, the anointed King (John 12:13). 

The gospel of John has 21 chapters. Of those chapters, ten of them are devoted to the last few days of Jesus life in Jerusalem! Mary anoints Jesus in chapter 12, then he enters triumphal into Jerusalem, and everything that follows are the events marked by Holy Week.

We do pause early in Holy Week in a kind of sacred silence. Through this period, Jesus himself was praying a prayer to God in the presence of the disciples, his high priestly prayer, sometimes called the Farewell Discourse (John 14-17). So after Palm Sunday, Christians are invited to sit in the hearing of Jesus and contemplate his discourse concerning his departure.

Then the Holy Week services begin. On Maundy Thursday (7 p.m.), the Christian community gathers to commemorate the supper Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room. We also wash each other's feet. Different congregations do this differently. In our context, we sit down at shared tables and we serve each other. We speak words of forgiveness and absolution to each other. We pass the wine and bread around the table. Those who wish come forward for a symbolic foot-washing. We've found that although foot-washing is powerful and transformative, not everyone feels comfortable doing it.
We return to church for Good Friday (7 p.m.), and this year our congregation is trying something new. In the past, we have used the service in our hymnal focused on the traditional bidding prayers. Those prayers are beautiful and broad, but this year we are using Prayer Around the Cross instead. Since the focus of Good Friday is the cross itself, and the communities mixed devotion and discomfort in the presence of it, the meditative nature of TaizĂ© hymns, prayer, and candles, is a powerful option. We will hear the passion story (John 18-19). We will place hands on each other in prayer. 

We return again Saturday evening for the Easter Vigil (6:30 p.m.). This is the high point of the week, the central point of the Christian year. Unfortunately the Easter Vigil has gone into disuse across large portions of Christianity, so it is unfamiliar to many people, Protestants in particular. The Vigil is the service where we celebrate the new light of Christ, the resurrection dawn. One of the great joys of this evening is the baptism of many new Christians. In our congregation we have nine people who will be baptized at the Vigil, and we will receive a total of fifty newcomers through the affirmation of their baptism. The blessings for these folks is the highlight. We begin the service outside with a new fire, then process into worship with candles lit from the fire. We read lessons from Scripture remembering God's saving work in the world, then baptize, affirm baptism, share a common meal, and then conclude with a reception (last year we added a chocolate fountain!). 

Finally, Easter morning comes, the service most familiar to everyone. This is a big Sunday service. There's nothing different than regular Sunday (9 a.m. and 11 a.m.), because on one level every Sunday is Easter Sunday. But we pull out all the stops with our worship music, and we add a brunch all morning, and an egg hunt at 10 a.m. It is the new day in the Lord, life lived in the power of the resurrected One.

This year, we add one more component. Our congregation serves a meal in the community that afternoon. We share ecumenical partnership with other congregations in providing a free meal each Sunday afternoon year round, and so we include feeding the hungry not as an interruption of our Easter observations, but as part and parcel of it, because those who participate in the resurrection of Christ also live as the resurrected one, who included feeding the hungry as essential to the coming Kingdom.

Four services in four days. It's exhausting. It's exhilarating. There's nothing like it. And I hope you'll find a way to participate in it. Because it will change you, and conform you more into the life of Jesus Christ, dying and rising with him.

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