This will be my thirtieth Easter as an ordained minister. This will be the thirtieth time I’ve led a community through the drama of Holy Week and I don’t want it to be rote. I’m hungry to make it spiritually meaningful – for me and for you.
I know that for me, the surest way for Holy Week to be spiritually meaningful is to enter the story. The fewer appointments I have, the fewer distractions, especially as the week moves on, the better. Making time for worship is important. And having time for prayer (preferable in several forms) is important.
So I’m going to get as much done ahead of time as possible. And then I’m going to let go (as much as I can when I have leadership responsibilities) and enter into the story.
I’m not sure if letting go is going to be easier or harder than usual this year. Pastor Brenda and I are planning some worship experimentation this year. To start, we won’t have a Palm Sunday procession this year. Wanting everyone to be able to participate, regardless of physical ability, we will have the whole worship service in the sanctuary. Be sure to pick up your palms as you arrive because we’re going to use them in the first part of the worship service, and we have a craft project for them during coffee hour.
Our Maundy Thursday service will be an experiment with “dinner church.” Dinner church is an old way of worshipping – perhaps the oldest way the Christian church has worshiped – with some new twists. We know from the letters to the Corinthians that they gathered for a common meal when they met for worship. Some churches today are finding that, while some populations won’t come to worship on Sunday mornings, they will gather for an evening meal – and so the old becomes new again.
Maundy Thursday, when we especially focus on the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples, seems a logical time for Niles Discovery Church to have our own little experiment with dinner church. A small group will do the shopping ahead of time. We’ve identified a head chef and someone to supervise the set-up and clean-up. But the cooking and the setting up won’t happen until people start arriving (at 6:15 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall). During the dinner, there will be a time of reflection and table discussion. The offering will go to covering the dinner costs, with any extra going to the Tri-City Volunteers’ food bank. Clean-up should be finished by 8:15 (though if people need to leave earlier, like children or choir members [rehearsal will begin at 8:00] they will).
All of this will be different from what I’ve experienced before on Maundy Thursday, and I hope that newness offers me a new way to reflect on the Maundy Thursday portion of the Holy Week story.
Good Friday service will also be something new for me. Pastor Brenda has used the spiritual practice of labyrinth walking as a tool for reflecting on the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, but I haven’t. This year, I get the chance. We will gather in the Fellowship Hall at 7:30 p.m. for some prayer and explanation. Joy Barnitz will be co-leading this service – it’s her canvas labyrinth we’ll be walking (no shoes, by the way). We will also have finger labyrinths for people to use.
I’ve walked labyrinths before (just not on Good Friday) and find they can be a profound tool for opening my heart and mind to the Spirit. I’m curious how it may help me connect to the Good Friday story. As we begin our planning, the theme that’s surfaced is, “Finding Your ‘Okay’,” with the question of how Jesus got to his ‘okay’ of “not my will, but yours be done,” and how he held on to it through Good Friday. I will probably bring my journal because in past labyrinth walks I’ve found journaling to be helpful in processing what the labyrinth walk has opened to and in me.
Of course, we know where the story is going. We know that death doesn’t have the final word, that in the end, love wins. And so, after sitting with whatever I learn on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I will gather with some of you on Easter Sunday for the sunrise service at the Niles Town Plaza at 6:30. I’m still waiting for my sermon theme to come to me (you know, beside ‘He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!’). And though I am definitely not a morning person, I do find this service to be one of my favorites of the church year.
The choir is planning three anthems for our 10:00 service later that morning. Music, prayer, communion, and the Good News – what a wonderful cap to the drama of Holy Week!
As I said at the beginning of this column, I’m hungering for this Holy Week to be spiritual meaningful for you and for me. I hope you will join me in entering into the story with an open heart and mind, trusting that God will gift you in some way.
Peace, Pastor Jeff