Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Holy Week Holy Postscripts

Debriefing is often the most fun part of any celebration on which everyone has worked hard. In a parish church everyone—clergy, staff, musicians, preachers, lectors, dramatists, flower arrangers, acolytes, worship assistants, and congregational participants—works hard. They all bring creativity, energy, imagination, practice and love to making this a beautiful and moving offering to the God of Jesus Christ.

All this energy in one tent of worship is a petri dish for wonders—holy ones.

It is a tradition at St. John’s Episcopal in Gloucester, MA. to have special services on significant holy days just for children.

On Maundy Thursday all the children got bare foot and sat on the floor in a circle—giggling and not resisting the tickling temptation. We explained that in Jesus’s day the roads were dirt and feet got dirty. To wash your feet happened more than at your weekly bath. It was also a gesture of hospitality to wash tired dirty feet, not just to make sure your floor didn’t get dirty. The children were invited to have their feet washed by clergy or to do it for each other. Most chose clergy. The small group got quieter as we prepared the ritual. Feet are vulnerable. Suddenly as we were about to begin one small boy spoke up, “What if someone has no feet?” Quiet changed to silence. No one tried to answer but you knew they got it. The Holy had entered the space.

On Good Friday we had a quiet, mostly non-verbal service with music, silence and a few poems. The mood wasn’t black just somber. A large wooden cross stood against the empty altar and people were invited to come forward if they wished to reverence the cross in any way that moved them. It’s amazing who comes and how they come. A couple in their sixties with joint pains, heaviness of body and spirit and cancer survival came forward together. He touched the cross with his hands and stood almost leaning into it, a heavy man leaning into the hope of the Holy with all his bulk. His wife stood next to him and when he stepped back she came forward and bowed her head deeply. Each took a communion wafer from the reserved sacrament on the altar, then turned and arm in arm returned to their seats. The Holy had entered the space.

At the Great Vigil of Easter there was a dramatic enactment of the biblical story of the women who came at dawn on Easter morning with their oils and spices, hushed voices, their lanterns lit to anoint the body of the man who had changed their lives. The women and this year a couple of kids and one tagalong man came into a darkened church, advanced toward the front, worried about the guards and the huge stone that had been placed at the entrance to the tomb. As they got closer a child ran ahead and screamed “The stone is gone. It’s gone. Look!”

They all rushed to see, held up their lanterns and cautiously entered the tomb area ( at the foot of the high altar) where there was nothing but a white shroud (tablecloth.) They were women. They would have talked, right?

As they gathered round the shroud, they picked it up and passed it around and each one shared her or his own story of faith. There was not script. We rehearsed the staging and the sequence but it was improvised. As they shared stories the light slowly came up. Here are a few highlights:

“When I was a child I was hurt every day by my mother. Then I saw Jesus and the children in a stained glass window and I instantly became one of his children. I felt he protected me and loved me. I can feel him now”

“God has done a wonderful thing!”
“Like when I got healed in only four days when the surgeon said a week.” (ten year old boy)
“My brother died suddenly but he left Jesus with us. We believed in his love and Jesus’ love too.”
“But what does all this mean?” (young girl fifteen)
A woman sings a song she learned in her native Sierra Leone, “Jesus is Lord.......”
“I’m always on the outside just like now. Ever since my Dad left us when I was small I’ve been outside. No more. No more.” (a man who had been standing outside the tomb area rushes in to join the women in the tomb.)
“Well Jesus didn’t heal me after my stroke! I asked him and he said nothing just looked at me with love. I was angry but I believed the love. Now I have my family’s love to help me.”
“My dog died. I loved him. He was my best friend, one of our family. The rest are still here. But I still miss Teddy.” (eleven year old girl)
“But Jesus taught us how to dance.” (9 year old girl does a little pirouhette)
“ Dawn is almost breaking. We better go. Tell the others.”

The teenage girl returns to the tomb area alone, picks up the shroud and carefully folds it then places it back down. As she rises to leave she stops twice, turns to the congregation and asks twice again, “What does this all mean?”

The Mass continued with the telling of the Exodus story, lighting of the paschal candle, baptisms and the first Eucharist of Easter complete with Alleluias and bells of all kinds brought from homes.

After all had been done to honor this Jesus in story and sacrament we all went to the parish hall and feasted on the First Dessert of Easter!

The Holy had entered this space that night.