Thursday, April 12, 2012

It is Friday . . .but Sunday's coming!

I grew up in a denomination that did not celebrate Lent. That was fine because that was all I knew. For all of my adult life, I've been a United Methodist and we participate in Lent. We begin the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. At our church, we have a service early in the morning and then we have a large service on that night. I found this on Wikipedia - "The minister marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes in the sign of the cross, which the worshipper traditionally retains until it wears off. The act echoes the ancient Near Eastern tradition of throwing ashes over one's head to signify repentance before God (as related in the Bible). The priest or minister says one or both of the following when applying the ashes:

Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.

—Genesis 3:19

Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

We move through the days of Lent spending more time in prayer and worship - more time focused on God. Our church always offers a bookmark with scriptures for each day and a little prayer guide. I always start a new prayer journal just for Lent.

Then we come to Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, our children wave palm branches all the way down the aisle and place them around the altar - just like when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Our choir sings music worthy of a parade (this year's was exceptional) and we celebrate that triumphal entry. All too quickly, our hearts begin to hurt. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, we have noon day services with special music and sermons. Then on Thursday night - Maundy Thursday - we wash hands (instead of feet) and we take communion. Just like Jesus tied the towel around his waist and washed the feet of the disciples. We are reminded that we are to serve others - just like Jesus told the disciples.

Then we arrive at Good Friday. Trinity participates in the Way of the Cross. A large cross is dragged from church to church and there are scripture readings at each church. On Friday night, we have the service of darkness. Even though this service is incredibly sad . . .it is one of my favorite services of the year. The church is always packed. A member of the next door Baptist church called this year wanting the time of the service. After I told him, he whispered into the phone, "I'm a member at "church down the street" and we always come to this service."

The cross is draped in black.  The altar is covered with black.  The candlesticks are black.  It truly feels like the time when the whole world turned dark. . . yet just outside the sun has been shining all day.

The acolytes enter and even that cross is draped in black.  The candles around the base of the cross are lit and the service begins.  The scriptures are read of those last words of Christ.  A scripture is read, the choir or an ensemble sings a song, a candle is snuffed out and a hammer bangs against a large nail three times.  The sound echoes through the church.
One of the songs is "Draw me nearer" and the youth choir circles around the cross as they sing.  Always brings tears to my eyes.
This service lasts about an hour and 15 minutes or more but I never find myself looking at my watch or phone. I am riveted to the words and music and as the sanctuary gets darker and darker, my heart begins to hurt. Each time that nail is hammered, I realize that I am such a sinner. Finally, there is only one candle - the Christ candle. All of the other lights in the sanctuary are either totally off or just barely dim. Our senior minister picks up the Christ candle and one of the associate ministers picks up the big Bible on the altar and SLAMS IT SHUT. That sound also echoes through the church and I have to bite my lip in order to keep myself from crying out. The light of Christ and the Bible are carried out of the sanctuary and we all leave (over 800 of us!) in total silence. My mother-in-law and I walked all the way to the car without speaking - as did most of the other people. At that moment, I have a tiny inkling of how the early followers of Jesus must have felt. He is my savior and he has been snuffed out.

I love Easter Saturday - as I cook, I usually think about what the men and women were doing back then. Were they weeping continuously? By that time, had they wept themselves dry? Were they telling funny stories like we do when someone dies? Have you ever noticed that? We always tell funny stories about the person who has died. Tears and laughter go together. Were they pondering all that Jesus had taught them?

Then finally, Easter morning arrives. During the night, many hands have been working in our sanctuary. There are flowers all over the church - lilies and roses and carnations. The black cloth has been removed from the cross and replaced with a white cloth because HE IS NOT THERE!! HE has risen from the dead. He is alive!!!!

The older I get, I realize that I cannot fully experience Easter without Holy Week. I need to be reminded of all that Jesus went through FOR ME!!!

I am a new creature in Christ. I am a part of the group of folks called Christians -- I am an Easter person!! Thanks be to God!!!

(photos are courtesy of my friend, Susan - I don't think she is a reader but if she is - thanks so much!!!)

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