Holy Week arrives at First Congregational! Lent and Holy Week remind us of the depths of God’s love. Yes, Easter is our highest holy day of the Christian year. Palm Sunday mixes the odd feeling of Jesus’ acclaim giving way to his rejection. Our children somehow redeem that ambivalence with their joyous march around the Meetinghouse, energetically waving their palms as we sing our closing hymn.
Maundy Thursday teems with potent symbolism. At 7 pm next Thursday, the light of day will usher us in. Then we’ll leave 45 minutes later in the darkest dark. It is the night of Jesus’ Last Supper, so we briefly celebrate at the Lord’s Table. But it is also the agonizing night of Gethsemane, when Jesus faced the fading devotion of his followers falling asleep, abandoning, denying, and betraying him. Our service of tenebrae or diminishing light tells this story in a way that grabs us. Even though it tells such a painful tale, it’s a favorite service of no few members.
Nothing prepares us for Easter like observing Good Friday. We have two practices that could seem odd—until you actually enter them. First, lots of slots remain on the sign-up sheet for our Good Friday Vigil, reading the entire New Testament in an empty sanctuary from six am until midnight. That could seem peculiar to those unfamiliar with our practice. Here’s what I’ve experienced there.
Worship is a kind of performance, yes, but it’s not to entertain or amuse our likes. We could see the chancel as the stage and you in the pews as the audience. The truth is just the opposite: we’re the actors, God is the audience. Reading the New Testament alone in church on Good Friday puts an exclamation point on this. By reading the story of what God has done for us alone with God–with no one else there–it strips everything down to God and you in an essential way. It’s profound. If you sign up to read for 20 minutes in our empty church, you’ll grasp that anew.
Our other Good Friday practice is the Cross Walk. All of the churches of Darien will gather on our doorstep at 10:30 am Good Friday. Armed with prayers to be read aloud at various stops, we will take turns carrying a big-beamed cross right down the Post Rd. to St. Luke’s Episcopal, where I’ll preach first in a community ecumenical worship. If you can only walk with us for a brief while, that is just fine. Just look for the rag-tag group of pastors and laity lumbering beneath a big cross.
And then there is Easter. You should have heard the Nursery School children in our pews this week. I preached to 75 of them on Tuesday and 75 on Thursday. We told the story of Easter, sang an Easter chorus, and prayed an Easter prayer. They were so enthusiastic and joyous, it really moved me. They’re fully on board.
Easter worship means holding nothing back, an outpouring of joy and praise. I hate to say it, but the kids put a lot of pressure on for our Easter festival services. I want to see your faces light up like I saw those little faces full of wonder and joy. I can’t wait to see you at 7 am in Mather Cemetery, or at 9 and 11 am in Church.