I’m experiencing life in a more liturgical church. It’s been an interesting journey, one that I have written about a few times. Last year I experienced my first Maundy Thursday service. You can read about the experience here.
Growing up in a classic Pentecostal home, the anticipation of Holy Week was keen but different. Being a “Norwegian” Pentecostal meant certain differences. This oxymoronic coupling of culture and faith continues to shape and define my life.
There were no Palms distributed in our congregation. I was jealous of my friends with their Palm branches twisted into crosses. My mother would shake her head and say, “Oh, we don’t do that.” Nevertheless, there was a joyous anticipation in church that was palpable.
My Easter outfit was usually finished. My mother’s sewing expertise would create beautiful garments for me to wear. Matching shoes and purse completed an outfit that rivaled (and exceeded) any designer’s wear. I remember vividly being in the 4th grade and begging my mother to let this be the first year I could wear “nylons” (aka hose or stockings). She relented and much to the dismay of older friends who had not yet been allowed to wear this sign of mature (and torture). I learned how to handle garters and a garter belt for Easter.
Preparations for Easter included the joint Passion Week service with the “released time” programs on 4th Avenue. (As a kid, every Wednesday we were released from school an hour early to attend religious instruction – thus the name “released time”). For several weeks, my mother had met with local pastors to plan the Holy Week program. I marvel now as I think back of this woman with a 10th grade education sitting with pastors with Master of Divinity degrees from the Lutheran churches, the Methodist churches, etc. to plan observances that were more liturgical in nature.
As was typical, I usually had a long narration or selection to memorize for this event. I remember the power of reciting the Passion narrative from the Gospels in front of children and leaders from those various churches. Perhaps that was a forerunner for my journey to liturgy – the cross so prominent, the words so powerful, the beautiful of the sanctuary, all formed lasting impressions about Jesus and sacrifice.
Most powerful of my recollections was the hours between 12 and 3 on Good Friday. As Good Friday approached, you could feel the tension in the air. If I were Jewish, I might have asked – why is this day unlike any other day? It would have been an appropriate question. As noon approached, everything halted. The stores normally bustling with business would lock their doors. The busy sidewalks were empty. It seemed nothing moved.
The tension was so deep that I expected the ground to shake, or lightening to appear. I also thought that maybe Jesus would return sometime that weekend. In my childish mind, Easter or Good Friday seemed good candidates for this. The thought was sometimes greeted with fear, other times with joy.
It was as if the whole world was stopping as a remembrance of Jesus breathing His last. I would recite in my mind the words I’d memorized for the program on Wednesday. I would hear Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani in my heart. During the silence of those three hours, I would ponder what it meant for Jesus to die. I would wonder, even though a small child, would I be like Peter and deny Christ. Could I be the one who like Judas would betray Him? These questions are still appropriate for all of us this week.
As the clock struck 3 p.m., the stores opened again. The world seemed to go one with the frenzied last minute preparations for the celebration of Easter. Eggs would be colored on Saturday. Candy would be hidden from view until Easter morning. I hoped for the big chocolate bunny that was SOLID… I didn’t want a hollow bunny. I wanted to gorge myself in chocolate and jelly beans. Sometimes I would have a live baby duck, or chick included in my “basket.” One year my basket included two live white bunny rabbits to live in hutches in my backyard in Brooklyn.
This year, I’ll go to Maundy Thursday service. I’ll go to Good Friday services. I’ll reflect on the Passion of Christ with prayer and reflection. With anticipation, I’ll pause to remember that without the cross there is no hope. Without the cross, there is no resurrection. Without the cross, without “waiting with the Lord in the agony of Gethsemane” the joy of Easter is less meaningful. I will pause between 12 and 3 and remember the agony on the cross so that as I sing ‘UP FROM THE GRAVE HE AROSE” on Sunday, my joy will be full.