Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Liturgy for Easter Day (with Holy Communion)

easter–James B. Janknegt, Easter Morning

Voluntary

*Hymn Christ the Lord is Risen Today

*Greeting

Dear Friends in Christ:

The night is over! The morning is here!

Christ is risen, risen as he said!

Sadness has vanished! Tears are no more!

Death has fled! Life is victorious!

This is the day the Lord has made:

We rejoice! We are glad in it!

Come, assemble for the Feast of Life,

the Feast of the Kingdom of God!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

*Easter Peace

Beloved in Christ,

God’s love pours out from the grave of despair.

The Risen One comes with hands full of love.

He greets us with peace the world does not know,

he give us peace the world cannot give.

Alleluia! Christ’s peace is ours forever! 

Now greet each other with Easter peace!

The Easter Peace is shared…

*Hymn This Is the Day

Prayer for Understanding

At your word, God of Life,

the earth grows green

and every creature springs to life!

Re-create us too, we pray, by your holy Word.

As we receive the ancient Good News,

give us the new joy and justice of Easter—

all death destroyed, all captives freed!

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Reading  Jeremiah 31:1-6; 10-12

Responsive Chant Psalm 118: 1-6, 15-18, 24

Reading  John 20:1-18

*Hymn Come and Taste of Resurrection

Sermon

Anthem, or Creed, Prayers or other Response of Faith here…

[For example:]

*Response of Faith

Let us declare our faith together (you may rise):

We believe in the God of Life,

whose breath is in us,

and whose mercy encircles the creation.

We believe in Jesus Christ,

who loved us indestructibly

and who shared our pain.

He is with us now as he promised,

even to the end of the age.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

who welcomes us into the household of faith,

gives us gifts in abundance,

enlivens our hearts with joy,

and urges us into the world

to testify without fear

to God’s justice and grace.

Hoping against hope

for the promised realm of peace,

we love one another while we live,

we honor every creature God has made,

we stand against the powers of sin and death,

and we bless the earth and all that fills it.

Glory, thanks, and praise be yours,

O Living God, now and forever! Amen.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Invitation to Offering

Good friends,

since by his resurrection

we have new life in Christ,

let us live as new people,

bound to each other

by cords of compassion,

attentive to the needs

of neighbors far and near,

committed to the earth

and every living thing,

eager to serve and share.

For the sake of this ministry,

we gratefully receive the Easter offering.

Offertory

*Doxology

*Prayer of Dedication

EASTER COMMUNION

*Invitation

[The people remain standing.]

Easter people, come now to the table with Christ!

For he is risen! He lives, and presides at this Feast!

Come, eat together the Bread of Life!

For he is risen, and nothing separates us from God’s love!

Come, drink together from the Cup of Gladness!

For Christ is risen! Risen as he said! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

*Praise

Praise to you, God of glory!

You created the universe and all living things.

You breathed life into our dust

and gave us a paradise.

You sought us when we hid ourselves,

ashamed of our sin.

You made a people for yourself,

and saved them from oppression.

In the fullness of time,

your love came also to us in your servant Jesus.

He ministered to us,

healing, overcoming divisions, welcoming all.

He died on the cross of shame.

But you vindicated him,

giving him a life that is forever new!

This is the life he shares with us:

a life of justice, mercy,

and citizenship in your realm of peace.

All your creatures testify to your mighty deeds!

They declare your everlasting love!

We too proclaim it,

as with the angels of heaven we sing:

*Sanctus   Holy, Holy, Holy…

Remembering and Giving Thanks

[The people are seated.]

Now, O God, with grateful hearts we remember Jesus.

Silence

We remember that he was laid in a borrowed grave.

A heavy stone sealed up the tomb.

We remember that the women came, early in the morning, on the third day.

They did not find him among the dead.

We remember that his disciples met him on the road.

He opened the scriptures, explaining everything;

and their hearts burned within them.

They said to him,

‘Stay with us, for it is evening.’

So he went in with them.

And while they were at table,

he took bread, gave thanks,

and broke it for them to share.

Then their eyes were opened,

and they knew him in the breaking of the bread.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Come, Holy Spirit,

bless this bread that earth has given

and human hands have made.

Bless also this fruit of the vine,

created for our gladness.

Make them the food and drink of everlasting life,

body surrendered, blood poured out.

As we rejoice in the resurrection,

give us love for each other,

and make  us servants of peace,

until your New Realm is revealed,

and every creature beholds it.

We pray in the name of Jesus, who lives

and presides at this table,

our host and our feast.

Thanks be to him who taught us to say…

The Lord’s Prayer

Agnus Dei Lamb of God….

[After the Lord’s Prayer, the ministers and other worship leaders break the bread and place the pieces in baskets or on plates for distribution. During the breaking of bread, the ‘Lamb of God’ or other appropriate song or chant is sung.]

Sharing Bread and Cup

[The Communion elements are distributed. When all the people have received, they rise to give thanks.]

*Post-communion Thanksgiving

Let us give thanks!

Thank you, God, for life in the Spirit of Jesus,

for gladness in this bread and cup,

for love that cannot die,

for peace the world cannot give,

for joy in the company of friends,

for the splendors of creation,

and for the mission of justice you have made our own.

Give us the gifts of this holy communion –

oneness of heart, love for neighbors,

forgiveness of enemies,

the will to serve you every day,

and risen life that never ends.

In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

*Hymn  Alleluia! The Strife Is O’er

*Benediction

[This triple “blessing and sending/commissioning” may be delivered by three different voices.]

May the living God

who raised Jesus from the dead

bless you and keep you

and make you shine with joy.

May God raise up new life in you,

and give you peace,

for the sake of Jesus, Lord of Life!

1. Christ is risen! Tell the world!

Risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. Christ is risen! Tell the world!

Risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. Christ is risen! Tell the world!

Risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

*Choral Response

Voluntary

And Very Early in the Morning, While It Was Still Dark

Dawn

 “And very early in the morning the first day of the week,                                                         while it was still dark, Mary came to the tomb…”  [Jn 20:1]

How good the dark is!

God dwells in it, unseen, beyond all naming, a mystery of love.

How good the dark is!

God’s Spirit brooded over the world’s creation with the midnight beauty of a raven.

How good the dark is!

Under cover of night God hurried Israel’s children out of Egypt, shadowing their steps with the great cloud of presence.

How good the dark is!

Jesus was carried in the deep hideaway of the womb. He was born at midnight when everything was still. He sighed his last sigh in a darkness that covered the earth at noon. And when he was taken down from the cross, they laid him in a grave cut from rock. They rolled a stone across to seal it, so that the dark, as Brian Wren says so beautifully, could be the cradle of the dawn.*

And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary came to the tomb.

Unless you bury a grain of wheat in the good black dirt, Jesus used to say, it will remain a grain of wheat. But if it is covered up for a while, it will rise and yield, and yield some more.

How good the dark is!

To speak of darkness on Easter—a morning shot through with gleaming alleluias, the day our ancestors called ‘the eighth day of creation’ illumined by the Sun that never sets—is not to diminish Easter’s glory, but only to confess this truth: that bright Easter is also a day of darkness.

A day of darkness because the Love that gave us Easter is as incomprehensible to us on Easter as on any other day. The Compassion that saved us by a resurrection is as unfathomable this morning as any other morning. The Mercy that meets us this day is so hidden to our hearts, so unthinkable, that all we can say is that we are in the dark.

We walk by faith and not by sight. We see only in a glass darkly the strange things Mary sees in the garden, as night gives way and first light comes.

To speak of darkness on this shimmering day is to say that Easter faith, like the seed of which Jesus spoke, needs its time in the dark. It can’t be believed all at once. It grows up slowly, maturing in the dark good earth of an open heart.

The risen Jesus does not reveal himself all at once. It took forty days for him to materialize—he gave his friends a little glimpse here, another there. It took time before they stopped mistaking him for a gardener, an angel, a ghost, a Bible-teaching stranger on the road. The fullness of Easter waited, curtained, while they prodded his strange body, now solid, with nail holes in his hands; now indeterminate, unhindered by walls and dead-bolted doors.

It took centuries for the deepest questions about him to rise to the surface in the pondering church; centuries for daily encounters in liturgy and service to give up their meaning; centuries for words to be found with which to declare in these and in so many other words, “My Lord and my God!”

It takes more than one trip to the tomb to see him. Before Easter fully dawns on us, we will all bend down more than once to peer in and count the folded garments. Make more than one search of the place. Hold more than one conversation with the angel. And more than once we will turn our heads at the sound of a Voice that knows our name.

We will only slowly learn what all astonished disciples have to learn—that he is especially hard to see if we expect him to be the way he was with us once upon a time. If we want him to put things back in their old places, and restore life like it used to be, he will slip our grasp. What he offers us now is not lucid or familiar; what he tells us now is dark: “Go and meet me someplace else, ahead of where you are today.”

To speak of darkness at Easter is to say that Easter is the thing we find most disconcerting—newness. Resurrection is original. Despite our need and our longing to unburden our pasts, to heal our memories, to change, Easter is the thing we most fear—that nothing will ever be the same. St Paul says, ‘We know what we are now, but what we will be we have no idea. The whole creation is on tiptoe, groaning in anticipation of it.’

Easter is glimmer of it.

It is ray, yes; but it is a ray of darkness.

And O, how good its dark is!

Alleluia!

Bring Me A Donkey

1846 Christs_Entry_into_Jerusalem_Hippolyte_Flandrin

‘Bring me a donkey,’ he said to us. A donkey? I stared at him—‘Jesus, you can’t afford to buy a donkey. You can’t afford to rent a donkey. You don’t have any money. You don’t have a house. You don’t have even a change of clothes.  And you want us to get you a donkey?’

‘It’ll be tied up in the village,’ he said. ‘Go, bring it to me. If anybody tries to stop you, just tell them I need it.’

It was like that with him. He did the strangest things. Sometimes it was too much. It was like he was forcing you to choose. You could walk away, or you could take a deep breath, believe him, and go one more mile along the road. We often wondered who was taking the bigger risk, the ones who left, or the ones who stayed.

Anyway, Jesus was waiting for an answer. So I shrugged. Made my choice. Again.

‘Okay,’ I said.

On the way to the village we practiced our lines—‘Nice donkey you have there, Mister. We’ll take it now. No, no, really, it’s okay, we know it’s your donkey, but Jesus needs it.’

On the way back with the animal in tow, I kept asking myself, ‘Why does he need a donkey? He walks everywhere. I’ve never seen him ride.”

Later, after everything was over, his mother reminded me that he had ridden once before, when he was a baby, the night the angel told Joseph to take Jesus to Egypt to protect him from Herod.

People say that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem to signal peaceful intentions. It’s true—he wasn’t a conquering hero. He believed meekness was more powerful than violence. He was a servant, not a king. But after Mary told me about that time they fled into Egypt, I wondered if he chose the donkey as a kind of course correction.

Maybe on the back of the donkey, in the midst of all the street theater that day, he was thinking, ‘I escaped back then. This time I won’t get away.’

This time no angel-dream would save him in the nick of time. No mother keep him warm at her breast. No father protect him from the tyrants and the sword.

This time he wouldn’t ride away from trouble. He would ride straight into it. On the donkey. On the carpet of coats and shawls. Through all the shouting and the palms.

———

Image: Entry into Jerusalem, A. Flandrin

Up From The Grave: A Meditation for Holy Saturday

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–The Harrowing of Hell, School of Simon Van Taisten, Austria, 1460-ca 1503

At that moment…the tombs were opened, and many who had fallen asleep were raised.” —Matthew 27:45-6

During his earthly ministry, Jesus was shockingly intent on offering the world freedom and life. When it came to rescuing the lost, forgiving sinners, consoling the hurt, welcoming strangers, mending divisions, refreshing the exhausted, and releasing captives, nothing took precedence over freedom and life—not reason, law, moral codes, politeness, political expediency, fiscal prudence, or maintaining family harmony.

Jesus never preached, prayed, commanded or did anything in the name of God that constricted a human heart, afflicted a human body, narrowed or embittered a human mind, or chained the human conscience. He was, he is, nothing but freedom and life.

And so it brings us up short  every year in Holy Week to see him taken, bound, tortured, defeated, paraded around, nailed up, pierced, dead. It disturbs us to hear him groan wildly, like all vulnerable and tortured people do, desperate to know whether the Minder of Life, so mindful of others, has any memory of him.

But it should not surprise us that the moment he dies, the dead live. According to a tradition enshrined in the earliest Christian creeds, and still pointedly celebrated by the Orthodox, the first thing the dead Jesus does is “descend to the dead.’’ On Holy Saturday, he heads down into the haunts of the long-gone.

There he comes face to face with the given-up-on—all his hopeless, ungraced ancestors languishing under the earth—and he preaches the gospel to them. He springs from death his fellow-dead, he “harrows” Hell, he wrests them from the grip of all that would hold them back from life, he carries them away with him, and souls too long consigned to oblivion enter the joy of the living.

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–The Harrowing of Hell, English, c. 1240

The gospel of Matthew notes a bizarre scene: it says that at the moment Jesus gives up his spirit, tombs in the city crack open. Jesus is not yet even deposited in his own grave, and the dead and buried are leaving theirs. They “enter the city and show themselves.”

Even before Jesus is raised, there is so much life still left in his love for us that it cannot help itself: it keeps intruding into forsaken places. It keeps finding lost things, it keeps bringing them home.

What, then, about us who, in our peculiar ways, are shades inhabiting our own indistinct valleys, nether regions of self-concern and self-importance? What about us who languish in the hell of that sophisticated hopelessness we call cynicism, or who are just plain done in by the enormity of justice’s demands? What about us who hide our pain under our privilege, and who cannot for the life of us break the chain of hurts received and hurts inflicted? resurrection

–Resurrection of Christ, unidentified

On this Holy Saturday, and on all our lonely forsaken Holy Saturdays , shall we let the dead Jesus come down to us, to whatever Sheol we have been consigned by life and pride and fear, defeat our demons, and take us with him from shade to light? Dazzled by our rescue, still carrying our shrouds as evidence, will we go about our own cities, giddy and pink with his new breath in our lungs, opened eyes lit by the power of death-defying love? Will we show up in these streets, announcing to all the good news he preached to us—that God loves life fiercely and will not abide anything that constricts a heart, afflicts a body, narrows or embitters a mind, traps a conscience, or seals a human being in a grave? If we knew that neither grave nor Hades could ever hold us again, would civility, law, caution, politeness, harmony, morality, political expediency, fiscal prudence, or anything else ever shame us away from the gospel?

Our Tears Have Become Our Bread: A Good Friday Evening Service of Lamentation

crux

A Note about Lamentation

Good Friday faces us with the death of Jesus on the cross of shame. We come to be near him in his suffering. We come also to lament the world’s sin and the fragmentation of our lives. Lamentation is an ancient form of prayer, crying out to God in the midst of senselessness, violence and confusion. It is a way to “hold God accountable,” even as we admit our complicity and helplessness. Lamentation does not contradict faith in God: it arises from the conviction that God wills life, not death; that God’s love is steadfast; and that God’s mercy is over all. We believe that God grieves with us, but we also admit that we do not understand God or ourselves, and so we express doubt, anger and desire for vindication, in God’s hearing. The Bible is full of lamentations. Jesus’ own lament, “Why have you abandoned me?”, echoes especially in our hearts tonight.

Gathering

Chant  Stay with me [Taize]

*Greeting

Beloved friends,

the peace of Christ be with you.

And on the whole world, peace.

In suffering love, our God draws near

to be with us in all our pain,

absorbing our unending tears,

the bitter food of every day.

Then let us pray tonight,

the best we can,

the hard prayers of lament,

the questions of bewildered faith,

the questions without answer.

*Prayer

O grieving God,

the suffering of the world

is gathered up tonight

in the broken body of Jesus,

our tender brother, who did no harm.

Give us the grace to cling to him,

and to share his meal of tears

at the table of the cross,

so that one day,

in the new world you are preparing,

we may share with him the feast of love

at your table of justice and joy.

We ask this in his name. Amen.

Readings and Responses

Reading   Luke 19: 41-42  Jesus weeps over Jerusalem.

Silence

*Hymn When Jesus wept

Reading  Our Warring Madness

[Note: Here different voices read brief obituaries of US soldiers killed on the Good Fridays of 5 successive years of the Iraq War. In other years at this service, excerpts from soldiers’ letters home were set to recitative chant and sung by a cantor, with a people’s sung response: Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Both these pieces may be provided upon request.]

Silence

*Prayer

Let us pray.

O silent God,

the web of human violence and death

is a terrible mystery.

We wonder if there is hope for us—

any hope at all, even in you.

Answer us, O God,

and by the tears of Jesus

keep our hearts safe and our hope alive,

as we lament our losses,

speak our anger and disappointment,

grieve our human folly,

and release our pain.

We pray in his name. Amen.

Reading  Mark 15: 25-37  Jesus is crucified.

Silence

*Hymn 201  They crucified my Lord

Ritual of Lamentation

Responsive Reading Psalm 42  My tears have become my bread.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,

so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When shall I behold the face of God?

My tears have been my bread, day and night,

while people say to me continually,

“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise God, my helper.

By day the Lord commands God’s steadfast love,

and at night God’s song is with me,

a prayer to the Lord of my life.

I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me?

Why must I walk about mournfully

because the enemy oppresses me?”

As with a deadly wound in my body,

my adversaries taunt me,

while they say to me continually,

“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God;

for I shall again praise the Lord,

my help and my God.

Eating the Bread of Sorrow

 [A Note on the Ritual, for service planners:

The service takes place in a room with a round table at the center, chairs arranged in circular rows around it, aisles left open for access to the table and allow a good flow of movement. Bulletins for the service contain a slip of paper for the purpose of writing a personal lamentation. Pencils are at the seats.

On the center round table is a large clear glass bowl about full of water, two or three baskets with whole loaves of bread (challah was used for this service—it tears easily, picks up the salt well, and its sweetness provides a good contrast to saltiness), and two or three containers with mounds of ordinary table salt (a larger grained salt, such as sea salt, may also be used, although it is expensive). It is important that bread, water bowl, and salt be ample, large, visible—if possible use beautiful glass or ceramic containers, or expressive woven baskets. On a night of meager hope, abundant signs make all the difference.

Instructions for the ritual should be printed in the bulletin. A clear and concise verbal invitation and explanation—not of the ritual’s meaning so much as of the procedure to be followed—should also be given. It should be clear to all that one may decide not to participate: freedom should reign. [See sample written instructions below.]

When the ritual begins, people are invited to reflect on and write down a lament or other prayer for the world, the church, themselves—an expression of need or hope or of perplexity and question—then fold  the slip, come forward and deposit in the bowl of water—adding our tears to Jesus’ tears, as it were. They then approach ministers or other leaders who have been stationed in pairs—one with with bread, the other with salt—at two or three points in the room. They take a piece of bread and dip it in salt and return to their seats to await a common eating.

During this movement, music may be playing softly in the background. If there is a choir, a simple choral piece may be sung, but the music here should not overwhelm the ritual by calling too much attention to itself.

A note on wheat allergies: As with the celebration of holy communion, there should be a bread substitute available, if possible a gluten free bread (not a cracker). It should be on a dedicated plate or basket held by a third server in one of the serving groups. Make clear to people which station they should approach if they require a bread substitute.

At each station, the bread server says to each participant something like: “May the tears of Jesus feed us, and heal our suffering world.” The response is “Amen. When all have returned to their seats, the bread is blessed, and everyone eats the bread together. Then a hymn is sung.]

Participating in the Ritual

You are invited to write a brief expression of lament in solidarity with the suffering world. A slip of paper is provided. When you have finished, you may go to the table and place your lament in the large bowl of water, representing human grief and tears, including the tears of Jesus. A piece of bread will then be given to you, with the words, “May the tears of Jesus feed us, and heal our suffering world.” Please dip the bread in the salt that is also offered, then take it to your seat and wait. When all who wish to participate have returned to their seats, we will bless our laments and eat the salted bread of sorrow together.

Blessing

Holy spirit, come to us.

Bless this food of sorrow,

these morsels of pain.

Help us who taste in salted bread

the suffering of the world

become its healing and relief

by every deed of love and care

we offer in Christ’s name.

[The bread is eaten. Then all sing.]

Hymn  Bread of the world, in mercy broken

You may remain seated for the hymn.

The Good News of Consolation

Romans 8:18-39  Nothing separates us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

Silence

*Prayer

Let us pray.

Spirit of Life, thank you

for the healing power of the cross.

Thank you for not abandoning us in our sins.

Thank you for praying in us when,

in grief and anger,

we do not know how to pray.

Thank you for giving us the tears of Christ

who bears in his body our pain and the world’s.

Thank you for the life that is to come,

the new day on a new earth

when sorrow will be no more.

Hasten that day when lament will cease

and your love will be all in all.

Now, send us into the world in hope.

Make us your tender mercy

upon the world’s suffering,

wiping away every tear.

And do not leave us when the light wanes

and the road disappears,

but bring us through all our nights

to the clear shining of Easter.

We ask this, trusting you,

in Jesus’ name. Amen.

*Blessing and Peace

Go now in peace.

Bear the weight of the cross

and the certain hope of resurrection

to all who yearn for life.

Amen.

Night and day,

may the blessing of God be upon us!

Amen.

* Hymn 335  Dona Nobis Pacem

*Greeting of Peace

The people are invited to share a sign of Christ’s peace, and leave quietly.

*[Note to worship leaders: * The asterisk indicates all the places where the people may stand. In this service all that is needed to get them to stand is example—the leaders should know when to stand and sit and do it decisively—and clear hand gestures. Try not to interrupt the flow of the service with constant invitations and instructions.]

Image:  Jame B. Janknegt, Crucifiction [sic] at Barton Creek Mall

When Jesus Wept: A Good Friday Evening Service of Lamentation

A Word about Lamentation

Ludvig_Karsten_Nedtagelsen_1925

Good Friday faces us with the death of Jesus on the cross of shame. We come to be near him in his suffering. We come also to lament the world’s sin and the fragmentation of our lives. Lamentation is an ancient form of prayer, crying out to God in the midst of senselessness, violence and confusion. It is a way to “hold God accountable,” even as we admit our complicity and helplessness. Lamentation does not contradict faith in God: it arises from the conviction that God wills life, not death; that God’s love is steadfast; and that God’s mercy is over all. We believe that God grieves with us, but we also admit that we do not understand God or ourselves, and so we express doubt, anger and desire for vindication, in God’s hearing. The Bible is full of lamentations. Jesus’ own lament, “Why have you abandoned me?”, echoes especially in our hearts tonight.

Preparation

Chant Jesus, Remember Me  [Taize]

Gathering at the Cross

*Greeting

The peace of Christ be with you.

His cross is our peace forever.

Beloved in Christ,

this is a night of grieving.

In our sorrow, we ask the Spirit to give us hope.

Let us pray:

Holy Spirit,

gather our hurts and losses

and all the world’s grief

into the arms of Christ,

extended to embrace us.

Help us to believe

that living or dying

we belong to God. Amen.

*Hymn 201  They Crucified My Lord

Handing on the Story

Reading   Isaiah 52: 13-53: 12

Silence

*Prayer

Gracious God,

at the cross, the lament of all human history

rises from the soul of Jesus.

We believe that in him

you yourself grieve,

until promised morning comes.

Praise to you in shadow and light,

in gladness and grief,

in every breath,

and at the last breath.

Amen.

Reading   Mark 15: 25-37

Silence

Hymn  Were You There?

You may remain seated for the hymn.

Reading Mark 15: 42-47

Silence

*Prayer

Silent God,

the suffering of the innocent

is a terrible mystery.

We wonder if there is hope

for our world – any hope at all,

even in you.

Answer us, O God,

and by the tears of Jesus

keep our hearts safe and our hope alive

as we lament our losses,

speak our anger,

grieve our disappointments

and release our pain. Amen.

 Pieta 1950 by Roy De Maistre 1894-1968

A Time for Lamentation

Expressing Our Grief, Questions, and Laments

[A Note to worship planners: In this service, a center table is set with bare branches and baskets filled with iron nails. In another place in the room, to which there should be easy access,  a large cross is either standing or lying on the floor. Other symbols of the passion may be at the cross—hammers, nails, thorns, rope… whatever the artistic imagination suggests. A bucket or other resonant container is also placed there, to receive people’s lamentations.

At the time of the ritual, people are invited to reflect on the world, its need, pain and sorrow, and to allow the deep questions about the “why’s” of human suffering to surface. Ample time should be given for people to reflect in silence, or with music playing softly “beneath” their reflections.

They may come to the table at any time during this period, take a nail or several from the baskets on the table, then move to the cross and pray silently. When they are finished, they may deposit their nails in the container and return to their seats. [Some participants should be prepared ahead of time to go first and model what is to be done.]

Instructions for this time of lament should be printed in the bulletin and delivered aloud, briefly and concisely by the leader of the service. Sample written instructions are given below. When all who wish to participate have done so, a hymn is sung, and the service continues.

It should go without saying that other rituals suited to a congregation’s culture and imagination  may be substituted for this one.]

 Participating in the Ritual

During this time, if you are moved to do so, you may take nails from the table, approach the cross and express your questions and lamentations in silent prayer, then place your nails in the container at the foot f the cross. You may also choose not to take nails, but simply to go to the cross and pray silently. If you wish to remain after the service and pray near the cross, please stay as long as you like.

*Hymn 190   When Jesus Wept

The Good News of Consolation

Reading   Romans 8:18-39

*Prayer

Let us pray.

Spirit of Life, thank you

for the healing power of the cross.

Thank you for not abandoning us in our sins.

Thank you for praying in us when,

in grief and anger,

we do not know what to say.

Thank you for joining us forever to Christ,

who bears our pain and the world’s great sorrow.

Thank you for the life that is to come.

Hasten the day when lament will be no more.

Now make us your tender mercy

upon the world’s suffering.

Do not leave us when the light wanes

and the road disappears,

but bring us through all our nights

to the clear shining of Easter.

We ask this, trusting you,

in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

*Blessing and Peace

Go now in peace.

Bear the weight of the cross

and the hope of resurrection

to all who yearn for life.

Amen.

Night and day,

may the blessing of God be upon us.

Amen.

*Hymn Dona Nobis Pacem

*A SIGN OF PEACE

When you have offered one another a sign of Christ’s peace,  you may leave quietly.

*[Note to worship leaders: * The asterisk indicates all the places where the people may stand. In this service all that is needed to get them to stand is example—the leaders should know when to stand and sit and do it decisively—and clear hand gestures. Try not to interrupt the flow of the service with constant invitations and instructions.]

Images: Pieta, Roy de Maistrel Deposition, Ludwig Karsten

 

Acting Out in Holy Week

800px-Zirl_Parrish_Church-Jesus_entering_Jerusalem_1–Triumphal Entry, Fresco in the Parish Church of Zirl, Austria

It’s not often we get theatrical in church. But during Holy Week, Christian congregations all over the world do. On Palm Sunday, for example, many hold a palm parade, or they read a gospel story together with sound effects. The kids generally take to these little dramas easily. Adults are a different story—especially Protestants, who are often more than a little reluctant to leave the safe confines of their sanctuaries and march around outside, waving palms and singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”

What is the meaning of all this tramping about and shouting? Why, from the mid-4th century onward, have Christians practiced their faith in Holy Week by staging palm processions and dramatic readings of the passion story and carrying large crosses through city streets?

Dramas like these are one solution we create to the problem of distance. They are meant to erase the millennia between Jesus’ life and our own time. If we enter them wholeheartedly, they help impress past events upon our senses in such a way that that story and this one—Jesus’ story and ours—become one continuous story of faith.

When we dramatize events in Holy Week, are not “pretending” in the ordinary sense; we are remembering in an immediate way, such that when on Good Friday the beloved spiritual asks us, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”, we can reply not only that we were truly there with him then, but also that he is truly here with us now.

Our liturgical dramas signify that there is no such thing as a safe distance from the old, old story of Jesus and his love. None of us is a mere spectator to the unfolding of his fate. None of us can hang back and dispassionately observe the goings-on as if we were uninvolved, as if we were not implicated in the events we are commemorating. At one time in the church’s history, this immediacy was experienced with such conviction that the ritual “passing of the peace” was forbidden during Holy Week for fear that one of the stylized kisses believers exchanged might turn out to be the kiss of Judas – for fear, in other words, that someone in the congregation might betray the Lord again.

Now, Holy Week is a tricky time. The scriptural texts we read during this week pose many serious difficulties. In our eagerness to experience the Passion we could slide over them to our peril. For example, I find myself increasingly pained by the New Testament’s caricature of first-century Judaism, a damning portrait we may unthinkingly take as “the way it really was,” thus perpetuating anti-Judaism, even among enlightened liberal Christians.

There are also difficulties in the traditional theologies of the meaning of Jesus’ last days. For example, I am no longer able to accept the notion of a God who sent Jesus into the world only to die, who indeed demands his death as past-due payment for human sin. This God regards innocent suffering as somehow glorious and desirable, and is pleased when the world’s victims meekly accept their crosses as Jesus accepted his. For centuries, it has been all too easy for the world’s blood-thirsty powers to co-opt this God for their own oppressive purposes.

And of course there are dangers in even the most innocent and fervent of the rituals we stage to help lodge the meaning of Holy Week under our skin. Those of us who love these spectacles must always be careful not to become overly-enamored of mere aesthetics, losing our way in the trappings and choreography, confusing the rituals that are meant to embody our relationship to God, the gospel, and each other with those relationships themselves.

All these pitfalls make “acting out” in Holy Week a slightly dicey prospect for thoughtful, faithful people, and for conscientious preachers. But even in the face of these difficulties, I remain persuaded that we are not meant to appreciate the events we commemorate this week primarily with our critical faculties, at a cool, removed, intellectual distance. Our lives will not be changed by rational appraisals of the passion of Jesus. I believe we are meant to wade in over our heads, to lose our ordinary bearings, and to let these events soak into our bodies and souls by way of all our available human emotions.

If we open up all our emotional valves this week, however, there is one additional pitfall we should guard against, and that is the error of thinking that what Jesus goes through is special. We must not remember and cherish these events only because they happened uniquely to the Son of God, but also because what happened to the Son of God happens to so many children of God. His suffering is horrifying, compelling and sacred beyond telling precisely because it is prosaic, commonplace, and despairingly ordinary.

When Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus with expensive perfume and wiped his feet with her hair, it wasn’t the first nor would it be the last time a woman offers a radically-humanizing gesture in a radically-dehumanized world. When Jesus was misunderstood by his friends and misjudged and threatened by his enemies, it wasn’t the first nor would it be the last time that honesty, personal authority, vision, difference and spiritual depth are mistaken for insanity, social deviance, fraudulence and malice.

As we joyfully enter Jerusalem with him, it cannot be lost on us that we are entering an occupied city. And we know that occupation was not invented by the Romans and that it did not die with their Empire.  We know also that it seems an inevitable turn of the dreary demonic cycle of human fear that the oppressed become the oppressor, the once-occupied become the occupier. We know from intimate experience that the flip side of adulation is contempt and disdain, that the line between failure and success is paper thin, and that there is no stable truth in crowds.

Employees of Enron, investors with Bernie Madoff, and folks who placed their trust in big banks and mortgage brokers know that it is hardly out of the ordinary to be betrayed for 30 silver coins. It is not as if before Jesus was led to the slaughter no innocent was ever crucified by the collusion of national pride, expedient politics, narrow morality, and assorted vested interests; and it is not as if no innocent ever suffered like that again, after he was taken down. Ask the disappeared of Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras. Ask the refugees of any war-torn nation you can name. Ask our own children shuffled about in the vast gulag of the foster care system, the enslaved and brutalized people of North Korea, the victims of a bizarre government AIDS policy in South Africa, death row inmates in US jails, and every person who will die too soon because of disparities in our health care system.

If we let ourselves go emotionally in Holy Week in order to experience the collapse of distance between then and now; if we enter the drama with our hearts vulnerable to the impact of the Passion, fully-open and receptive, we may find ourselves blown back and pinned to the wall by the pitiless everydayness of those ancient horrors. We have to brace ourselves not for the incomparable nature of Jesus’ suffering, but for its shocking banality.

Easter will put a new spin on all human suffering, of course, but if we hope to believe in Easter at all—if we hope, rather, to experience it—we need to dwell here first. We have go through sacred motions that bring us close not only to Christ, but also to each other. We have to go through them until, like that Human Being on the cross, our capacity for solidarity grows large and deep, until the world’s sorrow and suffering become much more fully our own, until our own pain is more vulnerably shared with others. Then on the third day, like him, we too might truly rise.

palm-sunday-message-donkey_1363605492–International Family Mission Photo

With this hope in mind, let us act out with all our hearts. Let us really be overwrought disciples, certain that this is the day Jesus will finally play the trump card and claim the throne of his ancestor, David. Let us really be donkeys, clip-clopping our modest way into the Holy City, bearing the peace-loving messiah. Let us really be a dizzy, cheering, chanting crowd hailing with sweet hosannas a king upon whom we want to pin all our misguided revolutionary, nationalistic and selfish hopes. Let us really be angry authorities, sick with anxiety about what the Romans will do if this thing gets out of hand, and coming to the reasonable conclusion that we need to get this fellow gone, the faster the better, before all hell breaks loose.

And yes, let us even try to be King Jesus, who, as it turns out, enters the Holy City not to conquer anyone, not to establish anything, but to do what he has been doing all along – to teach, rebuke, restore, welcome, reconcile, heal— and eventually, in the face of our unflagging insistence on being deadly, to reveal in his own helpless flesh the compassionate and stubborn presence of the suffering God who does not will our pain, but teaches us in Christ to bear each other’s, until the day when there is no more dying, and every tear is wiped away.