Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Last night's Maundy Thursday service was deep. We did an Agape Meal, which I began using traditional Jewish blessings. Towards the end of the meal a stranger came and we were able to show him table hospitality, which pleased me. I went about filling wine and water glasses and essentially modeling servant leadership.

After the meal I went to a foot washing station I had set up near the font and washed the feet of the people who came to me (about 8 souls). They sat in a line of chairs and went from one to the other on my knees, dragging the basin and the pitcher of warm water with me. I used good, fluffy towels from home to dry the feet. Strangely, this most pastoral of liturgical actions is not the least bit awkward for me. It feels quite natural in fact--I suppose that's another gift of experience: I once spent three days clipping finger and toe nails in an Ashram in Kathmandu. To imagine an Ashram, think of a public retirement home for about 500 poor people run in what was once a Buddhist Monastery, now a dilapidated building, run by five Nuns (from Mother Theresa's Order, The Missionaries of Charity). This Ashram was right next to the Pashupatinath Temple complex on the Bagmati River--where the remains of hundreds of people a day are cremated. The smell of burning bodies mixes with the spice markets nearby. Surreal.

(As an interesting side note, they used to do human sacrifice in Pashupatinath until about the 6th Century.)

Anyway, having clipped the toe nails of the poorest of the poor people of world as they waited to die next to the cremation grounds, washing feet on Maundy Thursday is pretty tame!

After the foot washing (which made my knees sore, I will admit), we hid the Reserve Sacrament and started stripping the church. Meanwhile part of the Passion Narrative was read and then the whole of Psalm 22. By the time the Psalm finished, the chancel guild and I had emptied the church of all the ornament except a single white candle burning near the altar. When the reader finished the psalm, I turned out almost all the lights in the building and the head of the chancel guild carried the candle (still lit) into the sacristy. Thus, Christ appears to be gone, but we know He is only hidden from us.

Shortly after this, a woman in our congregation with some mental health challenges broke down and started talking incoherently and groveling at someone else's feet. When I came over to her she got up and hugged me, and I took her into my office to spend some time doing some pastoral care (with the door open--one must be careful these days).

Having her freak out wasn't planned, but it did put people into the kind of alarmed state that is appropriate for the liturgy. It also made me think about our liturgies are perceived by those with less control over their own minds.

Today, Good Friday, was a very different kind of service. I put the attention squarely on the cross (forgoing Communion even from the Reserve Sacrament). I preached about the crucifixion using an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association. This article describes, from a medical perspective, just how horrible crucifixion is. I took them to a painful place of looking at the cross.

Then we had the Solemn Intercessions and then we brought out a large cross for people to venerate. I set the stage for this by prostrating in front of the cross for a minute or two. Several people came up after to me do some kind of devotion, but fewer than I expected. The service ended bluntly (as it is intended to), and I could see several people were moved by the experience.

Good liturgy is like that--it has the power to move people so long as the clergy know when to step out of the way.


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