Ready… set… go!!
Using the liturgical calendar encourages me to walk through the “ready, set” part of the spiritual journey. Keeping the liturgical seasons gives me a sense of rhythm and encourages me to set aside time to prepare.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the season of Lent. Instead of jumping directly into the exuberant celebration of the Easter resurrection, I am encouraged to spend time with Jesus in the desert
I’m grateful that I’m now a part of a church that gives serious thought to the celebration of the liturgical seasons. Because of the time with Jesus in the desert, I can more fully appreciate the celebration of Easter.
At Watts Street, following the frivolities of the youth-sponsored Fat Tuesday pancake supper, we begin Lent with an Ash Wednesday service, and we encourage children from elementary age and up to take part in this service.
After Palm Sunday I collect the palm branches we waved, remembering Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on the donkey. These branches spend the intervening year in a cabinet in my office, becoming dry and ready to respond quickly to the match flame. I use a large tin can, with holes punched in the sides around the bottom to let air in to support the fire. After burning the leaves, I crush them through a sieve, adding a few drops of olive oil. One year, I involved the youth in the discipleship class in this process of ash preparation.
In the service, as each worshipper comes down the aisle, I dip my thumb in the ashes, make the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead, and say “From dust you were formed, and to dust you shall return.” The brief homily focuses on our dependence on God and on God’s rich and boundless grace.
During the 40 days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, we encourage individuals and families to stay close to Jesus through prayer, fasting and alms-giving. Parents are reminded to include children and youth in table conversations about how to make these disciplines a part of their lives. Sometimes the children participate in a Lenten offering.
The church offers other resources to encourage members to stay with Jesus in the desert such as Lenten small groups, occasional over-night retreats, and Lenten devotional resources. This year we’ll use J Philip Newell’s Promptings from Paradise as a resource for adult Lenten Wednesday night study times.
Changes in the sanctuary also remind all of us of the season. The cross leads the Lenten worship service processional. The green paraments of the Sundays after Epiphany are replaced by purple, the color of penitence, suffering and royalty. We also note the absence of the word “Alleluia” during Lent, reserving that joyful exclamation for our response to the news of the resurrection. .
Children’s Church School classes have been given small posters, or graphics, representing each of the liturgical seasons. Each class has a worship center, displaying the graphic for the season, along with a cross draped in a ribbon of the season’s liturgical color.
Palm Sunday begins with the celebration of the joyful entry into Jerusalem, with children and others waving palm branches and singing our hosannas. The service concludes with a congregational reading of one of the passion narratives.
During Holy Week we gather on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Often on Maundy Thursday, we celebrate communion and take part in a foot-washing, with each worshipper turning to wash the next person’s feet. What clearer symbol of following Jesus?!
On Friday we traditionally celebrate the Tenebrae (Latin: shadows) Service, including music, readings, and the extinguishing of the candles until the worshippers are left in total darkness, listening to the 33 chimes representing the years of the life of Jesus. This service clearly communicates the pain and agony of the betrayal, and we’re left waiting for the good news of Easter.
Diane Eubanks Hill is associate minister with adults at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, N.C. Organist Tom Bloom contributed to this column.