I got to tell you about a movie that I saw this week. It ended with Miriam showing up at the wedding, dressed like a man, can you believe it? Her ex husband who was there in full military uniform could not, but since his commanding officer Colonel Gary was the guy marrying his daughter Joann, he didn’t dare cause a scene. All of this caused the Joann to start crying. When the priest, Father Tim tried to calm her down, he tripped and fell and inadvertently grabbed at the bride’s best friend and maid of honor Jennifer, who was wearing a low, cut red number in honor of their high school prom, a very significant earlier scene in the movie. The priest grabbed the top of that dress and just pulled down trying to catch his balance and Jennifer was left completely naked at the front of the church. Everyone realized including Tim and Susan what all of us already knew from the boating scene in the middle of the movie that Jennifer was really Justin. What a movie!
Thankfully, Hollywood has not made that movie yet. I just made it up, but I did so to make a point. To really enjoy a great drama, or even a bad one, we can’t come in at the end. No matter how powerful the ending to enjoy it and be moved by it we need to experience the entire movie. What makes endings great is our connection with the characters and themes that were built up through the entire story.
My worry is this is how Easter is for many who come here to worship next Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, I love the crowd. Last year we had nearly 1000 people here on Easter Sunday, well over double what we would have on a normal Sunday. And I am not one of those people that sniff and turn their nose up at people that only come on Christmas and Easter. Sure, I would love to see everyone more often, but I am excited whenever people come to church. The more the merrier. The crowd makes the party happen.
My worry is that many of our people are like Pastor Thadd in our children’s sermon ready to party, but not really sure what the party is all about. It is like hearing the end of the great story, but really not knowing the story that you are hearing the ending too. We are indeed going to have a party next Sunday here at Messiah, all sorts of special music, even a brass band, a sanctuary overflowing with lilies, surely crowds of people in great outfits, especially the kids in tiny ties and cute hats with flowers. The party is for the ending of the story of Jesus in scripture that begins the story of the church. He lives! We live! However, we can all enjoy the party much more if we know the story whose ending we are celebrating.
Preparing us for the party of Easter is what Holy Week is all about. The idea is that the three worship services on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, get us ready for the biggest party of the church year. Using scripture, song, sermons, dramas, and prayers we spend the three hours of Holy Week telling the entire story of Jesus and his last week. Even better, it is not just a listening thing but a participation thing. Great rituals at every service draw us out of our seats and into the story.
Maundy Thursday is centered on Jesus’ last night with his disciples. His two last gifts to his disciples are at the heart of our service, a foot washing and a meal. It is a short simple service, but one you are a part from beginning to end. Experience the discomfort even offense of the disciples having someone you respect and honor kneel at your feet to wash them. Come to the meal we share weekly but this week kneel, reflect, remember in a significant way the sacrifice Christ made for you. The service ends early and actually a new one begins right after, called the Tennebree. This is a ritual stripping of the altar in preparation for Good Friday, done in a reverent holy way around special music and scripture. It is haunting but beautiful and a favorite moment of Holy Week.
Come back Friday and the sanctuary will be dark almost barren. Good Friday at Messiah has become a showcase of all our choirs and Praise Band, as the crucifixion of Jesus is retold. Traditional hymns are sung and heard and new ones are offered, too. The cross is carried in and this year it will be surrounded by tens of candles of hope. There is a new baptism ritual too this year that draws us into the painful gift of the cross. The service ends in complete darkness with a door slam and we leave in silence.
Saturday is possibly the most hopeful of the services of worship we have at Messiah. It is meant to have all of us ponder what it means that Jesus is lying dead in the tomb between the cross and the resurrection. How do we find hope in our own lives when all seems lost is the question at the heart of this service? There are new dramas in this service that tell the story of people in scripture who have found hope before. There is movement in the service from outside, throughout the church and ending at the altar. There are special adult and children baptisms at the center and our own opportunity to be covered in the oil of the adopted family of God. People bring bells to ring in joy when we enter the sanctuary. It begins in the darkness of the tomb but ends in uplifting joy.
Come back on Easter and hear the great story of Jesus risen that begins our story of a life of faith. Come ready to eat, because no party at Messiah happens without a great meal. Our Fellowship group is preparing a breakfast for everyone between the services. It will be a celebration. Yet, this year, go one step farther, receive the fullness of this story, by enjoying the richness of the three worship services that lead us to Sunday. Set your DVR’s that evening, and come and worship. It is three hours of your life, but they are three hours that will impact your faith.
Now, let us prepare this morning for this week of worship with a sort of preview of things to come. Our excellent organist Erni will lead us into transition.