As we shared our vision for our Holy Week gatherings, the worship team at Belair Uniting agreed that we wanted Good Friday to have a starkness, an emptiness, a rawness about it. We had also had a contribution from Lorna, the 90 year old grandmother of someone I went to school with (love being a minister in the general neighbourhood of my growing up), which fitted this desired mood - Lorna had at previous congregations coordinated a display of symbols from the story of the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, which she shared with me, and which I was keen to include if we could.
As I looked at the materials from Seasons of the Spirit, it seemed as if the worship outline written by people from Darwin over a year ago, was written for us here in Belair. The writers had suggested a very simple, paired back telling of the story from the Gospel of John - interspersed with the Psalm he cites on the cross, Psalm 22 (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?).
The Seasons worship outline also suggested handing out clay to people, inviting them to mould a cross as the story was being told. I found an art supplier who had just the thing, and after setting up for Maundy Thursday, two of us cut the clay into pieces and placed in sealed bags ready for the next day. (The interesting thing about preparing the gatherings for Holy Week so that the community can linger with the stories and the various emotions they elicit is that I don't get to linger in the same way - I am simultaneously at the Last Supper betrayal, in the anxious garden vigil, caught up in the anger and hate and abandonment of Friday and celebrating the joy of the resurrection!)
We were also invited by the worship outline to hand out lit and extinguished tea light candles - to which I added something. I wrote on 60 stickers the phrase that would be read at this point in the story - the light has gone from the world - and at the council meeting on the Tuesday of that week (yes it really was a very full week) a few of us stuck the stickers onto the candles. At some moments it felt as though I was shouldering the burden of preparing these gatherings all on my own, but I kept finding ways to invite others to participate - taking the candles to do at council, sending an email asking for help making the signs for Friday (to which I received three offers!), a note in the newsletter - and each time I asked, there were more than enough people to share the load. Sometimes I really love life in a community such as Belair.
The people were invited to bring their candles back on Sunday, if they were gathering again, or to light them if they would be elsewhere that day.
At various points in the story I wondered if people were bored, or disengaged, but it seems not. The feedback has been overwhelmingly appreciative for a different telling of the story.
Elizabeth and I read the Psalm and Gospel respectively, and as we read it through on Thursday, it occurred to both of us that the Psalm needed to be read quite reflectively, and I had an image of it being like an internal monologue in Jesus' mind, since this is what the story says he quotes, this pairing of story and psalm invited my imagination to ponder if the psalm might have been on his mind and heart throughout these events, and this enriched our reflection on the stories we were telling, and I am sure helped us to communicate something of that imagination, and some meaning through the stories. We also decided to say in the introductions something of what we'd discovered and wondered, as we prepared the stories, which we hoped would enable people to enter the story and psalm without wondering why it was being told this way.
I found it, and I know others did too, a very meaningful way to enter the story of Jesus' arrest, 'trial' and crucifixion.
We didn't have much singing, which for a congregation that likes to sing, helped to create the mood of sparsity and starkness. We did, however, sing 'Stay with me' before the story began, making the link with where we had left the story the night before, those who had gathered for the last supper. and we used recorded music rather than sung music for the rest, enhancing the reflective nature of the gathering.