Thursday, April 1, 2010

Drawing Towards the Cross

I have noticed the parallels between the Lenten season, and the preparatory season before Christmas, called Advent, before. The liturgical colors are both purples. Both call the Christian believer to preparation for the coming events--Christ's birth and Christ's resurrection. During Advent, each Sunday, a Candle is lit as in preparation for Christ's birth. You do this for four Sundays. On Christmas Sunday, the four candles lit previously are lighted. Then the Christ Candle, white instead of Advent purple, is lit. Five candles for the celebration of Christ's birth. Tonight, in a Maundy Thursday service, that was a Tennebrae (meaning "darkness") Service, that Christmas Sunday candle, the Christ candle was snuffed.

I wish I could take you there--mere words seem inadequate--but come, come into the church's sanctuary, the worship space. Up on the platform, near the front, was a cross, about 9 feet high. At its base, three purple candles. Three other purple candles were also set up on the platform, two across the front, and one over by the Baptismal Font. The Christ candle was on the communion table, right in the middle. All draping was black, song leader, choir, orchestra, ministers attired in black. All the candles were lit and the lights were on.

There is music. A minister approaches a candle, tells part of the story of Christ on the cross. We hear one of the seven sayings recorded by the gospel writers. The candle is snuffed. On a number of occasions a symbol of Christ's words is taken by the minister and placed on the communion table with the Christ candle, Bible and bread and wine that are already there.

"Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." A thorn of crowns is placed on the table. We sing together.
"Today, you will be with me in paradise." A robe is carried to the center table.
"Here is your mother." A whip. Sing together again, sacrifices of worship.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" A meditation on how God understands darkness, and an instruction to realize His hope, as reflected in the remainder of Psalm 22, from which this phrase comes.
"I am thirsty." A hyssop branch with a sponge. Reflecting here on how Jesus, the source of living water, while suffering on the cross, experiences the very human sensation of thirst and dryness. Reflections also on the sacrament of baptism signifying the believers' death and rebirth in Christ. Thinking also of the work of the Holy Spirit. We worship in song again.
"Father into Your hands I commend my spirit."

There is only one candle left lit on the platform--six have been snuffed out. We pause, celebrate the Lord's Supper, communion together. The bread and blood of the new covenant. His blood, given for you, take and drink in remembrance of Me.

We settle back in our chairs after partaking of the elements. There is a song: "Behold the lamb." One by one, associate pastors come and remove objects from the communion table, carrying them solemnly out of the sanctuary. Everything is taken away, even the Bible and communion elements, until the only thing left is the big white Christ candle. The senior pastor comes behind the communion table, behind the glowing candle.

"It is finished." A cry not of despair, the senior minister reflects, but of victory, of completion of the task, of completion of the sacrifice that would allow sinful humanity and holy God to have a full relationship again. Then, the Christ candle is snuffed out, and covered with a black drape.

Spotlight, video screens, all lights--out. Darkness. We pause for a moment in the inky blackness, thinking about that day Jesus Christ was killed on a Roman cross.

House lights up. We leave the sanctuary in silence, but we know that the story is not over. The walk towards the Cross of Christ is not a death march.

Oh, the wonderful cross, the wonderful cross
Bids me come and die and find that I may truly live
Oh, the wonderful cross, the wonderful cross
All who gather here by grace draw near and bless your name.
--Chris Tomlin

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