Between my two recent posts, 85 million unchurched Christians. Is that good? and A church for the unchurched?, the 300-plus comments they generated, and the General Wisdom of these days, I think we can all agree that overall the main reason so many liberal/progressive Christians remain unchurched is because they reject everything about Christianity that they know has no more to do with true Christianity than Nazism has to do with true social democracy.
So on Sundays they stay home. Which, God know, I get.
I want to share with you that lately I have been attending church, which I have not regularly done for the previous five or so years. But this year I felt moved to properly observe Lent. So did my wife Catherine. So we went to the Ash Wednesday service of a small Episcopal church about a half hour’s drive from our home. (We’re Episcopalians. And we love this church; we have found our church home.) We’ve since attended every Sunday service there. Each Friday evening I’ve also done our church’s Stations of the Cross. At home throughout this Lenten season Cat and I have read the daily readings from the Book of Common Prayer: we read from the Old Testament, Psalms, the Epistles of Paul, and one of the Gospels. (Then we say our personal prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, and meditate for a while.)
Next in Holy Week is Maundy Thursday (maundy from the Latin mandatum novum, “new commandment”), part of the Triduum, or three holy days before Easter. During that nighttime service the ceremonial Washing of the Feet will be observed; also commemorated will be the institution of the eucharist by Jesus “on the night he was betrayed.” At the end of this service the altar will be stripped and all decorative furnishings removed from the church, as is customary.
Following the Maundy Thursday service Cat and I will sit from midnight till one-thirty in the morning at our church’s Altar of Repose; that is, we will hold vigil before the consecrated bread and wine from the Maundy Thursday eucharist which are reserved for communion on Good Friday.
Next is Easter Vigil, also known as the Great Vigil, an evening service that consists of four parts: The Service of Light (kindling of new fire, lighting the Paschal candle, the Exsultet); The Service of Lessons (readings from the Hebrew Scriptures interspersed with psalms, canticles, and prayers); Christian Initiation or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows (Holy Baptism—the Christian rite of initiation and adoption); and The Eucharist.
And finally, the next morning, is Easter, the celebratory beginning of the Christian new year.
I’m glad to have returned to church. If you’d care to, in the days ahead we can talk about the reasons why (most of which I haven’t really explored myself). For now, though, if you are unchurched, I would simply like to encourage you to attend church this Holy Week. My extremely heartfelt recommendation is that you find a reasonable mainline church near you (as opposed to an evangelical or fundamentalist church), and go.
Find your inner Christian—the part perhaps deep inside of you that never stopped resonating with the story of Jesus Christ—and do Holy Week. Be in communion with people. Pray with them. Sing with them. Confess with them. Do the rituals with them. Through the transportive mystical phenomenon of communal worship and prayer, become with them, for however long, angels.
With others step into the ineffable mystery, the unimaginable power, the palpable tragedy, and the wondrously immediate glory of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
You have got every other week of the year to be a solitary Christian.
This week do yourself—and God, and Christ, and the living body of Christ on earth—a favor. Experience Holy Week, in communion with others, at a church.
The painting is Giotto’s The Crucifixion of Our Lord Christ.