“Jesus is on the cross. You will sit quietly for the next three hours and respect that.”
Can you imagine telling that to your children and expecting them to sit quietly from noon to three p.m. on Good Friday? And them doing it without complaint? AND then discovering years later that such a discipline left only good memories?
Let me back up here. I wrote this on Palm Sunday morning. I actually can’t remember the last time I was not in church on this morning of Christian worship.
But last night, my husband and I attended Palm Sunday Mass at the Roman Catholic church near us, the one that holds his membership.
As a former professional Mystery Worshiper, I found that I immediately went into observational mode. Had I been writing it up, my comments would have included the following:
- Poor sound and impossible sight lines.
- No care as to whether the visitor can find his/her way through the service. Attendees either know the responses and how to find their way through the worship book or they do not. Too bad if you are one of the “do nots.”
- Truly awful, rambling sermon from a very much aging priest who, at various points in the service, made it evident that he really didn’t know what day it was or what would come next in the service.
- Terrible music. The choir, such as it was, were frequently off tune, and the soprano’s leading voice was screechy and flat.
- No explanation as to who may or may not participate in the Eucharist (I did not). As for a gluten-free host . . . if there was one, I would have never known about it.
- Definite parking lot problems. When we drove in, we noticed that just about everyone had backed into their spaces, not observing the more usual front-in parking style. We did the same and were relieved we did when trying to get out. Only one small exit from a large lot meant a massive traffic jam which was easier to navigate by entering it front on, rather than backing in.
- No greeting. No registration for members/guests. No particular friendliness or care if we are there or are not there.
In other words, none of the things that make a smooth, integrated, visitor-friendly worship service.
However, that didn’t stop the building from being 80% full for this Saturday 5:00 pm service. My husband had told me that the noon Ash Wednesday service had been standing room only. I had observed Ash Wednesday worship at a sparsely attended service in a nearby United Methodist Church.I’m guessing that the three Sunday Palm/Passion services, including one in Spanish, will be equally full. Can’t even imagine what Easter will be like there.
On the way to dinner after worship, my husband mentioned, “The priest is getting older, but he is very much beloved by the congregation.” He went on to tell me how the priest, part of this parish for at least 25 years and probably much longer, had made multiple and comforting visits to my husband’s home as his now late wife entered her last days.
Over dinner, we continued the conversation about my husband’s Catholic upbringing. We talked about the advantage of priests whose family is the parish, who stay in one place for extended years, who genuinely get to know the congregation, who eat many of their meals at the dinner tables of their parishioners, who offer stability, not growing the church by cult of personality.
My husband also spoke about his mother and her faith with much love and admiration. He mentioned her particular Good Friday practice. According to his memories, he and his sister were instructed to sit quietly on Good Friday from noon until three because “Jesus is on the cross and you need to respect that.”
Wow. I tried to imagine imposing that discipline on my own children or upon the children I have known over the years. Many have displayed a deep spirituality and love for Jesus. They’ve eagerly attended and helped with worship.
But sitting still and being reflective for three hours with nothing but a rosary and one’s thoughts and prayers for a companion?
As for adults: this fascinating article suggests that most people today would rather be given an electric shock than have to sit still for 15 minutes alone with their thoughts. And that is 15 minutes, not 180 minutes.
I’m aware that few people will attend the special worship services of Holy Week. It’s why most churches are having a combined Palm/Passion Sunday worship today.
Otherwise, the congregants go straight from the celebration of the joyful entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem to the celebration of the Resurrection. They skip the last supper, the plotting with Judas to kill Jesus, the perfidy of Jesus’ trials before Caiaphas and Pilate, the demands of the crowds to “Crucify him,” the betrayal of Peter, the abandonment of nearly all the disciples, the darkness and agony of the cross, the offer of forgiveness, the sadness of the burial, the despair of the Sabbath to follow.
Without these things, the resurrection makes no sense. Without them, Christianity makes no sense.
Maybe we all need to sit still for three hours on Friday. Remember, “Jesus is on the cross.”