We attend a contemporary outreach congregation, and so our Sunday morning services have a pretty standard format we follow so that those who are first-time visitors (or even second- or third-time) can feel comfortable in knowing what to expect.
However, we also have periodic midweek services, and I’m in charge of them. We’ve gone a number of different directions with those…but two that have been standard are our Ash Wednesday service to begin Lent and our Maundy Thursday service as we lead up to Easter.
Because of a number of factors, this year I was running way behind in my planning and preparation. I pulled out the service that we had used last year and realized that there was no way I was going to be able to line up the people to participate in it. So…what to do?
We still wanted/needed a Maundy Thursday service–a Communion service, because of the significance of this day. But I also wanted us to truly understand (as best we can) what it must have felt like for the disciples as they left the upper room that night and moved into the weekend.
This year we gathered quietly…the lights turned down low…our worship setting contained the Communion elements (broken bread and grape juice), two bowls and pitchers, and candles–7 small ones, and 1 large one.
We shared in Communion early in the service, being reminded of how Jesus shared with his disciples. Then we read the story of how Jesus washed his feet, reminding them of their call to be servants…and invited people to come forward to have their hands washed as a symbol of their willingness to be servants.
That’s often where we stop. But this year, we talked about the shadows in the upper room…shadows that were felt but could not be articulated. As the disciples left, they walked into a darkness that seemed to have no ending. We are fortunate in that we know that the ending was in fact a new beginning–but they didn’t.
And so we shared in the story through readings…scriptures of the time in the Garden, the betrayal, trial, the crucifixion. After each scripture was read, one of the small candles was extinguished–until only the large candle was left…and then we quietly sat, listening to the words of “Wondrous love” as the lights were turned down even lower.
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul…
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
When I was sinking down…
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on…
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.
And then, in the quiet, with the single candle burning in the darkness, we were dismissed with this message of hope…
In the beginning was the one
who is called the Word.
The Word was with God
and was truly God.
From the very beginning
the Word was with God.
And with this Word,
God created all things.
Nothing was made
without the Word.
Everything that was created
received its life from him,
and his life gave light
The light keeps shining
in the dark,
and darkness has never
put it out.