Saturday, April 20, 2019

Rock of Ages: Maundy Thursday 2019

For the last six weeks, our Lenten theme has been "Rock of Ages". One of the ways we explored this theme was by building a "Prayer Cairn" in the Narthex: people were invited to bring in stones from their homes, their sidewalks, the park, or wherever they found them and put them together in a pile. Each stone represented a particular prayer of the person who brought it in.

People got so creative with their rocks!
I had some stones available if folks forgot to bring theirs in, but I was impressed by how many people remembered, week after week. I also really enjoyed the fact that many people make a point to show me their stones before adding them to the cairn, saying, "Isn't this rock so cool?!?" Personally, I chose my stones based on what caught my eye as I was thinking about a person or situation. I feel like every time I had a prayer on my heart, there'd be a stone lying in the path right ahead of me. It was pretty incredible.

On Palm Sunday, I brought our cairn into the sanctuary in a shoebox, and during the children's sermon, I had the kids "bury the Alleluia" (letters that they'd been coloring over the past several weeks) with our prayer stones. We talked about how it's fun and important to celebrate, but we need to remember even the sad parts of the story first so that we can understand why we're celebrating.

We're Presbyterian, so liturgical timelines are really more a suggestion than a rule 😉
Finally, on Maundy Thursday, I brought our cairn into the chapel where we were having worship that evening. Those of you who either follow my blog or know me well know that I LOVE creating special rituals on holy days (I wrote about my 2018 Maundy Thursday service here and my 2016 service here).
Our beautiful chapel

Everything was ready. 

This congregation hasn't had Holy Week services for many years (it's a long story), so I didn't know how they'd respond to what I had planned--or if they'd even show up. I shouldn't have worried, though; they're a fantastic congregation that's open to new ways of experiencing God. 

I had set up the stones from our prayer cairn around the baptismal font. It made a beautiful visual.

In the middle of worship, I invited everyone to come forward row by row to take a stone that they hadn't brought, 

wash it in the font as a reminder that God has heard each prayer and loves the one who prayed it, 

dry it as a reminder that we're called to care for one another, 

and to take it home to pray for its original owner--even though we didn't necessarily know whose stone it was. 

 As always, it was humbling and deeply moving as a pastor to watch the congregation take part in the ritual. The choir sang as people came forward, and I could tell that folks were truly engaging their bodies, minds, and spirits as they remembered Christ's words to his disciples: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." (John 13:34)

Afterwards, I was grateful for all the people who made a point to find me and let me know how meaningful the service had been for them. Some of them had never experienced the stripping of the sanctuary before, some of them had never sang taize-style music before, and none of them were used to symbolic rituals like the stone washing. A lot of it was uncomfortable for some people. But as I reminded them at the beginning of worship, the point of Holy Week isn't for us to feel comfortable. It's for us to engage with the story, to remember what Christ has done for us, and to FEEL. And we certainly felt that Thursday evening.

Of course, there were far more prayer-stones than there were people to take them home. That certainly doesn't mean that those prayers weren't heard or lifted up. I'm hoping to create a semi-permanent prayer cairn in the garden outside of the sanctuary. It'll include a sign explaining what it is, and invite anyone to leave a stone to represent their prayers. I'll also invite them to take a stone and pray for whoever left it. They can keep it for themselves, use it in a garden or craft project, or leave it somewhere new once they've prayed over it--maybe to start a new prayer cairn somewhere else. I hope it can serve as a reminder that no burden is too heavy to bear, as long as we're all willing to carry some of it. After all, it's what Jesus wants us to do.

And now, we wait to see what Sunday will bring...

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