This year on Good Friday, Ripple participated in the West End Ecumenical Worship, which involved a procession of the cross, ending at the host church, where 5 congregations joined for a 3 hour worship service. Each church was responsible for leading worship for a 1/2 hour slot.
We had announced this for many weeks in advance so many Ripple folks showed up on our front porch, which was along the processional route, where we joyfully and willingly joined the procession, which had started at the Episcopal church just a few blocks away. Isaiah, 6, and his sister, Marinette, 8, regular “Ripple Kids,” were the first to speak up to help carry the cross.
As we solemnly walked along, one woman stopped her car, jumped out, and took photos of us with her cell phone. Others slowed down as they drove past, and once, while crossing a street as the light changed, the drivers respectfully let us pass, as they would have a funeral procession (ironic). As Isaiah tired of carrying the heavy cross, he readily asked for help and for someone else to take a turn. For me, this was a symbol of the community building that goes on at Ripple; we all carry one another’s burdens at different times, and he so innocently enacted this truth.
Getting closer to the church, Isaiah also innocently asked (after observing the newspaper photographer snapping hundreds of photos), “Are we in a parade?”
“Sort of,” I responded, explaining that we were remembering the day Jesus died on the cross, showing us his love for us.
“THIS cross?” Isaiah asked.
“Not exactly, but one just like it,” I answered.
Inside the church, with its stained glass windows, formal pews and high altar, the children became respectfully quiet. During Ripple’s part of the worship, Isaiah helped with the prayer, repeating a regular phrase he has learned at Ripple. I said, “God loves the world,” and he joyfully responded, “And Jesus loves me!”
And that’s the simple message Ripple spreads, as we carry the cross–and one another’s burdens–in this urban setting.
It’s a familiar story, especially for those who have grown up in the church. So how do we retell the story of Jesus’ passion and resurrection year after year in ways that open us up, once again, to the pain, the beauty, and the wonder of Jesus’ sacrifice and victory over death?
The season of Lent, celebrated for the forty days leading up to Easter, marks Christ’s journey to Jerusalem. It invites those who follow Jesus to walk with him by remembering his life, practicing disciplines of fasting and sacrifice, and engaging in deeper commitment to their brothers and sisters in the church.
Souderton (Pa.) congregation began Lent by diving deeper into Mennonite Church USA’s “Year of the Bible” with an art project. Members of the congregation were invited to choose a word or phrase from scripture on which they wanted to meditate and to write it over and over on a panel using colors to create images. These panels became banners that hung in the front of their sanctuary during the Lenten season.
Souderton wasn’t the only congregation to celebrate the imaginative Spirit. Swamp (Quakertown, Pa.) spent Lent exploring God as creator, “littering” the steps of their platform with items created by members of the congregation, symbols of God’s unique creative work in them. Their children memorized Psalm 139, which they recited on Palm Sunday after leading the entire congregation in a procession, joyfully waving palm branches.
Palm Sunday marked the beginning of Holy Week and was the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem to the adoration of the crowds. The week soon turned more somber, however, as Jesus ate his final meal with his disciples, washing their feet, and predicting his betrayal. These events are remembered on Maundy Thursday.
Conference congregations reenacted Christ’s humility with their own experiences of footwashing. Traditionally, Mennonites have practiced footwashing in groups divided by gender. At Perkiomenville (Pa.) congregation this year, footwashing was one of several stations that members could visit, which, for the first time, allowed married couples or family members to wash each other’s feet.
In addition to footwashing, Plains (Hatfield, Pa.) congregation acted out Christ’s care and humility by setting up prayer stations with large maps of the world, the country, and their region. Members could pray for and mark areas on each map with a dot or a heart.
Compassion for the community continued to spread into Good Friday, the day when followers of Jesus remember his death on the cross. Members of churches all over the Philadelphia region gathered outside a gun shop in the city for a Good Friday vigil. As these believers stood against violence in the city, others gathered in Good Friday services to remember that Jesus’ death made peace and reconciliation with God, and one another, possible.
Just when Good Friday seemed like it couldn’t get any darker, Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation’s evening service was suddenly interrupted by a power outage. For just a few, brief moments the congregation was surprised by the darkness and powerless to do anything but sit in the shadow of the cross.
There was a hush in Franconia Conference on the Saturday of Holy Week, as though the Church was holding its breath, waiting for the joy they knew was coming on Easter morning.
And the joy did come—in colors and flowers, in song and story, in food and hope and promise. Crosses were draped in white and lilies and hyacinths and forsythia decorated sanctuaries. Congregations met as the sun rose, around breakfast tables, and in their morning services to celebrate an empty tomb.
Philadelphia Praise Center viewed a video in which church members took to the city streets to ask people about the significance of Easter. Blooming Glen (Pa.) congregation acted out the resurrection story in a chilly sunrise service and a member at Deep Run East (Perkasie, Pa.) built a custom tomb to display on Easter morning. In Vermont, members of Bethany congregation participated in an ecumenical sunrise service on the side of Mt Killington and then, after brunch, were led in worship by a new generation of storytellers–their children.
It’s a familiar story, and yet it’s born fresh each year as we once again walk with Jesus through Lent, Holy Week, and the Easter season. In this story, we recognize what theologian H.S. Bender once wrote: we live on the resurrection side of the cross. May we continue to celebrate Christ’s resurrection by living our lives as a resurrected people.