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Holy Week: Faith is Something we DO

Too often, Christianity is thought of as something we believe in, and Christian faith as something we think.

Holy Week, which begins this Sunday, Palm Sunday, is a helpful corrective.

Each year, Holy Week reminds us that Christianity is something we participate in, and Christian faith is something we do.

Just look at the action verbs:

On Palm Sunday) we commemorate Jesus' Passion (his suffering, or enduring) -- the short final period of Jesus' life beginning with his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, moving through to his crucifixion. We commemorate the fact that adoring crowds shouting "hosanna!" can turn -- in a week's time -- to murderous mobs shouting "crucify him!" demanding the death penalty. Then,

On Maundy (commandment) Thursday), we obey Jesus' commandment to serve other people and to eat a meal in remembrance of the Last Supper.

For most years in my ordained ministry, I took part in ceremonial, liturgical foot-washing liturgies. Until one Maundy Thursday I took a fresh look at the origins of the custom (John 13:1-7) and compared it to the liturgy as we've inherited it. And I came to the conclusion that Christian religion has managed to turn what was originally a private "shock value" object lesson by Jesus -- namely, Jesus taking on the role of a lowly servant and (modern equivalent) getting down on his hands and knees and scrubbing their bathroom floors and toilets -- and turned it into a public, mostly polite, mostly predictable, mostly clean, symbolic, ordered liturgy, even often set to music. The service may be tender and beautiful, and even produce fleeting thoughts of humility for those who participate in it, but done by and for people who shower daily, and divorced from its practical, everyday-necessity roots, I fear what the liturgy ends up doing by imitating lowly and loving acts of service is inoculating us from the real thing. So in recent years, I choose to adopt a two-part strategy: do, actually DO some act of service directly with and for those outside our walls, especially the poor, and two, live with the pain of knowing I don't really engage in very many lowly and loving acts of service the other 364 days of the year, and aim to repent of that sin of omission in the coming year. 

So what does Maundy Thusday look like at The Falls Church Episcopal? Well, because in January 2015, there were estimated to be over 1,000 men, women, and children who were homeless in the Fairfax-Falls Church community, and because people who are homeless often have to walk (3-5 miles a day) to get where they're going, and because homeless people stand in lines about 4 hours a day, for this year's Maundy Thursday SERVICE project, we're serving the homeless by caring for their feet. We've been collecting socks the past couple weeks, which draws our attention to the fact that we take clean socks for granted. And we'll give those socks to local homeless people on Maundy Thursday. 

Then, Maundy Thursday evening, we'll have cleared some space in the Main Sanctuary for dinner tables and inviting adults and teens for a unique experience of the Lord's Supper.  Our worship will evoke the ancient tradition of the Agape feast: worship in the context of a full meal. 

We will have a Mediterranean style dinner -- asking people to bring olives, cheese, hummus, fresh or dried fruits, nuts, honey, bread and olive oil -- and we'll read scripture, say prayers, sing, and of course, have a Eucharistic remembrance of The Last Supper.

On Good Friday) we recall the way Jesus' first followers betrayed and then abandoned him during his ob-scene "trial" and death sentence by crucifixion. As part of our evening (7:30 pm) service, The Falls Church Choir will invite us into the depths of Herbert Howells requiem. There's something powerful about a cappella  (singing without instrumental accompaniment), especially when recalling the unaccompanied-by-knowledge-of-Easter grief that Jesus' first followers felt that first Good Friday. 

On Holy Saturday -- thanks to our new Associate, the Rev. Kelly Moughty -- we introduce something new this year: A Service for All Who Mourn. Because Holy Saturday is a day between commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus, it can be a day to wait and watch and even perhaps weep in solidarity with those first followers of Jesus who waited and watched and wept over Jesus' death. At 9:00 am in our Memorial Garden, we are inviting everyone, but especially those who are grieving the recent loss of a loved one, for a brief service of scripture, candle lighting, and prayer for those who have died, and for those of us who remember them.  
The whole time we are going through these events of Holy Week, we are also preparing for Easter Sunday. It used to bother me that at the same time we observe solemn services we are preparing, inwardly and outwardly, for Easter Sunday: rehearsing alleluia choruses in choir, printing colorful Easter bulletin leaflets, finalizing fun plans for the Easter celebrations on the lawn, preparing a joyful Easter sermon, and so on. It seemed to be a contradiction.
But then I realized that is is no point in going through Holy Week with amnesia.
Because we know -- more to the point, we live -- something that Jesus' first followers that first holy week did not know, and had not yet lived, which is that 
On Easter Sunday, God, as always, has the last move and the last Word.
And that last move and Word is that there is no place, or thought, or behavior that is beyond God's concrete actions of extravagant grace, love, and forgiveness.
So whether it through these customs and services at The Falls Church or elsewhere, if you consider Christianity something people believe in, and faith as something people think, I hope you'll find new ways to enter fully into the actions of Holy Week and the Easter life.   


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