Blessed Good Friday, folks 🙂
The Easter recount begins with last night’s Maundy Thursday service at our home church. Maundy Thursday is also known as Holy Thursday, where we commemorate the intimate moment shared by Jesus and his disciples in the Last Supper and remember the night He was betrayed by one of his own. For the record, I was not present at Maundy Thursday as around about that time, I was in a conversation with one of the registrars of the Supreme Court, discussing gender rights issues in New Delhi (a fun thing to do on the eve of the long weekend, I know).
The congregation were quietly ushered and seated into the church hall. Apart from the organized station at the church courtyard, the first few things one notices are the set of brightly lit candles in the front area of the hall, the soft music, the neatly organized seats and the soft ambience emanating from the dimly lit hall.
A Bible reader narrated the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. After the reading, the Reverend Doctor – who is our home church minister – and one of the elders (who happens to be a scientist by profession – and the most amazing scientist I have ever met!), promptly poured water into large basins with towels ready.
Our home church minister was going to wash our feet while our church elder had the duty to wash our hands. They called us to come forward and have the option of having our feet or hands washed in water and towel dried by our church leaders.
A few of the congregation members stepped forward. One of my brothers had his feet washed by the Reverend Doctor, while my other brother opted to have his hands washed by the church elder.
I find this practice of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples very confronting. But it is from these out-of-this-world acts that I can distinguish the way the world thinks and operates on certain worldviews. John 13:12b-17 encapsulate Jesus’ point:
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
A confronting challenge, indeed.
After the mindful experience of having our feet and hands washed by our church leaders, one of the Bible readers narrated the story of Jesus sharing the last supper with his disciples. Soon after, the congregation were promptly served by caterers with a choice of pumpkin soup, miso soup or potato and mushroom soup before a basket of various kinds of bread (from wholemeal, to multi-grain to plain buns) were passed around. The church ate as they quietly reflected on the meaningful experience the last supper could have meant to Jesus and his disciples.
As members of the congregation narrated each Bible reading one by one, each candle were steadily put out. The hall room was now dark – somewhat taken to portray the betrayal that was to occur in the later stages of the narrative.
It was in this heartfelt darkness of silence that our Maundy Thursday church service concluded. Maundy Thursday was unlike anything my family had experienced before with Easter worship services in the past. So you can only imagine how enlivened they all were to share deep and meaningful reflections of Easter on the road back home.
The road to church around 9 o’clock this morning had that calm, peaceful Sunday kind of vibe. The Greek Orthodox Church down town crowded the roadside with a street march accompanied by police supervision to re-enact Christ’s journey to the cross.
I peered out of the car window as we drove past them thinking, man, what an amazing feeling to show your faith in a densely populated metropolitan neighborhood filled with all sorts of people from rich and diverse backgrounds and beliefs. It was such a spiritually enriching picture.
This led me to think about what our home church would be doing for our Good Friday service.
I get that it’s the long weekend which is the perfect time to pump up the volume and party like a rock-star, but the extended days off held a significant meaning to me. It was so personal that I took it upon myself to dress the appropriate attire. Turns out, wearing a black dress to the Good Friday service, was probably not a good idea. You’ll soon find out why.
When we arrived at church, two greeters each holding a small basket filled with nails, stood by the entrance with genuinely warm smiles of welcome as they politely motioned to us to pick a nail from their tiny basket. I was only met with even more wider smiles after probing the greeters with a questioning look.
I see how it is, I thought to myself. They were not going to tell me the reason behind the nail. Well in hindsight, they only had one job to do: to give attendees a nail each. Nothing more, nothing less.
Curiosity beginning to peak, I deftly picked a nail from the basket and walked respectfully into the church before quietly slipping into one of the pews. The church was again, dimly lit – minus the romantic vibe – with the sombre atmosphere widely triggered by the soft music playing in the background by our home church musicians. Who knew you could play beautiful music from using only a piano and a clarinet? It was complementary musical duo in action.
Laying on a white linen covered table by the podium, was a massive, dark colored Cross with a purple cloth loosely draped across the arms. Purple and black are two of the gloomiest colors I know, which kind of blended in with the whole sombre vibe.
As I sat in the pew next to a brilliant youth leader (she is so brilliant, she delivered a powerful sermon last week on Palm Sunday emphasizing God’s commandment to love one another) I thought of God’s relationship with people like me – flaws and all. I fidgeted around with the sharp, cold object in my hand whilst deep in thought.
You know, if you think about it, how can something so pure, so Holy, so awesome, offer a part of Himself to die, just so a mere mortal who is prone to weakness could live a life of joy, abundance and fruitfulness? And I thought the lyrics to Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy in Love’ was obsessive enough, but this?
This is the only love story where the hero dies for the villain.
This was real crazy love. Nothing can top this one.
After the selected Bible readers narrated Jesus’ journey from the night he was betrayed to the Cross where He was to be crucified, it was now time for us to make our way up to the front where the cross lay.
At this point, any known sign of my serious composure was slowly ebbing away.
Apart from the subtle futile attempts to stop the torrent of tears escaping, I had to remind myself to get my shit together. I immediately regretted wearing my black dress. I should have worn something that would probably not add to the heavy sadness in the air and eventually betray my serious composure by opening the flood gates of ‘TearDom City’.
With the cold, sharp nail in my now sweaty hand, I got up and joined the long winding single file of people that solemnly made their way up to the podium where the Cross lay.
Stepping onto the podium, I stole a glimpse over my shoulder to capture the long line of people behind me with their heads hung and shoulders dropped in sadness.
It was now my turn. Just me at the foot of the Cross. It was such a powerful, symbolic moment for me to experience.
I lowered my gaze down to the Cross that lay before me, took a half-hearted step forward, and drove the cold, sharp nail into the styrofoam body of the Cross
before momentarily stepping aside, giving way to others to have their moment. The walk back to the pew somehow felt longer than usual.
As we silently left the church, the Reverend Doctor stood by the entrance, as all church ministers and church leaders do for handshakes. I asked him if I could skip the handshake as I had tears, mucous and sweat in my hands.
To my complete surprise, I was met instead, with a comforting embrace.
Speaks volumes, doesn’t it? (Note to self, bring handkerchief next time)
Stay safe this Easter long weekend, folks 🙂