Today’s post is from Patricia Baehler, a member of Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis, MN, with photos by Anke Voigt.
I am often asked by my non-churchgoing friends why I go to church so much during Holy Week. “Really?” they say. “Really? You go to four church services in four days? Why does anyone need that much church?” It’s a valid question. Work, family, home … we have endless things we could be doing instead of hearing the stories many of us know so well. They are difficult stories, full of shame and sorrow and pain, and don’t we have enough of that in our world right now? Maybe we could just skip to Easter?
Yet during my time at Christ Church Lutheran, a vibrant and growing congregation in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, I have come to realize that I do need that much church. The Triduum, also known as the Three Days, at Christ Church is an intimate and personal experience. It challenges me to feel my faith more deeply than at any other time, to feel it spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It is by immersing myself in the story over the three days that I find a profound joy even before the glory of Easter morning.
At Christ Church, Maundy Thursday is a family service, and the children enjoy helping the pastors to wash feet. I feel enormous hope watching these children pouring bergamot-scented water over others’ feet. Small children, some as young as three or four, show us the way to serve each other: eagerly, fearlessly, joyfully. Their first instinct is to reach out and perform an act of love – just as Jesus commands. So even as the service concludes, as Jesus is betrayed and led away, as the altar is stripped, the image that stays with me is the one of children loving others as God has loved us.
In contrast to the smells, textures, and tastes of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday is barren. The sanctuary is stark and empty, and there are no pitchers of scented water or hands offering me bread. Unlike the previous night, the congregation stays in one place for almost the whole service. There is nothing to distract us from the difficult story of Christ’s death, and we are powerless to stop it. But even here there is joy, because at the very end of the service we are invited to come forward and reverence the cross. It is a profound moment for me each year as I touch the rough wood and am reminded that even in my powerlessness I am saved.
Christ Church’s Easter Vigil is a nomadic affair; the congregation wanders through several locations before ending up crowded around the table for the meal. For me, the most moving part is when, like the disciples two thousand years ago, we gather in a room to tell each other stories and sing songs. We hear God call the world into being, thrill at the Israelites’ narrow escape from Egypt, and laugh at the absurdity of King Nebuchadnezzar. These are the stories that bind us together in our faith and call us to lives of trust and love. Through these stories I feel connected to everyone in the room and to Christians around the world; whatever our differences, these stories are our shared foundation.
So to my friends who ask: yes, I do need that much church. My Easter would be incomplete without those Triduum-inspired images of service, love, and community. The Triduum at Christ Church is part of my Easter experience and part of my Easter joy.