As I reflect on the Lenten journey and the coming of Easter, I’m struck by just how many ritual practices are part of our worship in this season of the church. We smudge ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday as we recognize our humanity; we give up things that distract or separate us and take on new spiritual practices during Lent. We wave palms and sing “Hosanna!” We wash one another’s feet and serve each other bread and cup on Maundy Thursday as Christ did; we gather to remember Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. And finally, after weeks of waiting and worshiping and praying, on Easter morning we celebrate the empty tomb and Christ’s resurrection with trumpet fanfare, vibrantly colored banners, and the abundance of spring flowers. He is risen! Jesus is alive!
Holy Week alone leaves even the most devout among us feeling a bit winded from such a journey. By Easter Monday, the smudging, waving, washing, feeding, remembering, and celebrating can seem something like having done a marathon and a forty-yard dash back-to-back. But in the midst of it all, these rituals fill our spirits and move our souls; so for me it’s the most contented sort of tired I know. My hunch is that these practices we’ve shared with one another meet our deep longing for the story of our lives to be part of a bigger narrative, one that connects us to our ancestors and theirs before them, even into antiquity.
As we use our hands and feet in worship alongside our hearts and minds, we are able to more fully engage and embody what we believe and the stories we tell about who we are in relation to one another and to God in light of gospel and grace. Jill Crainshaw is a dear friend and mentor of mine, and she teaches worship and liturgical theology at Wake Divinity, where I’m a student. In a recent newspaper article about Lenten and Easter rituals in Protestant churches, she writes,
The reason they are so powerful is they touch on something that is central about what it means to be human.”
I’m pretty sure she’s onto something there. Perhaps the meaning of our lives is found in the smudging, waving, washing, feeding, remembering, and celebrating that we do each day—as we work and play, as we learn and grow, and even as we age and die. I’m certain of one thing, though: as I reflect on my time at First Christian Church, I am profoundly grateful that my story has intersected with yours and that you’ve let me share this journey with you for awhile.