The Holy Chaos of Holy Week at Pilgrims

Ready to process, listening to Jeff tell the Palm Sunday story.
Ready to process, listening to Jeff tell the Palm Sunday story.

The structure of Church of the Pilgrims Holy Week services have stayed the same for many years.

In the past couple of years, we nuanced things a bit to add more elements of participation. Some highlights of what we did this year:

Palm/Passion Sunday: We did a repeat of last years public procession around the block. We gathered at 9:30am, armed with umbrellas and stuff from Oriental Trading, to decorate umbrellas. We also created signs with recycled cardboard that read, "Feed Your Neighbors," "Grow a Garden" and "Black Lives Matter." This is the ethic of our faith with words that are short, sweet, and to the point. Like Jesus and his followers, we walked with anti-Imperial words of the Jesus movement.

We gathered on our front steps and heard Jeff tell the procession into Jerusalem story. Sang a song and off we went with the beat of a drum. We had one person up front (me) to make sure we stayed together. Jeff was in the back of the procession to try to keep chaos organized.

We stopped at the steps inside the church to get organized with our processional song and into the sanctuary we processed. That's when utter chaos happened. We usually loop around the sanctuary a couple of times. For some reason, that didn't happen. People were everywhere with their signs and umbrellas.

Jeff remarked later that chaos must have erupted at some point in Jesus' procession. After all, Jesus and his crew didn't take 2 months to plan his procession. It just happened.

We ended our service with the arc towards the Passion narrative---so Palms---> Passion.

Maundy Thursday: We had an agape meal in our Fellowship Hall and Pilgrim storytellers told the Passion story by-heart. At the end of each part of the story, the storyteller blew out candles on the tables. As we got closer to the end of the story, storytellers also blew out candles on our Lenten cross we used throughout Lent.

Palm Sunday table. We recycled these elements for our Maundy Thursday tables.
Palm Sunday table. We recycled these elements for our Maundy Thursday tables.

Emily, our intern, created table-scapes with clear cylinder containers filled with water and one palm. Emily recycled this idea from her Palm Sunday communion table-scape. For Maundy Thursday, she added to each table a glass candle holder with white candle, a wooden, bark candle holder with a tea light, communion cups, a dried up palm from Palm Sunday,  and small glass juice pitchers  from Pilgrims circa 1950.

One of my favorite moments of Maundy Thursday is observing the meal come together in our kitchen. Lots of food that needs organized into baskets and trays. People jump in and make it happen. Connects a bit with the chaos from Palm Sunday. (see picture in the gallery below).

Thursday afternoon, Emily, Rachel, and I worked with Andy Wassenich, Pilgrim and actor/director and our voice building coach, on our stories. Funny. When we prepare your voice your storytelling is stronger. Noted.

Good Friday: This year we carried our large wooden cross in like a coffin into our candle lit, dark, Taize infused sanctuary. We placed it down on the ground in the middle of our space. Near the end of the service, people came forward during the prayers to hit a nail into the cross three times. Emily, trusty intern, orchestrated this and CHOPS to Emily for pulling something off she had never seen/experienced.

I'm pretty sure Emily had some internal chaos going on with this new-to-her leadership role. Emily had never been through a Holy Week before and we tossed this part of the service for her to lead. SHE PULLED IT OFF WITH GRACE AND LOVE. People then placed tea lights around the cross as we sang, Will You Remember Me When We Come Into Your Kingdom.

Easter: More chaos.....one of our members is in event planning and gave us 60 tulips for folks to place on the cross during our opening  hymns. Pilgrims bring additional flowers to supplement. Some ideas work. Some don't.

Around 10:15 we realized we  were about 40 flowers short of what we needed. Justin blazed off to Trader Joe's and pretty much saved the opening ritual action. Justin did this WITH GRACE AND LOVE. Usually people come down the center aisle to place their flowers on the cross while singing opening hymns. This time people came from all directions. Floral mash-up! More chaos!

Then.....skipping ahead in the service....Emily told the Emmaus story as part of the invitation to the table. THEN....Rachel and Carol sang our invitation to the table. They did this WITH GRACE AND LOVE.

As the gluten-free bread and cup were being shared, little Kate, age 3, walked into the middle of the space to check things out. I asked her if she wanted to help serve. She said yes. I paired her up with Karen. Karen welcomed Kate into the experience of serving. Both served WITH GRACE AND LOVE. Our last song had our kids jamming with Jeff as he played his guitar and they played random instruments. <chaos>

Holy Week theme: CHAOS WITH GRACE AND LOVE. I know I could be more organized in some areas for Holy Week. There are some things for Holy Week we could talk through more with key leaders.

And....there will still be chaos. Just as there was with Jesus and his followers with this incredible, restless, less-than-relaxing story. I can't even imagine the chaos going on with Jesus' followers during the last week of his life. Can you?

Talking through details with folks would be helpful not to eliminate chaos but to help folks be more present in the chaos. Trying to minimize chaos feels, on some level, like I'd be trying to sterilize the story. Trying to think through some additional details with folks for the sake of being more mindful, aware-we-are-in-the-midst-of-a-chaotic-story, cognizant that as we feel the chaos of Holy Week, we are, in essence, feeling the nature of Jesus and his followers during those final days.

 

Urban Farming: Garbage, Jesus, and Good Friday.

A Nicaraguan boy carries a large bag of trash for recycling while fighting with flying vultures in the garbage dump La Chureca, Managua, Nicaragua, 10 November 2004. La Chureca is the biggest garbage dump in Central America. Hundreds of trash recollectors search in tons of smouldering garbage mainly metals (copper, aluminium), others concentrate on glass which is cheap, but in bigger amount. The majority of the recyclers are families with children for whom recycling is a regular job. The children very often eat the food they find on the dump, none of them goes to school, they suffer from skin diseases, they have high levels of lead and DDT in blood. Photo by Jan Socher
A Nicaraguan boy carries a large bag of trash for recycling while fighting with flying vultures in the garbage dump La Chureca, Managua, Nicaragua, 10 November 2004. La Chureca is the biggest garbage dump in Central America. Hundreds of trash recollectors search in tons of smouldering garbage mainly metals (copper, aluminium), others concentrate on glass which is cheap, but in bigger amount. The majority of the recyclers are families with children for whom recycling is a regular job. The children very often eat the food they find on the dump, none of them goes to school, they suffer from skin diseases, they have high levels of lead and DDT in blood. Photo by Jan Socher

(This blog post appeared on Good Friday, April 3rd, 2015, as part of a Holy Week series for Presbyterians for Earth Care).

In 2012, the world generated 2.6 trillion pounds of garbage with over half of that amount going into landfills around the planet.

Those landfills are home to 1% of the global population. Children and their families who are the poorest of the poor live on the outskirts of landfills. Many use these landfills as a place of work—trading garbage for cash or consuming salvageable waste in order to survive. What was food for the dogs and flies becomes food for a family.

  • La Chureca is the largest garbage dump in Central America, located on the edge of Managua. One thousand people live and work on the “City of Trash” every day. There is even an elementary school located on the dump with six classrooms.
  • More than 2,000 families live on the Bantar Gebang landfill that lies outside Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • Thousands of families call the Tultitlan garbage dump in Mexico City home while spending 12 hours a day, in scorching hot sun, looking for recyclable materials to sell and make less than a dollar a day.
  • The Veolia landfill 100 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia, known to locals as “Trash Mountain,” received toxic coal ash from a massive spill that occurred in December 2008 at a Kingston, TN power plant. Taylor County, where Veolia landfill is located, is 41% African-American and more than 24% of its residents live in poverty.

In the time of Jesus, Gehenna was the landfill located just south of Jerusalem. This was the city dump of Jesus’ time. When Jesus would speak of hell, it is thought he was speaking of Gehenna which was filled with the household trash, Empire’s leftovers, and bodies of the dead. With no sanitation or plumbing systems in Jerusalem, people would toss their urine and feces into the streets. Imagine this: the streets of Jerusalem steaming with human shit and pee as Jesus was taken to the Imperial cross of execution. The Roman Empire closed in on Jesus and his followers, and Jesus’ final footsteps on the planet were pressing upon the garbage ridden streets of Jerusalem.

As a small child in La Chureca landfill picks through garbage, as birds and dogs and flies hover over the “what is left,” there, too, is Jesus’ body, naked, broken resting upon the planet’s garbage. It is with the poorest of the poor, the poor who make a home and eat dinner in garbage dumps, where Jesus rests his body each and every day, pushing us to see garbage as sacred.

It’s all sacred. All of it. The plastic water bottles. The rotting meat. The Styrofoam. Ripped Clothing. Banana peels. Broken bicycles. Flies. Rats. Dogs. The poop of the rats and dogs. Seagulls. Children of the garbage dumps. Their school. Every bit of the “what’s left” is sacred and holy.

There is no division of the sacred and the profane. In fact there is no profane. On this Good Friday, we sit at the foot of the cross, an Imperial cross that might have been possibly littered with trash and human feces from Gehenna and Jerusalem, a cross soaked with blood and dripping flesh. Without mercy, Jesus was nailed to a cross with those viewed as human garbage hanging next to him. It is in the nailing that Jesus nails us to each other.

From my garbage in Arlington, VA, to the sanitation workers of Arlington County who pick it up, to the garbage ridden waters of the Anacostia River which borders Washington D.C., to the the poor living near the Veolia landfill to the families of Bantar Gebang; to Gehenna and the human waste of Jerusalem, the nails on the cross today pierce together what is seen and treated as the waste of the planet.

Ecofeminism stretches us to embrace it all as sacred, to see how each and every bit of what’s treated as garbage, the human and the material, are nailed together.

On this Good Friday, we sit and wait. Together. Nailed together as the planet continues to be pierced, broken, torn, and rendered. As your hands and arms stretch out today to toss away a piece of garbage, as your hands and arms extend to pick-up garbage, we remember the ones who live, eat, live, learn and are family on a garbage dump. Today we remember Jesus and his outstretched arms, executed in a city that looked and smelled and was a garbage dump.

Prayer: Holy One. Holy One of garbage and landfills. We are nailed together. Garbage and all. May we never, ever forget it.