Holy Week Outside the Walls

I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. --Pope Francis Church of the Pilgrims did two new things during Holy Week that took us outside the wall of the building: 1) had a Palm Sunday procession around the block; and 2) told the Passion story on Maundy Thursday in our urban garden. Both of these experiences were dreamed up after a conversation with Sara Miles and life at St. Gregory of Nyssa.

Both experiences also connect to the lovely, powerful quote from Pope Francis.

Palm Sunday Procession:  The driving image was Pilgrims carrying eco-palms, signs, umbrellas and streamers as we walked around the block. The driving Biblical image was Jesus going into Jerusalem in a public procession, raising the anxiety and tension with Empire, inviting all to join in the procession, and proclaiming the values of the Jesus' movement in processional form.

What we did: I gathered five artistic types in the congregation to brainstorm ideas for banners, signs, and such. We came up with a list of supplies--cardboard for signs, crepe paper, PVC poles, umbrellas and glue-able stuff from Oriental Trading. We told the entire congregation to show up at 10:45am on the steps to process around the block.

We gathered at 9:30am on Palm Sunday to assemble. We had two people working on signs, several people working on poles with streamers and the same for umbrellas. Best quote from my colleague, Jeff was "if it isn't moving, glue it!" Indeed.

At 10:45 we gathered. Jeff told the first part of the Palm Sunday story, sang a song we'd been singing during Lent, and processed off the steps. Rachel Pacheco, one of our members, drummed us up and around the block. We stopped at a certain point, re-grouped, and started singing a "Hosanna." We walked back into Pilgrims singing this song and looped around the sanctuary a few times.

Maundy Thursday: After our usual handwashing, meal and communion sharing, we processed back to our urban garden were 14 Pilgrims told the Passion story by heart.

 

Analysis:

The role of the revolutionary is to create theatre which creates a revolutionary frame of reference. The power to define is the power to control....The goal of theatre is to get as many people as possible to overcome fear by taking action. We create reality wherever we go by living our fantasies.  ~Jerry Rubin, an American social activist in the 60's and 70's

We assembled in the street and garden during Holy Week. When we create liturgy in the streets we give witness to life's endless possibilities, we flirt with improvisation. Who knows what's going to happen. We didn't know we were going to stop traffic crossing streets. And we did.

The power of our liturgy went beyond our walls. Power was witnessed and visible, it was released  from the "secret" place of the Church and displayed for all to see and share.  Our storytelling and procession was a social critique of Imperial Ways---we processed with the values of the movement and told a story of an execution.

The impending ways of Empire and the violence of a lynching were acted out in a non-violent way. Biblical narratives were performed, lived out and in our Holy Week we lived out, performed, our response to those stories.

Ethical actions were embodied. We created both moments to critique the status quo in the name of Jesus. We symbolized our real yearning to produce real change. The Spirit offered up a disruptive space.

Also present in both were witnesses. People took pictures and video. People watched. Cars stopped. In that moment those strangers were no long spectators, they were part of our experience, breaking down boundaries of participant and on-looker. We were louder than traffic! Our rituals were an interruption in every day life, in that moment, in D.C.

In our procession, we used a public thoroughfare--paying attention to the public nature of the street. We repossessed, for a short time, the street as a space of productive use and a product of the State. We re-defined it as performative space.

I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. --Pope Francis AND JESUS.