A bit of explanation for those who do not have the same Holy Week experiences as I do: Our church body (and others, but I’m not sure which ones) celebrate specifically during Holy Week, a.k.a., the week leading up to Easter. We start with Palm Sunday the week before, waving palm branches in church and celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. Then we have services on Thursday, Friday, sometimes Saturday (depends on the congregation), all leading up to the biggest Christian celebration of the year on Easter Sunday (more about that later).
So today is Maundy Thursday, where we celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the night when Jesus gave us the first Communion celebration and also commanded (mandate, why it’s called Maundy Thursday) his disciples and us to love one another. This service involves communion, sermon, all the usual parts, and finishes with the “stripping of the altar” to remind us of how Jesus was stripped of his clothing, beaten, and pretty much humiliated with his arrest and trial. Whew. Explanation part over.
The tradition is to leave in silence at the end of tonight’s (and tomorrow night’s) service. Here’s the thing – I’ve never known the luxury of truly leaving in silence, finishing the service, heading straight for the car or walking home, just filled with the experience of worship and mediating on what it means that Jesus died for me. Some of you who know my husband might think this is because he likes to talk. Not so – he respects this tradition as much as the next person, probably more than most! It’s because I’ve always been part of the pastor’s family.
See, the thing is, pastors rarely get to experience holy days the way the rest of the congregation does. Part of their calling is to create the opportunity for others to worship, to plan the experiences, to take care of the behind-the-scenes details so others can just come and worship. And their families usually participate at some level.
I’ve always had to stick around after the services. I’m not always helping with prep for the next service, but my husband is. And before that, it was my parents. So I’ve not had the chance to experience the whole leaving in silence thing, something I wouldn’t mind doing, personally.
What amazes me is how many people do not take advantage of this opportunity. Despite the announcement at the beginning of the service, despite the note in the bulletin, there are always groups of people who merely leave the sanctuary proper but start talking the second they hit the lobby. Or others wait for the parking lot. I don’t fault them for this, but I’m a little frustrated that they CAN have the silence and choose NOT to take it. Of course, I realize there are those who are uncomfortable in silence, others who have children where silence is nearly impossible to achieve for more than a moment or two, and still others who have similar responsibilities. But if I could, I would maintain the silence until I got home (or at least, partway down the road).