We began with an all-congregation processional. Call to Worship outside; everyone processing in to a version of the Sanctus ending in Hosannas composed by the pastor emeritus. The procession was led by a 4th grade girl as crucifer.
Then we had Time with Children and the kids brought up their One Great Hour of Sharing Fat Fish Offering
Then we moved directly into the Passion Reading from Mark as suggested by Carolyn C. Brown at Worshiping with Children. Brown splits the reading (Mark chapters 14 and 15) into parts for 9 readers and suggests props that can be carried in at appropriate moments (e.g. a burning scented candle when the woman anoints Jesus; a money bag when Judas agrees to betray Jesus). I added Taize refrains at other appropriate moments to further break up the reading and allow the congregation to enter the story through song.
This is what I said in the Order of Worship:
As we move from Palms to Passion, we enter the story of the last days of Christ through scripture, image, and song.
As the readers read the scripture, we will pause to join into the story by singing the following refrains. Listen for the music and join in the song.
There were a thousand moving parts. 2 kids to carry props except we needed a grown-up to help with the cross we added to the original script. 9 readers**. I corralled readers; a worship committee member (and mom of one of the boys) worked with the “worship assistants.”*
Last night I dreamt that I showed up in my nightshirt and all the kids in the congregation were on the chancel wearing animal costumes from the Christmas pageant. In my mind in my dream, I thought, “well, this isn’t what I had planned, but we can make it work.” Now I’m wondering about stable animals on Palm Sunday some year, but I was pretty grateful this morning that it was only a dream. Driving to church, I wondered why every time I was in charge of a service it had to be so complex and have so many moving parts. The pastor reminded me when I said that to her, that that is what intergenerational, interactive, experiential worship (the things I love) means. That’s just how it is. (And, as always, I couldn’t do these experiential, experimental services without her complete support and help, both in thinking and creating and in the actual, practical doing of it.)
It did work. The readers all arrived and had practiced their readings. The organist hit the cues. The worship assistants were solemn and deliberate and intentional. I told everyone that we had plenty of time, to let each moment be it’s own thing. We didn’t have to overlap lines and props and props and songs. Those 2 boys, a 4th grader and a 5th grader, walked in silence from the back of the church to the front without ever hurrying their pace or getting antsy or anything. When they carried bread and cup, they walked in step. They placed things with deliberation: making noise with the money bag, placing the bread and cup as sacred objects, leaving the sword leaning against the communion table where it could be seen, but was not on the table (a touch from the woman helping them. She was brilliant. She really got what we were looking for visually.) The final prop was the cross, and my final moment of inspiration was to ask one of the boy’s dads to carry the cross with the boys, so the reader read “Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus” and a father and 2 boys came in with the cross. Stunning.
The props, the songs, and the changing up of readers really helped keep the long passage alive. Kudos to Carolyn Brown. It was solemn and stunning and lovely. I wondered afterword about the other kind of Passion Reading one could do, giving the congregation the parts of the crowd, and being noisy and chaotic. That, too, would work, but for a season where we have been talking about lament and working toward prayer and contemplation, this was the right service.
Finally, we had 5 baskets of items that are invoked by the story. We previewed them at the Time with Children and told the kids to listen for them to come up, and then we offered them for people to take with them into the week. The readers picked up baskets on the way out, and offered them as people came by. And people took them. And many people were very deliberate in what they chose. “I want the Rosemary. Where’s the rosemary? Can I get a coin? It’s easy to carry. I need the feather. It’s the rooster.” Etc.
Following the benediction response, as you leave, you are invited to take a token representing the story we heard this morning: a sprig of rosemary (the garden, watch and pray), a coin (betrayal, the coinage of our lives), a nail (the cross, the pain), a feather (the sunrise), or a gray square (carrying your lament).
What part of the story will you carry in your heart this week?
I don’t know that anyone took photos. Which is okay. It was not really a photo opportunity. I wish I had thought to take one of the prop-laden table afterward, though.
*Carolyn Brown calls them acolytes, a better term which technically means… wait for it… one who assists in worship, bit if we say acolyte, the immediate thought is “Candle Lighter.”
**The pastor read Reader 3, the parts about the crucifixion. A lawyer read the Jewish Authorities. A man of Jewish heritage read “Nicodemus.” A latino educator and retired dean of education at the local university read “Pilate.” His grandson read one of the soldiers. They were really well distributed. I was way too pleased at having 3 Marks reading the Passion narrative from Mark. It’s the little things… The line I gave myself? Just one. The Penultimate line. Reader 8: There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.