I'd like to share with you one of the most moving experiences of my life. Interestingly enough, it happened quite unexpectedly and even at this writing, some 12 hours later, I'm still a bit numb.
Last night, our youth minister, Chris Hughes, and several of the congregation's young people put together a Good Friday Service. Truth be told, I had never heard of such a thing. But Chris is kind of a spunky guy who has a great love for the Lord and is always wanting to try something new (you know how youth ministers are).
The service began with each person being required to light a candle in the foyer before entering the sanctuary. Once inside, Chris informed those who had gathered about what the service would consist of in pretty specific detail. He warned that it would be a heavy service and that it was not designed to bring joy, but to put us in the place of a disciple during the time of the trial, scourging and crucifixion. The service was to be lit primarily by candle, leaving participants mostly in the dark. I made note that he said that at the conclusion of the service, anyone who had the need or desire to stay could have all the time they needed. Little did I know that I would be the last to leave his seat.
Billed as a multi-sensory experience, the service began with a video montage, consisting primarily of clips from the film, "The Passion." If you've ever seen the movie, you know how much it can move you around emotionally. It started right there for me. It went downhill from there.
A chorus made up of the youth, Chris and the Horn family sang a beautiful song that seemed to both frame and echo the emotional content of the video's last scene; Mary was holding the battered and bleeding corpse of her dead son as the wind whipped her hair and tears cascaded down her face.
There then came a very well done dramatic presentation written by Megan Schwartz that represented the anger, despondency and confusion felt by Christ's apostles immediately after his death. By this point, I was, as the saying goes, all in. I was no longer aware of sitting in the third pew in a business suit, fulfilling my obligation to the members of our congregation by being present to support Chris and his efforts. I was there. 2000 years ago. I was there. It was happening to me. It was as if I had just witnessed the crucifixion of God's son whom I personally knew and had followed for years. It is difficult to explain...and it got worse.
The next portion of the service involved a reading of the account of Christ's ordeal from his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane to the time he hung his head and died. Chris and the kids took turns reading the account. Of course these are passages that we've read dozens or even hundreds of times. I was struck, despite my familiarity with the words, by how they hung in the air, rang in my ears and drilled down to my soul. The words seemed to have come to literal life. Even this was tremendously amplified by the fact that at every juncture in the scripture that an injustice was done or a betrayal committed, a candle on stage was blown out. It was painful to watch and I must admit that my eyes were either closed or looking at my hands the majority of the time. Hearing those words, picturing those images, feeling the weight of what Jesus went through and why, examining my own life and it's place in the scheme of why such a sacrifice was necessary, and watching Samantha Hearn step forward and blow those candles out at juncture after juncture was more than I could stand.
I wondered which candle would have been mine.
By the time the next to last candle had been blown out, I was barely coherent. Chris had earlier explained that when the last candle was blown out, the candle representing Jesus' life, the service would be over. After hearing the words of the soldier's spear piercing Jesus' side, only to find him already dead reverently and somberly read, Samantha approached the last light in the room, which poetically and ironically enough was placed on the altar, and disappeared with it behind the table. For a moment there was a glow that cast shadows...
...and then it was gone.
The sanctuary had fallen into the darkness reminiscent of the darkness that fell on that day 2000 years ago at Golgotha between noon and three.
Chris' voice intoned, "As you leave, note that the only light left is that from the candles you lit in the foyer before you came in. The only light left is the light in you."
I don't know how long I sat there.
I don't know how long I sat there suffering under the weight of it all. There were so many thoughts running through my head. There were so many emotions running through my soul. There was an overwhelming sense of sadness, grief, blame and responsibility. It felt as though I had just experienced a very real personal tragedy. I had. There is one thing I know for sure however; I wanted to go and get that candle back more than I've wanted to do anything in a very long time. But I knew I couldn't. No one could. Not even God would.
When I was able to gather myself (somewhat), I found Chris, grabbed him, held him and thanked him with every word I could muster, which admittedly were very few. I told him how I wanted to go and get that candle and it was about there that I lost it again. He assured me that it would be better Sunday. Knowing he was right, I reluctantly released him, turned, walked past a singing Christiana Horn, left the sanctuary, grabbed my daughter Torri and walked out of the building. I can only hope that the many members who all seemed to be lingering in the foyer didn't think me rude for not staying and chatting. For the first time in a long time, the preacher didn't have the words.
Strengthening Our Faith