I love having work that exhausts me. I love the moment my head hits the pillow after a day well lived, well worked, well played,…and I instantly fall asleep. That is this week every year. Teaching almost 250 kids over 2 days at Platte River State Park. It stretches my introvertedness. After these two days I’m just spent. This year, the 2nd day ended on Maundy Thursday, the day we honor Jesus’s Last Supper with his followers.
As I left the park that day, then ran errands in Lincoln, my mind was considering where I would worship on this special day. I wanted a place I could slip in the back of the church, get lost in the crowd, and disappear with only God & I knowing I was there. The drive west was therapeutic, and allowed me to close back my introverted shell, and I hoped to stay there for the rest of the evening.
I ended up in a church in Grand Island. I read about how these three Methodist churches take turns with Holy Week services, and knew I could get lost in the crowd as they wouldn’t know who was a member and who was not. As I walked up to the door, a man opened it for me, shook my hands and welcomed me in. I believe so often the most important people in the church are the greeter, and then the usher. If these two people serve their positions well in welcoming a person, the first impression will serve the church for a really long time in gaining new members and helping a person have the feeling of being a part of a church family (the other part is having clear signage, but that is for another day).
After I entered the church, there was a tattered cloth over the sanctuary door the greeter sent me to. At this moment, I was happy I had some offering in my purse, as it looked like they needed it. When I reached for the cloth, two hands on the opposite side pulled open the ‘cloth’. There were two ladies welcoming me in. I had to pause. There were not pews, there was not an altar, but a large room full of 12-16 tables with small groups of people at each one. There were ladies sitting at a ‘head table’ underneath the cross with cloth over their heads, and men sitting there with cloth over their shoulders. It was simplistically beautiful. Candles, bowls, the bread and wine, seashells, and palm leaves were on each table, not just the head table.
It hit me! I had just walked into the Last Supper. The tattered cloth was not the usual ‘door’ to worship, but was the door I would have walked through 2000 years ago to share in the Lord’s Supper. Things just got real, and usually I would have tried to tip-toe out of this situation that was going to require real participation. There was no back pew, there was no empty area to retreat too. There was just Sharon.
Sharon, oh that name that has held such a special meaning my whole life. Sharon is my aunt who I never met. She has jet black hair, and in all the pictures I’ve seen of her she was very angelic. Even the picture my Aunt Diane painted of Aunt Sharon in her high school cap and gown, had a halo affect around Aunt Sharon. My aunt passed away in a car wreck on May 13, 1964, just days before her high school graduation. The stories of how much she loved nature and being outdoors and exploring and being an aunt has always made me believe we would have been close souls. The only time I saw Aunt Sharon myself is when my grandpa, her father, had passed away. We were at the funeral home for the first viewing of Grandpa, and my sister and I walked up to the casket. Aunt Sharon’s iridescent soul was standing next to the casket draped in a bluish-greenish gown, with her black hair shining, like it was reflecting a special white sunlight. She was looking at my Grandpa’s face, admiring the weathered lines of this hard-working farmer, husband, father. She was just the presence I needed as I tried to make sense in my 11 year old brain how to handle the immense pain in my heart that felt like it would break my body apart. Her angelic look and actions were such a relief in my clumsiness in this new situation. Her soul ‘role modeled’ what came next for me,… how to view a body, how to just be present for my grandma, and how to find peace among the chaos in my heart.
Here I was again, in 2019, 37 years and one day later after burying my grandpa. Finding myself wanting to hide, wanting to be alone, wanting to hide among the chaos in my heart. I had blown off another season of Lent, of not reflecting, of not keeping my commitment to give something up for Lent, of not attending Wednesday night church since Ash Wednesday. Then there was Sharon. Not my Aunt Sharon this time, but a lady named Sharon. She was waving from the front of the church. Sharon was signaling to the usher to send me to HER table. Me, why me? Why does she want me? The usher told me to go to Sharon, as if I knew her as an old friend or family member, as if she had always been a part of my life and we were all family.
I carefully walked through the maze of people and tables, and chairs pulled out into the aisles as Sharon kept waving until I go to her in the front-center of the room. She was not giving up on me, By GOD, I was going to be with her on Maundy Thursday. Sharon explained that every table had a host, and she was our host for the night, as the 4 people across the rectangle table all introduced themselves.
Then it began, the Last Supper. Each character at the head table would walk out to the crowds in the room, and tell their story showing us what the item was they held and the significance to Jesus’ last meal. The first was Martha who had expensive perfume, and she explained how she washed His feet with her hair. At our table we followed up with the oily perfume in a sea shell sitting on the table. Sharon, took the perfume and made the sign of the cross on my forehead and reminded me I am a blessed Child of God. Amen, I replied. Then I returned the anointing, and we passed the seashell across the table to our fellow participants.
Next was when Jesus washed the feet of his disciple. In turn, we placed our hands in a bowl of water at the table, and Sharon wiped my hands. I assisted Sharon in her hand cleansing. The vulnerability was pulsing across the table as each person allowed their hands to another.
When it came to communion, the gold chalice held the wine, and a small loaf of bread was about to be broken. Sharon broke the bread, gave it to me saying ‘Christ’s body broken for you’. Now if you have ever been beside me when taking communion, it is hard for me. I feel devastated that this Man gave His life for me, and feel incredibly guilty and the tears and sniffles that follow are a mix of why would He love me so much to give his life and the gratitude that He did. So, Sharon handed me the bread, and I dipped it in the wine and consumed the blood and body of Christ for the forgiveness of my sins. I returned the sacrament for Sharon before passing it across the table. Each time, I was the first one to receive these rituals since I was the only one on Sharon’s side of the table.
The character from the head table who spoke before communion was Judas. Unfortunately, this was the character I associated most with up to this point. I had ran into slow traffic on my way to GI, was sometimes in my mind and other times with my words, questioning why people were so slow and were impeding my way to church. My gas gauge had gotten low and was just adding to the stress I was allowing to build up in my body. And darn it, I was hungry because supper time had passed but I was too tired to eat before church, so now I was hAngry before I even entered the church. The church parking lot was full of soccer players, and I had to park a block away just adding to my anxiety of finding a church to get lost in. My heart had been closer to the heart of Judas’s judgmental heart, then Jesus’ forgiving heart.
Judas’ character was played by Sharon’s husband. Sharon reached for a Kleenex to wipe her tears as she watched her husband struggle in his heart to play this character who betrayed Jesus for money. I wanted to hug her, to comfort her, to ease her pain as she empathized with her husband’s struggle, just as I had witnessed my sister do for people in church, before she sends them into surgery, or in their suffering, and how there was a sense of peace to each person my sister literally touched. I resisted following my sister’s example in life, and kept my hands to myself.
Then, the tears were enough, Sharon had to remove her glasses to let the tears flow. My heart tugged again to sit in her sadness with her (a healing technique I had recently read about as we are challenged at work to help people whose lives have been turned upside down by flooding in Nebraska). I did it, I reached over and placed my hand on Sharon’s back and sat in her sadness, and cried the tears of sadness with her. She leaned back, and told me about her husband’s worry that he would struggle to make it through his part. We all experienced Judas’ conflicted heart at this Last Supper.
As I finished providing Sharon with communion, I sat back, closed my eyes, and asked forgiveness for my judgmental Judas moments I had experienced way too often, and especially in the past two hours.
After intervals of Bible verses, hymns, character’s storytelling, prayers, and sharing the rituals, the last act was to take a thin candle, and light it from a candle up front. The large lit candles were in buckets of sand. We would light our candle and stick it in the sand, and remember to go forward with the light of Christ in our hearts. I did. As I walked back to my seat to grab my purse, Sharon embraced me. Not just a hug, but a true “I care about you embrace’. I think I may have just had a soul hug passed along through human arms.
Yes, I had said my prayer of grace that morning sitting on the porch of my cabin overlooking a lake before heading out to teach 125 students, and tackle my Thursday. And, I did end that prayer with “Please Author My Day Lord”,…..and He did!