Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Ten Year-old's memories of Good Friday

I took my three oldest children to a Good Friday service at a church close to our home.  We are members of a church about fifteen minutes away, so it was nice to go to a nearby church.  The service was a mixture of music, movie clips, prayer and communion, with the pastor adding a few comments throughout.  Overall it was a very relaxed and reflective experience.  It made me think about Good Friday services I've attended throughout my life, and one in particular that I will never forget.

Growing up my family attended a small, traditional United Methodist church.  When I was about ten years old, I was the acolyte for the Easter weekend services, including Good Friday.  I loved being the acolyte for this particular service because I got to light and extinguish thirteen candles instead of the usual two.

The traditional Methodist Good Friday service uses thirteen candles to represent the twelve disciples and Jesus.  Traditional hymns about the crucifixion are used for this service: What Wondrous Love is This?, Nothing But the Blood, O Sacred Head Now Wounded and Were You There?.  Passages from the Gospels and from OT prophecy are used to weave together the story of Christ's final hours.  As each passage is concluded a candle is extinguished, symbolizing the disciples abandonment of Jesus.  As the service progresses all the candles are eventually extinguished except the Christ candle, which is left alone burning on the altar.  It's a compelling and effective way to remember and retell the story.

The last passage read during the service is  from John 19: "When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."  Then someone standing in the alcove of the church gently sings a capella: "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?".  When the song is over it is utter silence in the sanctuary.  Then the acolyte stands up and walks up to the altar.  Picking up the Christ candle the acolyte slowly walks across the platform, down the steps and down the aisle towards the back where an usher holds open the back door of the sanctuary.  The acolyte slowly takes the candle out, leaving the sanctuary completely dark and silent.  This symbolizes the Light being taken out of the world when Jesus died on Golgotha.

After a few minutes of silent and dark reflection, the acolyte brings the lit candle back into the sanctuary and places it back onto the altar to remind everyone of the hope that is coming on Sunday.  The congregation then leaves the service in silence and reverence.  This is a powerful way to remember Christ's death on the cross.

Except the Good Friday when I was ten years-old.  At the appropriate time I carried the candle out of the service and through the back door like I was supposed to.  I stood outside the sanctuary holding the candle in the entryway of the church.  As I anxiously waited for my cue to go back inside, a stiff draft from under the outside door blew the Christ candle out!  "Oh sh*t," I whispered.  I quickly looked around in a panic.  There were no matches to be found in the entryway!  There were no lighters!  Did someone hear me say "sh*t" in church?  What was I supposed to do?  The Light is not going to come back into the world, and it will be my fault!  Just then the usher opened the door and whispered, "Is everything okay?  It sounded like you said, 'sh*t'".  He took one look at the anxiety in my face and the dead candle and started laughing.  He laughed as he took out a book of matches and re-lit the candle, and he was still laughing when I re-entered the service and placed the candle up on the altar. 

Fortunately, the crisis was averted and no one's faith was shaken by my failure to bring the Light of Jesus back into the world.  After that I always made sure that I carried matches in my pocket when I was acolyte.

I guess it is kind of funny now.

1 comment:

craig said...

I remember being an acolyte during the Good Friday service when this huge man half covered in wet mud came to the front of the sanctuary and sat down right next to me in the acolyte's pew. I didn't say s%*t out loud, but I was thinking it to myself the entire service. it turns out he was on an extended lunch break from a local construction project.