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The weight of Holy Week


What memories shape Holy Week for you?

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – Barry Ensign-George remembers how the square nails sounded at a Good Friday service at a country church in eastern Iowa many years ago.

One by one, the parishioners approached the rough beams that had been fashioned into a cross, reflecting on the sermon they just heard from Ensign-George.

“Does not the story keep pointing out the ways in which we stand in the crowd, suddenly screaming, ‘Crucify him, crucify him’?” he asked them.

Then, in silence, each person dropped their nail into an old bucket as they made their way out into the darkness and fields fading into night.

Thud. Clang. Thud. Clang. 

That repetitive, accumulating sound still moves Ensign-George — reminding him of the desolation and unraveling of Holy Week.

Ensign-George was serving yoked congregations in the East Iowa Presbytery — Springville and Linn Grove Presbyterian churches.

On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the yoked congregations worshiped together.

On Thursday, they began their worship at the Springville church in the sanctuary upstairs. As the story of Jesus’ passion moved to the Upper Room, they moved down to the fellowship hall in the middle of the service, gathering at long tables in a room that held the memory — and the smells — of the many years of church suppers.

There, they celebrated the Lord’s Supper together.

Then on Good Friday at Linn Grove, where Ensign-George had learned there was another way to experience the passing of the peace. Rather than taking just enough time to greet those near them before being called back into the day’s liturgy, at Linn Grove the passing of peace wasn’t over until each person had passed the peace with everyone there.

“They were gregarious,” Ensign-George said. “On Sunday mornings through the time before the service, through the time after the service, they were talking with each other.”

Perhaps that’s why it moves him still, remembering how these yoked congregations journeyed together in Holy Week.

They moved together in worship — which wasn’t normal — downstairs to the fellowship hall, which became their upper room where they were woven together into communion. They were full of talk and questioning about the story of the Last Supper of Jesus where the disciples, when Jesus told them than one of them would betray him, asked, “Surely not I, Lord?”

And on Good Friday, there was silence at a church and in a sanctuary — asking “where was I in the crowd, yelling, ‘Crucify him, crucify him’?” —  that was normally a place of joy and the noise of neighborly welcome.

“Leaving in silence that night, silence which displaced the talking, was painful and shocking,” Ensign-George said.

The service ended with no sending forth, no final hymn, no words of blessing, no charge and benediction. It simply came to a blunt halt, as a story that had meaning now felt disconnected, like a twist of odd, loose ends.

“Disconnection confronting us,” Ensign-George said, “in the silence and the clank and thud of each added nail, there at the cross.”

Until Easter came, when they were woven together again with the right things, in the right places.

Barry Ensign-George serves in the office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Read how these early experiences as a pastor shaped the steps and deep rhythm of Holy Week for Ensign-George here.

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