Take Me to Church 4/18/19: And It Was Night

holy thursday
From top left: Gabriel Alenius on Unsplash; Roberta Sorge on Unsplash; Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

With Easter coming so late this year, Holy Thursday falls well after the return to Daylight Savings Time, and so the service tonight began in sunlight, with birdsong outside the door that opens onto the small courtyard where the infamous palm-burnings have transpired. You could hear them singing as Sean played the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite in D Minor. His playing is emotive and intimate—I don’t think I’ll ever forget hearing him playing Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im spiegel last year—and the trilling birds over it began Holy Thursday with a layer of irony: the innocence of the smaller creatures of God not unlike that of the disciples who can’t begin to imagine what’s about to happen next as they eat the Passover meal with Jesus, who certainly can. John, leaning on Jesus’s bosom; Peter, ruining the moment—they know something is off, but they can’t predict just how bad things will get.

We know the whole story now, of course. Still, the end of Lent finds us, or at least finds me, tired and at the end of our imaginations. As Kirsten, one of our community ministers, said tonight, “We look with weary eyes and walk with worn-down feet to an uncertain finish line.” If Jesus is lifted up, or when? Depends which Bible you ask.

It helps at a moment like this to ground ourselves in something simple: the birdsong or the cello, the bread or the wine. We broke the matzoh into more manageable chunks; we decanted the wine into our compostable cups and gave the solemn toast. Donna said, “Thanks to you, o Lord, for letting us remember you.”

I usually stay after the service, after we’ve stripped the tables and blown out the candles, to help to clean up and wash the dishes. I stacked and put away the baskets that held the matzoh and washed the decanters in the semi-darkness, after most everyone else had left.

When Jesus has identified Judas, Judas leaves, to tip off the authorities, and when he does, the writer of John concludes: “And it was night.” We leave Holy Thursday in the dark, to go into the deeper dark of Good Friday, to look for the still-uncertain light of Easter.

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