To invite the congregation on a thoughtful Lenten journey, Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, adopted a two-pronged program that sought to harmonize corporate and personal times of reflection and worship and to deepen the congregation’s understanding of the emotions of Passion Week. Our entire Lenten series prepared us for the drama “We Were There.”
The first component involved shaping the worship services for the first five Sundays of Lent around five biblical characters central to Jesus’ life and death. For each week, a symbol for one figure was prominently displayed. Scripture and sermon centered on the character of the week, and the worship planner chose appropriate songs and liturgies. A list of symbols and topics is presented below.
Symbol: Stacked coins (remind us of the price Judas accepted for leading the Pharisees to Jesus)
Topics: Our daily betrayal of Jesus; our portion of guilt in his death; trying to push God in our direction; failing to see God’s big picture for the world.
Week Two—Mary Magdalene
Symbol: Mirror (suggests reflection of our outward versus inward selves, seeing ourselves as Jesus does)
Topics: Dealing with our own demons; seeing ourselves as worthy of love; finding our own voice in the cacophony of the world; listening to Jesus call our name.
Symbol: Basin and white towel (gives a concrete image for publicly and privately “washing our hands”)
Topics; Taking responsibility in a pass-the-buck society; listening to our conscience; drawing conclusions from the answers and silence of God; career, politics, and hand washing.
Week Four—Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Symbol: Strips of linen (used at both birth and death, the strips help us juxtapose Bethlehem and Golgotha)
Topics: The humanity of Jesus; the life of a servant of the Lord; watching a loved one die; questioning God’s control.
Symbol: Rock (represents Peter’s new name from Jesus)
Topics: Denial, defeat, and the great beyond; living up to the name; getting past guilt; working through our character flaws.
Week Six—Palm Sunday
Symbol: Palm branches (to celebrate the kingship of Jesus)
Topics: Jesus reveals himself as the promised King; the unexpected ways God works.
Maundy Thursday/Good Friday
Dramatic Worship Service: We Were There
The second component of our Lenten program encouraged the congregation to anticipate and work through Lent on a personal level. Several weeks prior to Lent, we asked members of the congregation to write a short devotional centering on one of the five chosen characters. We elicited contributions from a large cross-section of the congregation and encouraged them to be creative. We used these contributions to create Lenten devotional booklets, which were distributed the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. The booklets included a devotional and prayer for each weekday, as well as a longer, more family-oriented devotional with questions and hands-on activities for each weekend. Each week’s devotions allowed the congregation to revisit the character of the week through the eyes of their brothers and sisters in Christ. (Copies of this devotional booklet are available for $5.00 from Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church, 1000 Sherman St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506; unformatted text-only copies are available without charge on e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
By drawing us into the sorrow of the crucifixion through the viewpoints of the five characters we focused on, Marla Ehlers’s moving drama We Were There provided a fitting high point for our Lenten journey together and a door to the glory of Easter.