When you know that a small number of people will attend a worship service, how can you use this as a benefit for spiritual growth for yourself and your congregation? How can intimacy and love, through shared experiences, be fostered within God’s people during lean times? Pastor Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence shares her journey of planning a Maundy Thursday service with low expected attendance.
Gather in Silence
Call to Worship
The grace and peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.
O crucified Jesus,
Son of the Father,
conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
eternal Word of God,
we worship you.
O crucified Jesus,
holy temple of God,
dwelling place of the Most High,
we adore you.
“When Jesus expressed his anguish on the cross with the words of Psalm 22, he highlighted one of the precious facets of the psalms in general, namely, that as songs they uniquely convey the inward depths of the soul, and especially of Christ’s soul. Not only do the psalms help shape our response to God in the trials and joys of life, they also reveal to us something of the inner life of Jesus Christ, glimpses we do not have through the gospels alone.”
(L. Michael Morales, Jesus and the Psalms)
Maundy Thursday (“Maundy” meaning “mandate” or “command”) remembers the time Jesus spent with his disciples in the upper room. It was there that Jesus gave the ultimate example of being a servant as he washed the disciples’ feet:
The sun threw its first gloriously warm beams of the spring season upon the singing birds, busy trucks on the downtown street, a neighborhood band rehearsing somewhere out of view. Children scampered eagerly over the playground across the street as we gathered from our homes, schools, and places of employment.
This service was designed to be a full service of Word and sacrament. It was also designed to allow worshipers to share in the intimacy Jesus experienced with his disciples through foot washing and during the meal in the hours prior to his arrest and crucifixion.
Instead of using our more formal communion setting, we used two long, narrow handmade wooden tables that were placed in the space between the chancel and the front pews on either side of the center aisle. Each table was surrounded with chairs and set with a homespun cloth and baskets of grapes and bread.
Our worship planning team wanted to create a Maundy Thursday worship service that would provide historical and cultural context to Christ’s final hours before his crucifixion and offer an opportunity for the congregation to experience the symbols in a fresh way. I was challenged by our team to develop a vigil with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper as the centerpiece. In preparation, I immersed myself in the Passion narratives, commentaries, and historical accounts.