Storytelling is a universal phenomenon playing a significant and revered role in all cultures before our modern western age. Through the passing on of stories, history was learned and remembered, children were educated, truths were passed on, and hope was given. Listeners learned about good and evil, about perseverance in the face of all kinds of trials, and that ultimately good wins over evil. Many stories portrayed a simple dichotomy of good versus evil, but more complex stories showed that most of the world had a propensity for either, and it was up to us to choose to do right.
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As we prepare for Holy Week, I am struck by the increasing challenge of exploring the profound meaning of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection in a community with relatively little knowledge of the Bible. What advice do you have for retooling our approaches to worship in light of biblical illiteracy?
This service was originally planned in 2016 for the first-ever Ash Wednesday service at CrossPoint Christian Reformed Church of Brampton, Ontario. I planned it with Scott Post—then CrossPoint’s youth pastor—and a young member of the congregation. In 2019 I amended and adapted the original service for our context at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Brampton, a congregation that hadn’t observed Ash Wednesday for many years.
Years ago during Lent at my former congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I structured a series of Lenten sermons around Merold Westphal’s then-new book Suspicion & Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism (Fordham University Press, 1998). In the book, Westphal profiled three of the most prominent atheists in the modern era: Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche.
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was developed by the King’s College, Cambridge, in 1918 and has been the annual Christmas Eve service held in King’s College Chapel ever since. Its stunning beauty, simplicity, and opportunity for congregational participation has made it a popular service implemented by other churches all over the world for the past century.
For Ash Wednesday, the ministry team of Princeton Christian Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan) created an intergenerational event for Ash Wednesday which could also work at any other time during Lent. You will need one plastic egg for each person you expect to attend and can adjust the rest of the supplies accordingly. You will also need at least four readers for the gathering time, a few people for imposition of ashes, three station leaders who read the “Hear It” script, one or two helpers for each station, and three ushers.
Props: two podiums, a large piece of black fabric; a large, sturdy easel; a large canvas with a rainbow penciled so lightly on it that it isn’t visible to the audience; violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red paint; seven paint brushes; a large dropcloth; a small table; a chair; a cot; two violet shawls; indigo fabric the size of a small tablecloth; a small blue vase; two green baskets with handles; enough bookmarks for each person present [bookmarks are made of spring-green paper with “God is making everything new!” printed on them]; a large,
Easter is the most important day in the Christian calendar, and its celebration should focus on the retelling of the resurrection story, the hope Jesus brought to the church, and the love of God toward humankind through Jesus’ selfless sacrifice.