Tuesday, April 3, 2018

We go to church alone on a Friday

Good Friday at Fresno First Church of the Nazarene, Fresno, California
Fresno First Church of the Nazarene, Fresno, California
The mariachi music coming from the wedding at the house across the street was quite loud, but otherwise, the neighborhood surrounding Fresno First Church of the Nazarene seemed quiet. As we walked into the church lobby, we could hear the music from the outside and also worship music from inside the sanctuary.

The lobby was empty except for the chairs in the comfortable seating area beneath a lovely stained glass window. We looked at the display wall covered with remembrances of the church’s history (including a plaque from May 5, 1985, commemorating the church’s 75th anniversary). We peeked in the sanctuary; no one was inside, but we did see stations set up for a meditative journey.

To our right as we entered the back of the sanctuary, we saw a table covered with votive candles and a sign marking it as the first table, “Preparation.” The Mary and Martha passage from Luke 10 was written on a piece of paper, with encouragement to take time, like Mary did, to slow down and reflect on Jesus, then to light one of the candles. Protestants don’t get nearly as many opportunities to play with fire as Catholics.

Taped arrows on the carpet directed us to the next station, “Reflection,” which contained Scripture about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (The remainder of the stations focused on different days of Holy Week). The “Reflection” station encouraged us to make Jesus King in our lives.

At the next station, “Communion,” we jumped several days ahead in the week, to Maundy (or Covenant Thursday). The table contained pita bread and a cup of grape juice with instructions encouraging us to remember Christ’s sacrifice as we dipped the bread in the cup and ate. The bread was soft and fresh, and the juice was sweet.

A few feet beyond the communion table was a cross, the fourth station, representing that very day, Good Friday. The paper on the lectern next to the cross had the most widely quoted verse from the Bible, John 3:16, along with the following verse as well (“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him”). The paper noted that people in the world are pretty good at condemning others, but that isn’t why Jesus came. The paper encouraged people to write an ongoing struggle or sin on one of the index cards next to the paper, then lay it at the foot of the cross.

While I was standing by the cross at the front of the church, I noticed a woman enter the room with two children. I thought how wonderful for a family to be able to walk the path, going as fast or slow as needed. The children spoke quietly with the woman as they read at each station, then sat and (I assume) prayed silently before moving from one station to the next.

The fifth station was labeled “Quiet” and marked the Saturday of Holy Week when Jesus was left in the tomb. That station’s instructions noted that Jesus died to make a way between God and people, and encouraged people to write the names of those who needed to know Jesus on the paper table covering and to light a candle for them as well.)

The final station was Easter, “He Is Risen.” It was jumping the gun a bit on that Good Friday, but I felt satisfied, knowing that the story ends so well. While I was standing at that station, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” began to play; and I needed to stay for the whole song. It is perhaps my favorite.

When we exited the sanctuary and returned to the lobby, Chris Archer, the church’s pastor, greeted us. We told him how much we appreciated the chance to meditate on work of Christ in this creative fashion. The sanctuary was open from 3:00 pm until 8:00 (we were there between 5:30 & 6:00). Chris said some of the older folks from the church had come when the sanctuary opened; he expected more people to come after work or dinner.

Chris told us he’d been at the church for three years and invited us to return on Easter. Knowing churches, we knew there would be many more people on Sunday, but we appreciated the opportunity to go to church when we could be alone. Because we weren't alone at all.

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