Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Crafting, the Cross, and Holy Week

On the day after Palm Sunday, I made some palm leaf crosses similar to the ones pictured here (I got the pic from Sermon on the Sidewalk blog). I went online and found a great YouTube guide for making them, as I had done last year. 

In the past, I found it to be a good remembrance of Holy Week and its message, as I kept the cross in the car throughout the year. This year, I made the crosses because I had to do something with my hands to calm the emotions I was feeling and to put my thoughts into perspective.

You see, the Palm Sunday service did an unexpected number on me. I don’t know why I say “unexpected” because Palm Sunday usually has a profound effect on me in some way. This year, though, I thought it would be different because I have not been especially attuned to the season until this week. Sometimes the beauty of church liturgy, whatever the season, is that it is there when you want to truly engage, but if you are not up for deep engagement, you can still take part in the rhythm of the service in a lighter, more peripheral manner. I thought this year would be one of those peripheral participations.

The Liturgy Drew Me In

So we processed into the church with palm branches, participated in a liturgical reading of the passion narrative from the Gospel of Matthew,  heard a brief homily, celebrated the Eucharist, and it was all very nice. I didn’t get all emotionally caught up in the rejoicing stage or in the “crucify him!” moment. It was all nice and pat. Then came the closing hymn, “Were You There?”

“Were You There?” has long been a powerful and moving song for me. It is one of those Negro Spirituals that has made its into many hymnals, Catholic and Protestant alike. It was not the first time I have had mixed emotions about Negro Spirituals, often noting their simple beauty that arose from such hardship. 

During Sunday's service, however, I glanced down at the bottom of the page and read the source of the song which was listed as from “Old Plantation Hymns.” The loaded term, plantation, was just too much to keep me on the periphery. I could not help thinking of the hardship inflicted upon the slaves by the plantation owners. I could not help thinking that when the slaves sang, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” they actually were there. They were there in a way that neither the plantation owners then  nor nice church people now  could realize. 

The institution of slavery was oppressing and “crucifying” people, not for our salvation, but so that they could have a bowl of sugar on their table, abundant crops in the field, and money in their coffers. How often does our society still oppress or take advantage of workers just so we can have goods in the market and food on the table? “Sometimes, it causes me to tremble…” 

Craft Time

I had to get still and quiet Sunday night after the service. I couldn’t just shake it off; I had to dwell with it for a while. Then with a new day come Monday, I needed another routine to put me into a productive rhythm. I knew if I let the morning be “craft time” the use of my hands to make things would get me grounded again. 

The other thing that helped my perspective was having just seen the BBC documentary, “How Art Made theWorld.” In one episode, it was pointed out how cultures around the world had used art to come to terms with people’s awareness that we will all face death. Many cultures have incorporated religious art that acknowledges death. One of the things that art can do is to find an object that acknowledges death and at the same tine provides comfort and hope. The Christian cross was given as an example of such a symbol.

So I busied my hands, steadied myself, and practiced an age-old art form whereby I could come to terms with death and celebrate life at the same time. There was also the factor that this was a fun thing to do, like so many projects we did as children. There is still the reality of suffering and death, but a little bit of art can give us courage to live. A day of crafts can give us a steady hand to work for change in the future. 



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