As we continue on this Lenten journey together, I’ve been thinking about other memorable Lents since I became a pastor. The first Lenten season in which I led worship as Student Pastor was at Zion U.C.C., a rural church in the country four miles south of Bellevue, Ohio. I began there when I was in seminary, full of energy and up for trying new things in the church. The first of these endeavors was to borrow from my mentor the idea for doing an enacted opening Lenten Litany called “Carry in the Cross” with children. We did this at the beginning of each Sunday service in Lent.
And so the first thing I needed was a large wooden cross. Fortunately in this congregation there was a young man named Bob Rine who taught Industrial Arts at a vocational school and was willing to take on the task. As an added blessing, Bob was a farmer on the side, and had access to large beams of silvery, weathered barn wood. He made a beautiful six foot cross which was also very heavy!
At the start of worship each Sunday in Lent, the congregation would sing the same hymn, “Where He Leads Me”. The words of the first verse are: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take my cross and follow, follow me.’ The refrain is: “Where he leads me I will follow, Where he leads me I will follow, Where he leads me I will follow, I’ll go with him all the way.” The following verses are: (2) “I’ll go with him through the garden” (3) “I’ll go with him through the judgment” and (4) “ He will give me grace and glory.”
During the singing of the third verse I’d walk from the front of the church to the back where the children of the church were waiting. We’d lift up that heavy cross together, carrying it horizontally to the Chancel while singing the fourth verse of the hymn. Then we’d carefully set it down on the floor, leaning diagonally across the front of the Communion Table. Week by week we’d add items as I explained their significance. On first Sunday three spikes were driven in, the sound of the loud hammering hurting our ears and our hearts. Next came a crown of thorns, then a purple cloth, a sponge, and a reed.
The feedback from church members was that this turned out to be a very powerful worship experience for those present. Sometimes actions really do speak louder than words! What particularly sticks with me now is the weight of that cross and how we needed each other to be able to carry it. Out of our combined strength, even though it was children and one rather weak woman, (me!) we were able to bear the load and follow Jesus. And so it is today—we need each other to be faithful followers of the one who calls us to follow him, and we have the assurance that in our doing so, “He will give US grace and glory and go with US all the way.”
Lenten Blessing to each of you.
In Christ love.
Pastor Candy Thomas
Christ Congregational United Church of Christ