One of the greatest ways to learn about the manifold expressions of Christianity in Boston is to worship with different denominations and traditions. Shelton and her husband visited six different worship services during Holy Week this year, many of which were promoted through the UniteBoston website. Shelton is a former student at Fuller Theological Seminary and currently works as program director for Boston’s Interfaith Youth Initiative. She describes that these experiences of mourning the death of Christ and celebrating our shared hope witnessed to evidence of God’s New Creation that is springing up all over Boston!
Holy Week 2018 will forever remain an especially important ritual and experience of worship for my husband and me. Just three weeks before, we lost our first child after giving birth preterm. Our daughter Hosanna, meaning, “A shout for joy! A cry for help!”, being embraced by God’s grace and love, rose from this earth. We, her parents, were witnesses of death by sight and of resurrection by faith.
Isn’t this the story of Holy Week? We all cry for help, desperate for salvation to come deliver us. And in Jesus, we shout for joy knowing salvation has come once and for all. It is the now personalized nature of Jesus’ story of death and resurrection that led us to six very different Holy Week services. We craved a taste of what Revelations 7 and 21 describe as the New Creation, a people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshipping God on the throne. We wanted to share a glimpse of our Hosanna’s glorious new life.
Eager to soak up the diverse songs of praise and lament, scripture interpretation, prayer and rituals that so beautifully make up Christ’s Church, we made our plans to drink deeply from the Black Ministerial Alliance’s Seven Last Words service, a house church Good Friday gathering, Stations of the Cross at the JP Pond, an Anglican Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday at our small, multiethnic neighborhood church.
The good news I have to share is the evidence of this New Creation all over Boston! We witnessed components of God’s Beloved Community boldly, creatively and distinctly mourning death and celebrating our shared hope and future with Jesus each in their specific ways. As unity between us comes to fruition, the more we’ll experience the true joy of our salvation and shout “Hosanna! Hosanna! Salvation has truly come!”
Perhaps this Holy Week glimpse into our full unity in heaven has become for us a healing salve from God and from Hosanna. As I expressed before, never had the darkness and suffering of Good Friday, the confusion and grief of Holy Saturday and the resurrection of Easter Sunday mattered more to me. But what preceded and inaugurated these three profound days in my life was my annual favorite liturgical service: Maundy Thursday. Weighted down with an anger I could not name, masking a sorrow I could not bear, I hurriedly made my way through frustrating traffic to the Old South Church’s jazz service, which is held weekly at 6pm. Tight chested and complaining about work-related stress, I loudly tip-toed into the candlelit chapel, silent, yet full somehow, and found that I had time traveled in my spirit to the night Jesus ate with his disciples.
This being only my second time as a visitor to the Old South Church, I did not enter expectantly. And I have found that if I’m able to loosen my grip on expectations as a visitor to another Christian community, I am profoundly reminded how God always shows up where two or three are gathered in His name.
What stood out to me this particular visit was how all five of my senses were exercised and enlivened during the course of this time of worship. The music of the stunning jazz musicians and chorus convicted me to reflect more honestly with God than I had allowed myself to since Hosanna’s passing. The smell of incense and candle smoke attuned my soul to the unseen presence of God filling the room, filling me. The touch and taste of the bread and wine drew me in to physically receive the extravagant grace Jesus offers when it felt my hardened heart might resist forever. The altering of my sight by increasing darkness – each candle blown out as different brothers and sisters read the story of this holy night long ago – demonstrated that my eyes would adjust over time to seeing in the darkness. The feel, sight, taste, smell and sound of my streaming tears freely dripping onto my journal is what I’ll remember most.
Hope and welcome. Weeping and lament. Light and darkness. Shame and forgiveness. Healing and unity. Beauty in pain and chaos. Freedom to be held as I am, where I am. Jesus, arms wide-open.
These are among the words I scribbled in my journal during the time in the Old South Chapel. This precious conversation with God came out of this new and different shared sacred space.
My husband and I continue to walk, sometimes crawl, the long road of healing toward Jesus’ wide-open arms. You might find yourself in a similar place but for different reasons. If so, I invite you to take your imagination with you next time you visit another Christian community in this city to catch a glimpse of the New Creation we so long for, the New Creation Jesus died for, the New Creation where my beautiful daughter now resides, now and forevermore.