Lots and lots of church
Last week, one of my co-workers asked me to join a group for Friday night happy hour at the Tiki Lounge.
“I can’t,” I answered promptly, “It’s Holy Week.”
In response to his quizzical look — What does Holy Week have to do with Friday night happy hour at the Tiki Lounge?? — I answered, “I have to go to lots and lots of church this weekend.”
But that wasn’t really true. I didn’t have to go. I wanted to go.
Holy Week only comes around once a year, and it’s a big deal. I didn’t want to miss it. As a seminary alum, I hang around with a bunch of future ministers, all of whom were also excited about lots and lots of church.
So Friday night, we all crammed into the pews of a tiny chapel in the hills of Berkeley, hugs all around and the warmth of community surrounding us even before the service started.
The evening was a collaboration between a group of different churches, each of which had brought their own gospel choirs to lead a few songs. We’d been clapping, dancing, singing, praising for well over an hour before the preacher even got up to speak.
When she did, she spoke to us of the miracle of healing, the stirring of life that comes in the midst of pain and death. And we, the congregation made up of so many different congregations, were not still, but moved and swayed together with her words, all of us pressing into the goodness that is Good Friday. All of us grieving and rejoicing at once.
And I knew, in that place of raised hands and worshiping hearts, this is why we go to church.
And then Jesus was dead and buried. And we waited. But we didn’t wait passively; we waited with anticipation.
Saturday night, we gathered again, this time in the magnificent St. Gregory’s in San Francisco, and we held vigil for Jesus. In a sanctuary lit only by the candles in our hands, we breathed in incense, read scripture, prayed, and waited.
When it was almost time, we gathered in the church’s rotunda, its ceiling adorned with dozens of dancing saints who waited for us to dance with them. So we did. We danced in a circle around the table, calling the names of other saints to come rejoice with us. Our circle got bigger and we danced around the outside of the church, candles still in hand.
And before going back inside, we cried “Christ is risen!” all together, in as many languages as we could, before opening wide the doors to the church. The rotunda, now blazing with light, welcomed us back in to celebrate. We communed together, we danced more, we spoke blessings upon each other, and then we feasted on ham, asparagus, cheese, and sweet cakes.
And in the arms of friends and strangers, rejoicing after a nighttime vigil, I knew this is why we go to church.
And on the brightness of Sunday morning, it was time for one more celebration. In a sanctuary filled with opening lilies, robed choirs, and bright-eyed children, we sang the familiar Easter hymns and heard the familiar Easter story.
We sat in the balcony, where we were better able to see the brilliantly colored banners reading “Alleluia!” on either side of the altar. Halfway through the familiar words of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” a dancer ran down the center aisle, triumphantly waiving a white flag. And my eyes were suddenly filled with tears.
I was just overwhelmed with the entirety of Easter, with its power and its color and its promise of new life.
This story. This celebration. This tradition.
This is why I go to church.
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What was your experience this Holy Week? What are your Easter traditions? Why do you go to church?