Year C, Holy Week
In Holy Week we celebrate the central story of the Christian faith. All the other stories of the New Testament feed into this story. The Hebrew Scriptures are theologically foundational in understanding the story of Holy Week in light of God’s overarching story of salvation and radical generosity. The best stories to tell during Holy Week are the scriptures stories. The week holds story imagery that perhaps as leaders we have heard time and again – images of eating together, sitting in a garden, around a fire in courtyard and in halls of debate and decision (both Jewish and Roman), struggling up a hill with a heavy load, weeping, blood, brutal execution and finally burial. Someone in your worship services may never have heard these images. Someone may need to hear them in fresh and surprising ways. I urge you to find the best liturgists and readers to communicate them. I urge you to work with readers in a Tenebrae or Easter Vigil service ahead of time to make sure they are familiar with their texts and can express the vivid imagery of the core story of our faith.
I have a story from another tradition for each set of lections listed above in case you are looking for illumination for your own devotions and for your preaching load this week. They hold imagery that connects with one of the texts for each of the major days of Holy Week.
Stories for Holy Week
The Liturgy of the Palms – In last years Palm Sunday blog I suggested a story from Estonia. I am suggesting it again because it continues to move me. It is titled “The Herald of Peace.” A story from the epics of Estonia, it tells of an Estonian king who wants to wage war on Finland and send his four sons out to the corners of Estonia to gather an army. The youngest son is sent to the cities in the north with the official call to arms from the king. Along the way to the first city he encounters a cast of characters that teach him about the horror of war. By the time he reaches the first city he is ready to be rid of his warhorse and his armor. He does not read the proclamation from the king in the city square. Instead riding on a donkey he goes on to the border where he enters Finland as a peasant. To everyone he meets in this new country he gives a greeting of peace and he makes a life for himself as a farmer. The king is never able to gather the army he needs and war is never waged. Instead peace prevails.
This a beautiful and gentle tale that holds the imagery of the servant Messiah and the power of one person’s actions for a realm of peace, which after all, is the Kingdom of God. You can learn it by listening to my storytelling mentor, Robert Bela Wilhelm at http://www.storyfestjourneys.com/tales-from-the-peoples-of/european-tales/baltic-republics/the-herald-of-war-estonia.html.
The Liturgy of Passion – Another story told by Bob Wilhelm is titled “The Nakedness of Brother Ruffino” and comes from the cycle of tales surrounding St. Francis and his brother monks. In this story Brother Ruffino longs to be of service to God in the most humbles and vulnerable of ways. He wants to experience God’s presence through service. Through a conversation with St. Francis he is inspired to strip himself of his clothes and walk through the streets of Assisi to the church to read and preach the Gospel text for the service. People in the church are astounded and Brother Ruffino becomes flustered and falters in his preaching. St. Francis joins him at the pulpit where he too strips himself of his clothes to show his ultimate vulnerability and humility before God. Together they preach from Philippians 2. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 5-8). While the image of the two brothers preaching naked may sound a bit ludicrous, I encourage you to listen to Bob’s telling to fully experience the power of the story. You can find it online at
http://www.storyfestjourneys.com/listen/european-tales/italy/francis-of-assisi–companio/brother-rufinos-nakedness.html. You can also find a written version of the tale in Bob’s IBook, “The Secret of the Heart”, a collection of stories for Lectionary Year C, at IBooks.com.
Maundy Thursday – There is a Cherokee tale I found many years ago in the book, Keepers of the Earth by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac entitled, “The Coming of Grandmother Corn.” You can find it at Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1555913857?keywords=Keeper%20of%20the%20Earth&qid=1457735148&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1 . It is a short version of a longer traditional Cherokee tale. I have told it many times on World Communion Sunday because I find its imagery echoed in the celebration of the eucharist.
The story goes like this:
Once there was an old grandmother who lived high in the wooded mountains with her grandson. They had a happy life. When the boy was old enough his grandmother made him his first bow with arrows and taught him how to hunt. She taught him well, cautioning him to only hurt for food and not for sport. She taught him to use every part of the animal for some useful purpose. The boy grew in his hunting skills and the grandmother was proud.
One day the grandmother said to her grandson as he prepared to go to the hunt, “When you return today we will have a fine feast to celebrate all you have learned for you have become a good hunter and you have learned to provide for your people.” The boy returned that evening with two pheasants and the grandmother prepared them well. She also prepared a new food. A golden colored stew that was warm and filling. It was creamy and went well with the chewy spicy meat of the pheasants. The boy loved its golden color and savory taste. Every evening from that day forward the grandmother prepared this stew for their evening meal. Sometimes she made the creamy substance into little balls and fried them over the fire. They were crunchy on the outside and steamy soft on the inside.
After a time the boy grew curious about what this new food was and where his grandmother got the golden kernels that she ground to make the stew. One day he came home from hunting a bit early and he called out as he entered the clearing in front of their small cabin, “Grandmother, Grandmother, I’m home!” She did not answer as she usually did. He called again, “Grandmother, Grandmother, I’m home!” Still she did not answer. But he heard a strange humming sound coming from the shed behind their cabin. Quietly he moved around the corner of the cabin and approached the shed. He moved as he moved in the forest when he was stalking a deer, silent and slow. Finally he reached the side of the shed that had a window and he lifted his head to see inside. There was his grandmother seated on the floor swaying back and forth. Her eyes were closed and she was humming a low tone. And from her body poured the golden kernels that made the delicious stew. They were pouring into her best basket.
The boy was very frightened! As quietly and quickly as he could he made his way to the front of the cabin and sat on the steps. Was his grandmother a witch? He decided to go to the stream not far from the cabin to gather some water, to splash it on his face, and then return. When he did return he called out again, “Grandmother, Grandmother, I’m home!” There was his grandmother sitting on the steps of the cabin with the basket of golden kernels in her lap. For the first time she looked old and tired. She did not returned his greeting but looked deeply into his eyes. “Grandson, did you see me in the shed?” She knew. Grandmothers always know.
The grandson hung his head and confessed that he did. They were very quiet during dinner that night. After they ate the grandmother went to her bed and lay down. She called her grandson to her and said to him, “Because you know my secret I cannot stay with you in the way we have always lived. By tomorrow morning my spirit will be gone from my body. After that happens I want to go to the clearing on the south side of our cabin and clear that field of rocks, stones, large plants, stumps. Make the soil smooth and easy to use. Then gather my body and pull it back and forth across the soil of the whole field seven times. Then bury me there. Watch and wait all night. In the morning you will see a gift that I give to you so that you may always be able to feed the people.” The grandson started to protest. He apologized for spying on her but the grandmother merely smiled her love at him and closed her eyes.
By morning her spirit had left her body. The grandson obeyed her instructions. He worked hard all day and by the evening he had done everything his grandmother has told him to do. He buried her in the field as the first star came out in the night sky. All night he watched and waited. As the sun rose the next day he looked out across the field. There he saw, in the rows made when he had lovingly pulled his grandmother’s body back and forth across the field, small green plants pushing up out of the soil. (Some say they came from drops of blood shed by the grandmother’s body.) The sun shone on the plants all summer long and the boy made sure they had enough water. They grew tall. As tall as his waist, as tall as his shoulder, taller than his head. They grew long green cones on either side of their tall stalks. Cones that looked like funny ears on the sides of the plant. At the end of each cone – or ear – there was long silky “hair”, yellow not black like his grandmother’s. Still it reminded him of her hair. As he walked through the rows of tall plants and the wind rustled their leaves he heard her whispering to him, “Feed the people.” Finally the time came for him to pick one of those ears. He pulled the long green leaves back and there were the golden kernels that made the delicious stew. The grandson knew that what his grandmother told him had come true. Now he would always be able to feed the people. And that’s the story of “The Coming of Grandmother Corn.”
You can find other versions of this story online. There is one from the book Meditations with the Cherokee by J.T. Garrett at https://books.google.com/books?id=TflkAwAAQBAJ&pg=PT40&dq=grandmother+corn+Cherokee+story&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwil75iO3rnLAhUlmoMKHYN0C7kQ6AEIJjAC#v=onepage&q=grandmother%20corn%20Cherokee%20story&f=false .
Good Friday – As I said above the most important story to tell on Good Friday is the story of the crucifixion from the Gospels. As I was brainstorming the Good Friday service at our church with other ministerial staff I was reminded of a story I first read in Elisa Davy Pearmain’s book, Doorways to the Soul. It is titled, “The Trial of God” and is adapted with permission from the writings of Holocaust survivor, Elie Weisel. The story is based on an experience of Wiesel in the German concentration camps of WW II. Wiesel put his experience in to a play by the same title as this short story.
The Jewish people imprisoned in a certain German concentration camp during WW II decide they must put God on trial. God is accused of failing to protect the Jewish people as God had promised their ancestors. The judges for the trial were three rabbis. They appointed a lawyer for the people and a lawyer for God. Many long days of deliberation were held. In the end, God was found guilty.
As the verdict was read, a great and long silence fell over the people. Finally one person spoke up and asked the rabbis, “What do we do now?”
The only answer the rabbis and the people found plausible in the face of the verdict and the face of the reality of their situation was that they must pray.
You can find this story in the Google books version of Pearmain’s book, Doorways to the Soul at https://books.google.com/books?id=YzdKAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA131&lpg=PA131&dq=The+Trial+of+God+elisa+davy+pearmain&source=bl&ots=94cZOJQM4k&sig=Z1U5iYn7DUNGZO2phmqvOIDsj-4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjmoODo4bnLAhWFloMKHVWhC8kQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=The%20Trial%20of%20God%20elisa%20davy%20pearmain&f=false .
Blessings on you all as you prepare for and enter Holy Week! May you know the presence of the Holy Spirit and be sustained in strength and stamina through all the services,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2016. Commentary and photos may be reprinted with permission only.