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HOLY WEEK: CONTEMPLATION AND CELEBRATION

April 4, 2020

For Christians, Holy Week is a time for somber contemplation and reflection on the passion of Jesus. The events that unfolded in those days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday were filled with a sense of foreboding. Imagine the angst, the fear, and the insecurity for those closest to Jesus. Perhaps we can begin to understand those days of uncertainty and dread as we live through this time in which we currently find ourselves.

By Friday evening of that week, Jesus had been denied, betrayed, arrested, sentenced, crucified, and buried. His tomb was sealed. To those early followers of Jesus, it looked, for all the world, like their faith and hope had been dashed, crushed beyond recovery. Then came Sunday morning and the resurrection!

The Easter season is a time of sharp contrast. It brings a dichotomy of emotions. The traditional stations of the cross lead us down our own Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrow. According to the Gospel accounts, the feelings of Easter morning were not immediate joy. The first visitors to the tomb of Jesus found the grave empty. It looked like the case of a missing body requiring a Crime Scene Investigation, CSI Jerusalem. Then, emotions shifted to those more appropriate for Halloween. A ghost-like figure began making appearances. It took a while for the disciples to recognize Jesus. Once they did, the celebration began.

Holy Week is a time for music that inspires contemplation. Clare and I enjoy two classical renditions of the passion of Christ by Johann Sebastian Bach. The “Saint John Passion” was composed in 1724 for a Good Friday vespers service. Written in 1727, the “Saint Matthew Passion” is regarded as the most magnificent setting of the passion story in Western music.  “The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross,” an orchestral work by Joseph Haydn, is another favorite. For Easter Sunday, “Messiah” by George Frederic Handel is renowned.

Were I to make a Holy Week playlist, I would include “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” by Isaac Watts, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and the African American spiritual “Were You There?” There are many other cherished old hymns about the cross.

When it comes to Holy Week observance, no faith group does it better than the Moravians. At Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the congregation gathers each evening during Holy Week for scripture reading. On Thursday night, Maundy Thursday, they observe Holy Communion. The congregation gathers at noon on Good Friday for the Gospel readings associated with the crucifixion. That service concludes at 3:00 p.m., the time when the body of Jesus was thought to have been taken down from the cross.

On Friday night, the Moravians gather for their Love Feast, a service of music and silence during which Moravian buns and hot Moravian coffee are served. On Saturday, the people decorate the graves of loved ones in preparation for Easter. The Great Sabbath service is on Saturday night. Then, bands from several Moravian congregations march through the streets playing the music of Easter until dawn. The Easter sunrise service at Home Church attracts thousands of worshippers and is a high point of the church year.

As you might imagine, this year, all these activities have been canceled at Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem. The Rev. Chaz Snider, Chair of Salem Congregation Central Board of Elders, announced that the 248th Easter Sunrise Service will be conducted by live stream only.  The service may be viewed in its entirety from the Home Church sanctuary and will include real time camera shots of God’s Acre, the cemetery just outside the church.  If you wish to participate in the service, please go to http://www.moraviansunrise.org at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, April 12.

Of course, the Easter celebration for many includes good food and a few treats. Moravian sugar cake is a favorite in our family. The potato-based sweet is the perfect addition to an Easter breakfast. We also would recommend traditional hot cross buns. My mama usually made a big strawberry shortcake or a banana pudding for dessert to follow our family Easter diner.   

Easter derives its name from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. In the second century A.D., Christian missionaries sought to convert the tribes of northern Europe. The holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus coincided with pagan springtime celebrations. These feasts also emphasized the triumph of life over death.  Gradually, the Christian observance took the name Easter and absorbed traditional symbols of fertility. Some, like eggs and rabbits, became models for confections to be enjoyed as the season of the Lent comes to an end on Easter Sunday.

A well-filled Easter basket usually overflows with jellybeans, chocolate eggs, marshmallow chickens, and a chocolate rabbit. Sometimes, if the Easter Bunny were conscience-stricken, a book, an educational toy, or even a toothbrush and toothpaste would appear in our children’s Easter baskets. Candy, however, was always the main attraction. 

Standing as a silent sentinel, the chocolate bunny guards the other Easter confections. I learned early on that chocolate hares are not all created equal. Though some are disappointingly hollow, others are products of world-class chocolatiers. For a truly delicious treat, look for a solid dark chocolate rabbit.

Jellybeans are the size of a red kidney bean. They come in a variety of colors and flavors. The interior jelly traces its origin back hundreds of years to a candy called Turkish Delight. The shell is essentially the same as a recipe developed in the late 19th century for Jordan Almond candies.

Jellybeans were created at the beginning of the 20th century. It was not until 1930 that jellybeans, because they looked like miniature eggs, came to be considered an Easter candy.

Just Born, a candy manufacturer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, produces Peeps.  The Just Born Company introduced Peeps in 1953. Peeps are small marshmallow candies shaped like baby chickens, bunnys, or lambs.

When our children were young, among their favorite things to find in their Easter baskets were Cadbury Eggs. An Easter basket was not complete without one or two of the foil-wrapped treats. The taste of a Cadbury Egg is exquisite.  These crème-filled chocolate eggs may seem like pure decadence, but a genuine ethical concern prompted the origin of the confection. 

In Victorian Britain, industrial workers, including mothers and children, spent long days working in dirty, dangerous factories.  Families lived in cramped tenements.  Widespread alcoholism contributed to poverty and domestic violence.  The Salvation Army attacked these problems with soup, soap, and salvation.  John Cadbury and his family took a different approach to social reform.  They used cocoa.

The Cadbury’s belonged to the Society of Friends, the Quakers.  In 1831, John opened a shop in Birmingham, England, selling coffee and tea, as alternatives to alcoholic beverages.  He soon added cocoa. 

Not only did the Cadburys build a state-of-the-art chocolate factory, but they also built a village, enabling their employees to escape the dingy city of Birmingham.  The small community featured cottages with gardens, public parks, swimming pools, shops, schools, and churches.   In keeping with the Cadbury’s convictions about alcohol, there was no pub available.

The Cadbury Company became, not only a successful enterprise but also a sterling example of a corporation making ethical decisions.

This year as we shelter in place, Holy Week will be different for many of us. May I suggest that, for Christians, it be a time of contemplation on the passion of Christ. Make scripture and music a part of your observance. Check out what is available online from your own church.

For all people of faith, pray for those working on the front lines to battle this pandemic, for those who are sick, for those who mourn, and for those who are economically distressed.  Reach out by phone, by mail, or by e-mail to those who are alone.  Support your place of worship financially.

Let this week of social distancing be a time of celebration for all of us. Enjoy staying in touch with those you love even at a distance. Enjoy some good music and some good food. If your diet permits, enjoy a Cadbury Egg, pop a handful of jellybeans, or eat a chocolate rabbit, beginning with the ears.

Here is a scripture verse to ponder. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

I invite you to contemplate and celebrate the goodness of God this Holy Week.

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