Experience the story

Published 11:15 am Friday, March 26, 2010

In the very middle of my kindergarten year in school, our family moved to a different city. I have told you about the great kindergarten teacher I had — the one who made me feel welcomed by having the other children share parts of their Christmas paper chains with me.

But, as wonderful as the teacher was, I still found it difficult to be accepted as a member of the class. There wasn’t anything in particular that the class members did or did not do, but it took a long time to feel like I was one of them. I didn’t know the stories everyone else knew. The class members’ favorite toys were unfamiliar to me. There seemed to be an invisible barrier between my life experience and theirs. I seemed to be out of step in the group routine.

I did not like these feelings of separateness and non-belonging and not knowing.

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I suspect that many of us and many of our neighbors may share those same feelings in the next 10 days. This is the beginning of Holy Week. On Sunday, most congregations will celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with a palm branch parade. Some congregations may have services each and every day. Most will commemorate Jesus’ last supper with his disciples on Maundy Thursday. Good Friday observances vary in style, but all remember the trial and crucifixion of Christ. A Saturday vigil may precede the Easter Sunday explosion of color and music and joy.

I see a lot of parishioners on Easter Sunday. Many have not been inside our sanctuaries since this time last year. Don’t get me wrong — I love to see these people in worship! But I think one of the reasons they won’t come again until this time next year is that they share the same phenomenon I experienced in kindergarten. There is nothing in particular that the other church members will or will not do to suggest the occasional parishioners are not welcome. The occasional ones simply do not know the story everyone else seems to know. The relics and prayers and responsive music are all unfamiliar to them. There is an invisible barrier between their life and the experience of the people who are more frequently in worship. They don’t know the rhythm of the worship hour of the church year.

I suspect the occasional worshipers do not like those feelings of disconnection any more than I did.

This Holy Week brings us the most important few days in the lives of Christians. These days define who we are — what our hopes our, what our faith is based upon, who our heroes are and what challenges we each face. Ours is a complex story featuring a variety of characters struggling with their own identities and loyalties. It takes some time, and study, and prayer, and singing to fully appreciate the amazing power of the whole picture. To skip any of the services in this next week will leave infrequent worshipers struggling.

Please, please take time this year to experience the whole story — the joys, the betrayals, the questions, the insecurities, the courage, the failings, the absolute triumph. Go to church.

Cherie Daniel is the pastor for Freeborn Congregational United Church of Christ, Alden United Methodist Church and Grace United Methodist Church, Kiester.