Individualism, Worship and Holy Week

For quite some time now, I have felt something of a negative reaction toward what I must recognize as a certain American-style individualism that colors a great deal of our lives as Christians in this country… including our worship. How many times have you been in a corporate worship setting when the worship leader suddenly told everyone to “just forget the person next to you,” as if there were no one in the room except “you and God.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear this, I always think, ‘Then what am I doing here? I could have stayed home and really been alone with the Lord. Why should I come here with all these people and then pretend to be alone?’ What is the point of corporate worship, if it is not to worship with other believers?

And yet, I understand the point that the worship leader is trying to make. He is reminding me that I shouldn’t let my worship of God be inhibited by my consciousness of the presence of other people around me. What is needed, though, is an attitude toward their presence which accentuates my worship. My brothers and sisters and I don’t need to block out each other’s presence but to enjoy it and let it enhance and exponentialize our worship. Sadly, I think, it is our deep-seated, western individualism which leads us to assume that ignoring our co-worshipers is the appropriate thing to do.

Sometimes I see what various local churches are doing, quite in isolation from one another, and I wonder whether I am not seeing this same individualism, just on a slightly larger scale. It’s almost as if these churches have heard some voice saying “just forget the church next to you; it’s just you and God.”

Many years ago, I worked with a man who was full-blooded Native American. One day at lunch, he told several of us about how he had gone fishing over the weekend and saw something rather ridiculous. About fifty feet downstream, there was a white guy standing in the river, wearing some diaper-looking thing and holding a spear, aiming it at the water, evidently hoping to get a fish. My co-worker told us that he took the guy a fishing pole and said, “Here, try this. It works much better.”

Similarly, when I hear of local Christian bodies of the “Community Church” or “Bible Church” variety, doing something liturgical, for example, I get a little embarrassed for them, just like I do for the white-guy wannabe spear-fisherman. What must Catholics or Lutherans or Orthodox Christians think when they see the sign on the local Such-and-Such Community Church inviting any and all comers to join them for a “Vespers” service or something like that?

Here is a church, probably only 10 or 20 years old (maybe fewer), without any official roots or connection to any of the historic church traditions which have brought such worship practices down through the ages. But this fledgling church is presuming to appropriate something like those practices to itself. Can they do it? Sure! But is it just a little silly? It sort of seems so to me.

And yet, to be honest, I too yearn to be involved in a certain amount of liturgical worship without having to attach myself to the official church traditions which have the historic credibility to pull it off. Frankly, I’m not sure quite what to do about that.

I can say, however, that I find it to be a most agreeable turn of events that many of us who come from church backgrounds with somewhat younger origins in church history are enjoying, more and more, the practice of bringing new life to old forms of worship. For example, it is not at all rare these days to hear evangelicals of all stripes mentioning their own personal practice of Lenten fasts. I am concerned about the American-style individualism that is readily apparent in much of this, including much of my own observances of Lent, et al. But I still think it is more a positive than a negative phenomenon.

This leads me to want to share with people what I am planning to do in the next ten days or so. (I am writing this on the Friday before Palm Sunday.) Tossing my own Holy Week plans out onto the internet is hardly a replacement for belonging to a community which leads me in traditional modes of worship, but for now, it’ll have to do.

Last year, on Easter weekend, I was doing some reading, thinking and praying. I thought it would be great to have a special name and observance for each day of Holy Week. I did a little bit of research to see whether that was already being done by any long-standing wings of the church.

I found out that it is actually Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) which goes farthest back in church history and tradition as an official observance. After that came Good Friday, and then Easter. Later, Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday were recognized and given special designations. In some traditions, Wednesday of Holy Week is observed by commemorating Judas’ plot to betray the Lord.

That leaves only Monday and Tuesday. I did a bit more digging, but did not find anything being said about these two days. So at the risk of seeming like some kind of cheesy, emergent-ish, American-style, do-it-yourself pretender at church tradition, I came up with a broad devotional plan for Holy Week.

The following words are mostly copied from entries from my personal journal about this time last year. I wrote them as if I were prescribing ideas for actual church observance, though I have no intention of actually trying to make that happen. I put it here (see below) for anyone who might be interested. And I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts, whether positive or otherwise.

Have a blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week!
May the Lord Jesus Christ be glorified and exalted in your worship and the worship of your church!

Palm Sunday: This is a remembrance of the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, commemorated by songs of Hosanna and focus on Jesus’ identity as the Son of David. The cleansing of the temple might also be observed here.

Hieron Monday & Tuesday: These two days can go together as days to meditate on the Lord’s ministry in the temple (hieron is Greek for “temple”). The faithful can choose to focus each day on some aspect of the time between Palm Sunday and Judas’ plot. This could be something like the Lord’s confounding of His enemies or one of His parables from this time (e.g. the vine-growers), the Greeks who cam seeking Him, or the Olivet Discourse. But in each case, it should be remembered that the Lord is doing these things just before His arrest and death.

Perfidy Wednesday: The title is my idea (see “perfidy” defined), but the observance is traditional. This is a remembrance of the treachery of the Lord’s enemies, most especially the plot of Judas to betray Him. But other foci might be the hatred and plotting of His enemies in the Sanhedrin or the fickleness of the people.

Maundy Thursday: This is, of course, a remembrance of the Lord’s ministry and teaching to the twelve in the upper room. It can be commemorated by ceremonial footwashing and/or a Passover meal. Also, it could end with a remembrance of His time in Gethsemane and His arrest.

Good Friday: A remembrance of our Lord’s suffering, His crucifixion, His shame, His death.

Holy Saturday: A remembrance of the Lord’s entombment and His place among the dead. Old Testament Scriptures on the dread of death and grave would be appropriate meditations.

Easter Sunday: Celebration of the Lord’s return to life and His conquering the grave!


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