Pushing 70, as I am, I doubt I'll ever really get with the whole "Holy Week" program. I spent too many years in a Calvinist (which is to say "contrary") family. "'Holy Week?' Isn't every week holy"? That's my dad.
It's hard for me to imagine that any family could out-pious mine when I was a boy, but he was so thoroughly steeped in old-fashioned, Reformation-era, prejudices about Roman Catholicism that a vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960 was an invitation to the Pope to become President.
This is Holy Week, and supposedly we've been in Lenten lament for weeks already. I know that, but it neither shakes or shapes me. My sturdy religious conscience reminds me that it should these days, but my full-bore Reformation Protestantism still prompts me to roll my eyes.
That being said, I must admit to enjoying the additional Lenten cross at the front of the church, and the bevy of symbols someone scattered about beneath it. Each of them tells a story. There's no wind in the sanctuary, so the rocks aren't there to hold down the cloth; they're symbols, I'm sure. And the cloth isn't just a bed sheet, it's purple purposely--all about royalty. Those wax grapes sit atop a loaf of bread for reasons as obvious as the presence of that wide crown of thorns. I'm not quite so sure about the chain behind it, but I'm willing to bet it's meant to remind me of my Savior being forcibly removed from his all-night prayers in the garden.
The whole display is something of game, but nobody in church plays it against each other. We didn't, one Sunday, when the arrangement went up, turn it into a parlor game. It's up there to make you think--and it works, the way "holy week" is supposed to. I'm doing it right now.
The railroad spikes are horrible, terrifying. I never imagined the nails to be anything but ten-penny, at worst. Those spikes keep railroads in line. That they could be that huge is as hideous, as the thought should be. The lantern I'm not particularly sure of--maybe you know. But Christ shining out in the darkness is and forever shall be the light of the world in Christian iconography.
The colorful porcelain rooster makes me giggle, and it shouldn't. At least I'm smart enough to know not to laugh; there's absolutely nothing funny about the rooster's weird, late-night crowing.
I'm guessing the bundle of sticks behind the cross is meant to be hyssop, the conveyance Roman guards used to bring that sop of sour wine to Christ's lips. I mention it only because I remember the word itself, not because I know much about the plant. I read that hyssop is about as un-exotic as a plant as can be in the Middle East--Great Plains tumbleweed; but it has medicinal, even cleansing attributes.
Two other mentions in the Bible come at powerfully memorable moments: 1) at the original Passover: "And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning'; and 2) in Psalm 51, where King David, broken in pieces by the recognition of his own sin, asks for forgiveness: "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow."
How that attribute of cleanliness translates into its use on Golgatha is something I don't know. But who said we always have to know all the answers?
Hyssop produces colorful flowers, I'm told, and, when it's mature, has woody stems, just like that bundle of sticks behind the cross.
Last week, when it got warm, I cut back last year's ornamental grasses around the yard. We've got an acre, plenty of room to build a huge fire; but the wind was altogether too prairie-like so I stuck them, armful by armful, into the burner out back and clamped down the top once each bunch caught a spark.
Seriously, they exploded into flame, burned hot and super fast, then died just as quickly. Some theologians associate hyssop with the fledgling faith that blows up into flame as hot as anything, but, like justification itself, can burn itself out if it doesn't mature slowly into sanctification. That's what I read. I'm not sure what that has to do with the cross, but hyssop's there in the gospel of John.
Listen to me go on and on. I'm starting to sound like a theologian. And all of that from a random collection of stuff scattered around in front of church, each item telling stories--holy week stories.
Can't believe it myself, and me a Calvinist.