It surprised me at first; for a moment I had forgotten that we stand when the Stripping of the Church begins, after the last notes of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" are sung, after a stoic benediction has been offered. It's not like Sunday morning when the sunshine or even the gray seeps through the windows. There is no light from outside, it's slowly dimming, and whooshing cars outside are sometimes louder than the contemplating organ. I sat in the last seat in the farthest corner of the sanctuary, pinned in on my right by the great stone column that has been there for nearly ninety years. It felt comforting to touch, steady and cold, but not menacing. A comfort, knowing that this room - that's all it is, really, a large echoing room with saints painted by glass on the windows - has seen so many of these Thursday evening services. One each year. It has seen the long lines of folks trickling up to open their hands for bread and juice that is somehow more. It has heard the recounting, memorized the intonation, the responses, on the night on which he gave himself up for us... And it watched us as we stood, watching the pastors remove their stoles and shroud the golden cross in black veil, making a silence that even cars could not drown.
On Good Friday, we sat.
We sat, in my sanctuary that has known me since birth, and listened to the story, told in snippets by different voices, young and old. Each time, a candle was extinguished. The light lessened. It's almost a comfort, when the light inside joins with the light outside, taking a natural course, dimming with the evening sky. The cross, this one large, human-sized, rough and wooden, was also shrouded, with the shroud pulled tight, as if a body hung underneath. A stick stuck with a sponge propped itself against the cross's base, like a sword or a staff. We sat, and heard the voices grow even more hushed, and then he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit... A lone bell pierced the quiet, it is finished. And we sat in darkness. We breathed in air. We watched the silhouettes, the outlines of friends and community, melded together in this moment. Was it worship? Was it wonder? Was it fear and confusion? Or was it simply being - soaking, straining, waiting? We sat, and suddenly a sliver of light appeared on the altar, just above the cross. Warm light, pink, awash in springtime dusk. Some of us turned around, expecting that someone had opened the back door to prepare for our leaving, but no - it was shut tight. And so we watched the bob of sunlight shine on the wall, blinking down on the desolate cross, savoring the joy of its unexpected arrival.
On Easter Sunday, we rose.