Friday, June 7, 2013

From Texas to Taizé: Good Friday and Easter in Taizé

Welcome to chapter four on my journey to Taizé with many very cool people from the Central Texas Conference, a pilgrimage led by Bishop Mike Lowry and Rev. Dr. Larry Duggins of the Missional Wisdom Foundation.  For a few words on the worship life, check out chapter 1, for a bit on living in the community, check out chapter 2, for a few words on the worship space itself, see chapter 3.  Here I want to tell you about two very moving rituals at the heart of the community, their services for Good Friday and Easter.

Good Friday

I had read a little bit about Good Friday at Taizé, but I wasn't really prepared for the Holy Spirit to move me the way it did.  I wasn't even sure I was going to participate at first, but I did, and I felt the power of the Holy Spirit that evening unlike any other moment at the community.

Worship started much as all of the evening services had started with the bells, the singing, praying, scripture reading.  As the formal prayers ended, many of the brothers walked out as was their tradition.  A few stayed behind to lead the singing.  As the brothers left there was a mass movement in the congregation - forward down the brothers aisle.  Many of our fellow pilgrims kneeled as the crucifix (the central icon of the church) was brought forward to the front of the center aisle and was laid down, propped up at the corners by stands and a candle was placed near the head of Jesus.  This in and of itself was a stirring sight, and one that happens every Friday at Taizé, as they observe Good Friday every week.

Leanne and I kind of just jumped in with the crowd, not really knowing what to expect.  Many of the Texas group also jumped in with us.  What happened was the least expected thing of all - a pilgrimage.

We both started on our knees, but that soon became very difficult.  We were kind of middle of the pack, with a couple hundred other pilgrims ahead of us.  We couldn't really see what was going on, we just knew something special was happening and we were in it until we finished.  Earlier in the evening, in a truly eye-opening moment we sang "In manus tuas, Pater, commendo spiritum meum." - Into your hands father, I commend my spirit.  Yes, we sang Christ's last word from the cross together.  Initially in Latin.  When I read the English translation, I had to pause singing for a good while.  I mean, how was I worthy to even sing that? But then I realized the call to model those very words of Christ.

So, as we were on our knees, and then our feet so we could continue, that chant sat with me.

After about 30 minutes, people started jumping out of line in front of us.  But still we stood.  The few brothers that had stuck around to lead the singing started moving out themselves after about an hour, leaving behind a few sisters from the local nunnery to continue leading the singing with a keyboard player.  This continued on, as we slowly moved forward.

After about an hour and a half we could finally see what was happening, again, I'd read about this, but didn't know what I was really getting myself into.  At the cross laid on it's back were pilgrims kneeling at the cross, laying their foreheads to the crucifix.  There were six to seven at any given moment, kneeling and praying.  As they would close out their personal prayers, the person would walk away and another would step in to take their place.  I wasn't sure how far I would take this myself - would I actually lay my forehead where hundreds (truly thousands) had before me?  This isn't something you would really see in a United Methodist Church.  Praying to an icon isn't really in the scope of what we do.  And this form of body prayer also isn't the norm in my squared-up Methodist worship mind.

People were still walking out around us.  But after two hours or so of standing and inching forward, we were there.  When it came time to be our turn to kneel at the cross, a friend we had made from America who was in front of us let us cut in so that Leanne and I could kneel together.  As we quickly made our aproach, I knelt with Leanne.  As I was deciding if I was going to go all in, we began singing my favorite chant of Taizé, the words of the criminial on the cross next to Jesus -

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

After hearing that, I had no other choice but to completely submit to what was happening.  I laid my forehead to the cross and I prayed and gave thanks for such an amazing experience.  That Creator, Christ, and Spirit could stir others in such a way to begin this movement called Taizé.

After a minute, we stood and left.  I'm still so thankful for that moment.  Thankful I was there, thankful I ws given the gift of sharing that experience with my wife.


After Good Friday, we know, comes Easter.  Easter at Taizé happens during Evening Prayers on Saturday night, kind of the big finale to the worship week.

For us it came after making a trip to the local town of Cluny, where the second largest cathedral in Europe stood - before it was town down during the French Revolution.  Can you imagine walking into a sanctuary that was 186 meters long from front door to rear of the chancel?  All that was left was two towers of the abbey and a few scattered remains of the massive cathedral.  That itself was a mystical experience, standing in a place where and oppressive and opulent order of monks had their church torn down around them when the people had had enough.  In it's place is now a museum in the remnants.

However, at Taizé, the church is dynamic and growing and new pilgrims come in and out of the place.

The Easter worship service, much like Good Friday started as usual.  Although the energy was a little more electric, as if it was the culmination of a week's work together in prayer and it was time to celebrate.

How do the brothers of Taizé celebrate Easter with their pilgrims?  By candlelight.

As you walk in to worship to pick up your worship guide, all congregants are given a simple taper candle.  At the culmination of worship after prayer, singing, reading of scripture, and silence, the candles are lit.  What is a staple of our Christmas Eve worship here in the states we observed as an Easter celebration, celebrating that the Light of the World was among us - right now.  It was a magical moment, as it is on Christmas Eve, to see all of those candles lit for all of us that were there.  We all lit our own Christ Candles that night. Thanks be to God for these amazing moments.