On Wednesday afternoons, I spend the 40 most enjoyable minutes of my week and also the 40 most exhausting minutes of my week. That’s when I work with a group of teens who are interested in developing their worship leadership skills.
I teach them to read scripture with meaning, to lead the congregation in prayer, to handle themselves in front of a group, to breathe properly, and especially to recognize how important their presence and ministry is to the life of the congregation.
On Palm Sunday, this group and I will read the Passion story found in the Gospel of Mark, scene by scene, with congregational singing between each scene. Some readers will rotate as narrators, I will read the lines where Jesus speaks, and others will take the rest of the individual parts. When there is a crowd response, all of them will speak.
We started rehearsals a couple of weeks ago. First, we read a scene together, and then stop so they can ask questions about any words that don’t make sense to them and also about the story itself.
These youth have varying church backgrounds—some have been in worship and Sunday school for years, others make it only sporadically, but none, despite our best efforts, really know very much about the Bible or the essence of Christian faith or the life of Jesus. They know enough to parrot the basics, but have little in-depth knowledge. Not surprising for a group of 13-16 year olds growing up in our information age where there is little community or family emphasis on learning the Bible.
Last night, we were in the midst of the scene of Jesus’ trial before Pilate and the subsequent abuse he received at the hands of the guards. As we walked through the text, they began reading more slowly and with more concern. Having them speak the parts of the crowd, “Hand him over to death!” sobered them.
Frankly, they were shocked. A story that had been peripheral to them suddenly became all too real. The amount of physical pain Jesus suffered left them nearly speechless. One of the girls was in tears.
They had never really seen this before. And we’ve have not yet gotten to the crucifixion scene. I wonder what will happen when we do.
It’s so easy to whitewash the story, to overlay it with symbol and white coverings and ritual and “relevance.” But it is bloody, painful, full of betrayal and blustering and very hard for people today to understand.
Why would anyone willingly undergo this? Why did he not fight back? How could he stand that kind of suffering?
These were the questions that rolled from the youth last night.
I had become too familiar myself with the story. Seeing their shock and dismay, hearing their questions, noticing the tears, also stopped me in my tracks.
Less complex to say “God loves you” and “Make sure you know the general rules of the church” (which I do drill into them), but there is so much more central to our understanding of the saving work of God.
What is this gift of salvation about? How much did it cost? Why should I be a recipient of it? What is expected of me as one who has received this gift? Why, why, why was this necessary? Was not
there an easier, better way?
I look forward to these next several weeks of rehearsal and to what will happen on Palm Sunday as they step forward to lead in worship that day. Lord willing, what they have learned and internalized will make its way into the lives of the listeners, who, perhaps, have also become too familiar with the story and need to remember again the impact of what happened over 2000 years ago.
I ask for your prayers for these brave youth as they step forward boldly into the Passion Week story.