Tag Archive | county jail

Observing Holy Week – Jail Style

City-County Bldg 2Last Thursday I participated in the women’s worship service at the county jail. I’ll be doing the same thing again this Thursday, Maundy Thursday. Women inmates have the opportunity to go to worship once every other week. The women from half the cell blocks are given the opportunity one week, the other half the next week. Last week four inmates chose to come to the worship service. With the chaplain and me, six of us sat in chairs arranged in a close circle with a small table in the center that served as the altar.

We observed all of Holy Week in about an hour. We started with one woman reading the story of Palm Sunday, of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Then we jumped ahead to Maundy Thursday. The chaplain explained the two key events that happened that evening – Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and Jesus sharing bread and wine with his disciples – the first Last Supper. That was a natural lead-in for us to share communion with each other.

potters crackersUsually in the past when we’ve shared communion, the chaplain has provided elements that are commonly available in jail – saltine crackers and a plastic cup of grape juice from the canteen. But this time, she brought something special – Cranberry Graham organic artisan crackers from Potter’s Crackers and organic grape juice. The chaplain had picked up the gourmet crackers and organic juice at the Willy Street Co-op.

The chaplain explained what communion represents in her faith tradition and asked each of us to explain what communion means to us. Then the chaplain held the basket of crackers and the cup of grape juice and offered “the Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing” to the inmate sitting at her right. The woman picked up a cracker from the basket and dipped it in the grape juice. As she ate it, we all smiled as she crunched and ate the cracker. The crackers were really crunchy, but oh so tasty. Then the first inmate held the basket and cup, and offered the crackers and grape juice to the woman sitting at her right. We kept smiling while we waited for her to finish eating her crunchy cracker.  Then she offered the holy meal to the next person, and so on until all of us had been served.  I’m glad there were just six of us sitting in the circle so we could truly savor this moment of holy crunching and sharing.

When all had been served, we ended the meal by singing a hymn, just like the original disciples at the first Last Supper. The hymn we sang was “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” I wonder what hymn Jesus and the disciples sang.

Hands playing pianoSince we were trying to observe all of Holy Week in that one worship service, we read more Scripture and talked briefly about the crucifixion and resurrection. Then, as usual, we went around the circle with each of us talking about what was on our minds related to the readings or other thoughts. All four of the women were thinking about being released from jail. One woman was going to be released the next day, and she was really anxious to see her little boy again, and her boyfriend. The three others were going to be released within a couple weeks. All four women were concerned about being able to turn their life around so that they would never have to return to jail, and so that they could live a good, meaningful life. Then we prayed for each other out loud. We went around the circle again, praying for the person on our right, by name. After praying, we sang “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” We ended the service by reading a blessing as a benediction.

A prison cell doorWhile we were waiting for a deputy to come to escort the inmates back to their cell block, one of the women asked if I knew how to play the song “This Little Light of Mine.” I started to play the tune and she sang along. Then we all sang “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Both songs seemed quite meaningful for young women about to be released from jail, and about to go back to the rest of their lives.

I left jail that day thinking about lots of things –

  • What kind of bread did Jesus share with his disciples in the first Last Supper? Was it really crunchy and flavorful? Do church worship committees think seriously about the kind of bread they serve for communion – and what that could symbolize on multiple levels?
  • What hymn did the disciples sing before leaving the meal? I can’t believe that I never noticed before that it says in Mark 14:26 that they sang a hymn! That gives me a new perspective to keep in mind when I select music to play as background music during communion in the churches where I play organ.
  • How will God take care of each of these women as they return to their lives outside of jail? After all, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
  • Why do I feel so thankful and invigorated by the prayer the inmate sitting on my left had prayed for me and my family? And, do all the inmates and the chaplain feel the same way when someone prays for them by name? I bet all people (or almost all) are inspired when they know that someone is specifically praying for them…

I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to get together with these women to read scripture, share communion, express thoughts and feelings, sing hymns, and pray together. I need to write up a note about this to drop in my Gratitude Jar.

Gratitude Jar w note 4

 

 

 

Do This in Remembrance of Me

Mint-CandyI think I was four years old the first time I wondered about what was going on in church when my mom and dad left Danny and me in the pew with strict instructions to “sit still” while they walked up to the front of the church in an orderly line with all the other adults. I tried to see what was going on up front, but we were sitting in the back pew, and I really couldn’t see anything except the heads of all the people in front of me. In a couple minutes my mom and dad came back and my mom gave me a few of those little pink and green and yellow pillow mints – the kind you used to get at weddings. Oh, that was it – they went forward to get some candy, and my mom brought some back for Danny and me.

That’s my earliest memory of what “Holy Communion” was all about. Communion didn’t happen very often in our church back then – maybe three or four times a year. It took me a while to learn that “communion” was about something other than getting candy, but I eventually caught on, especially when my mom stopped bringing back those pillow mints, and she looked for whatever candy she could find in her purse to reward me for “sitting still.”

When I was a kid, we didn’t take communion until we were confirmed, which was in eighth grade. By that time we had learned that communion was a time to remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, a time to remember how much Jesus loved us.

One of the most memorable times I took communion was when I was in high school. I was with a group of ten kids and a youth pastor (my brother-in-law) in Mexico at the jungle base of the Wycliffe Bible Translators Missionary Training Camp. We were on a week-long trip to learn about all the different kinds of jobs missionaries held. We happened to be at the jungle base on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. For our communion service we sat on stumps in a small clearing in the thick jungle growth. For the bread and wine we had tostados and grape Kool-Aid. It was a very moving experience. I thought about God’s love for all people, including people all around the world, some who lived in the jungle and didn’t even have a written language – which meant they had no way of reading the Bible, or anything else. What was God like for them?

More recently, I’ve been thinking about communion from a little different perspective. For the past thirteen years I’ve been a church organist. In the Presbyterian church, we had communion once a month. In the two Lutheran churches where I play now, we have communion every Sunday. Usually I’m “working” (playing the organ) during communion, and the main thing on my mind is: How can the music I play prompt people in the congregation to think about how much God loves them? Sometimes it’s by trying to set the right tone and tempo for a reflective hymn that the congregation is singing. Sometimes it’s by playing an old familiar hymn that has words that might bring Jesus’ love and suffering to mind.

holy-communionThis Thursday is Maundy Thursday, the day we commemorate the original “Last Supper.” I’ll be “working” double duty that day. I’ll play the piano for the women’s worship service at the county jail in the afternoon, and I’ll play the organ for the Maundy Thursday service at East Koshkonong Lutheran Church in the evening. I’m looking forward to both services. This is my first year playing at East, so I don’t know quite what the service will be like, although I expect it will follow the traditional Lutheran liturgy fairly closely.

I know what to expect for the service in jail. Based on my experience the last couple years, I expect the service will be quite informal and very meaningful for everyone involved. There will probably be about ten of us sitting on wooden chairs arranged in a circle in the jail chapel. After the chaplain explains what communion signifies, she may invite us to share with the group what communion means to each of us personally. After this time of sharing, the chaplain will bless the bread and “wine” (grape juice); we will pass the cup and bread around the circle; and we will offer communion to each other. As the inmate sitting next to me holds the bread and cup for me, she may say, “The body of Christ, given for you; and the blood of Christ, shed for you” – or something similar. I will pick up a small piece of bread, dip it in the cup of juice, and eat it. Then I’ll take the bread and cup and hold them for the inmate sitting on the other side of me and offer the bread and “wine” to her. The process will continue until everyone has offered and received communion. Then I’ll go back to the piano and we’ll sing a hymn.

Of all the weeks of the year, this is the one to especially remember how much God loves us. Jesus gave us an important tip when he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The important thing that happens whenever we take communion is that we are prompted to remember how much God loves us – even more than my mom loved me when she showed her love by giving me pink and green and yellow pillow mints.