Tag Archive | He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

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

 

 

 

Joy in Unexpected Places

Dane County Jail on the top floors of the City-County Building on Martin Luther King Junior Drive in Madison, WI.

One location of the Dane County Jail is on the top floors of the City-County Building in Madison, WI.

The highlight of my day last Thursday came at the end of the women’s worship service in the county jail.  As usual, I had gone to the Dane County Jail in Madison to play the piano for the women’s worship service. But this service was a little different. Instead of a more typical opening hymn, we sang the refrain of the contemporary hymn by Bob Dufford, “Be Not Afraid.” The words are:

Be not afraid
I go before you always.
Come, follow me,
and I will give you rest.

We sang the words quietly, meditatively, three times.

Then we continued with the rest of the service. The chaplain read from the Bible. Each of us shared with the group how the Bible story spoke to us personally. Everyone wrote down prayer requests to give to the chaplain to pray throughout the week.

Hands playing pianoDuring this quiet time I played softly on the piano. I repeated “Be Not Afraid, and then switched to “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Some of the women hummed along. Then we went around the circle and prayed out loud for the person seated on our right. We ended the service by singing “Be Not Afraid” again, but with slightly different words. We sang the refrain three times, but we sang it as a response to God with the words changed to  – I’m not afraid. For the final blessing, we went around the circle in the opposite direction we had prayed, and we each asked for God’s blessing on the person standing to our left.

Then the highlight of the day for me happened. While the chaplain rapped on the window to try to attract the attention of a deputy to unlock the chapel door and escort the women back to their cell blocks, the women stood around talking to each other, and I played the piano again as a free-form postlude. I started with “Be Not Afraid” and then repeated “Jesus Loves Me.” One of the inmates, Linda, sang along from the opposite side of the room. Then I played “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Linda came over to a chair next to the piano, sat down, and sang several verses of the spiritual – I kept playing as long as she could think up verses. Then I asked her what she wanted to sing next. She responded immediately with, “Do you know ‘We’re Marching to Zion?’”

I started to play a few measures of the verse to be sure we were thinking of the same song, and she started to sing the refrain. I jumped ahead to the refrain and she sang it with a strong, beautiful alto voice as I played. After the refrain, she went right ahead with the verses and I followed her lead. We had a joyful time singing and playing together. I was sorry the deputies came so quickly to take the women back to their cells.

Here are the words of the song. We only had time to sing two verses, but I was amazed she knew all the words of the verses she had time to sing.

MARCHING TO ZION

Refrain:
We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion;
we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.

Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known;
join in a song with sweet accord, join in a song with sweet accord
and thus surround the throne, and thus surround the throne.

Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God;
but children of the heavenly King, but children of the heavenly King
may speak their joys abroad, may speak their joys abroad.

The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets
before we reach the heavenly fields, before we reach the heavenly fields,
or walk the golden streets, or walk the golden streets.

Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry;
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
to fairer worlds on high, to fairer worlds on high.

I’m sorry I can’t let you hear what Linda and I sounded like in the jail chapel. But if you want to hear the hymn “We’re Marching to Zion,” you can go to www.youtube.com  and enter the title in the search box. Or, here’s a direct link to a pretty a cappella rendition that I like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgjEaF5O6RI

Whether it’s through music, or in other ways, I hope you have many unexpected joyful moments today – and every day.

 

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