Tag Archive | when i survey the wondrous cross

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




The Goose Family Returns

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

Gilbert and Gloria Goose on Whispering Pond

Gregory and Grace, Gilbert and Gloria flew back to our pond last week. I was so happy to see them. It’s an early sign of spring. But it’s also just fun to see our old friends again. I took a few pictures to be able to spread the news that they’re back.

I asked Gloria why they returned so early this year. There’s still ice on the pond. She said, “We wanted to get back in time to be here for Lent.  The Whispering Pond is such a peaceful place to be.”

Gilbert piped in, “I know it’s a little early, but we wanted to be sure to be here in time for the Hymn Sing at Whispering Winds on Sunday afternoon, March 18. Most people don’t think of geese as songbirds, but we really like to sing. We don’t have any sopranos. You need robins and finches for the high notes. But we’ve got lots of strong baritones. Once we catch our breath from our long flight up here, we’re going to start practicing.”

Gregory and Grace Goose approach pond

Gregory and Grace Goose approach pond

Gregory and Grace ambled over to join the conversation. “You know,” Grace said, “most people and even some birds don’t know that the most beautiful music in the world is the music that’s usually sung during Lent. It’s mostly about love.”

Gregory, who prides himself on being the most educated goose in the northern hemisphere, said, “It’s not just romantic love, it’s about God’s love for us and our love for God. Most scholars consider the hymn, ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ to be the greatest hymn in the English language. Next time you sing it, pay close attention to the words. The hymn was considered scandalous when it was written in 1707 because it was so personal.”

“I especially like the last verse,” said Grace.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

“I agree that Isaac Watts wrote a mighty fine hymn 300 years ago,” said Gilbert, “but my favorites are the spirituals. They’re just so much fun to sing. ‘Were You There?’ is probably the most popular spiritual sung during Lent, but my personal favorite is ‘I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,’ only I would change ‘walk’ to ‘fly.’ Actually, I sing that song a lot, any time of the year.  I like all three verses of this song, but the one I sing the most is the third.”

Gilbert walking alone

Gilbert walking alone

When I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me;
When I’m in trouble, Lord, walk with me;
When my head is bowed in sorrow,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

“That’s what I sing when we’re flying into strong headwinds, or when we lose one of our flock. How about you, Gloria? What are your favorite songs to sing during Lent?”

“Oh, I have so many favorites. One of them is ‘Near to the Heart of God.’ I just feel so comforted by God whenever I hear that song. You know, it was written – both the music and words – by Cleland McAfee for his brother and sister-in-law when their two daughters died from diphtheria within 24 hours of each other in 1901.  Listen to the words of the second verse and refrain.”

Whispering Pond - Whispering Winds in background

Whispering Pond - Whispering Winds in background

There is a place of comfort sweet,
near to the heart of God;
a place where we our Savior meet,
near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
sent from the heart of God;
hold us who wait before thee
near to the heart of God.

Gregory jumped into the conversation again. “But don’t forget the classic, ‘O Sacred Head Now Wounded.’ That was written almost a thousand years ago by a monk.  Then think about what Bach did to it by providing that amazing harmony. But back to the words, it’s a sad song, but also a love song. Listen to the words of the third verse.” Gregory sang the verse.

Gregory Singing

Gregory Singing

What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.

Everyone was silent for a moment. Then Gregory added, “I especially love the first and last lines.”

Grace said, “There are so many songs about God’s wonderful love for us and our love for God. I really like to sing Stainer’s ‘God So Loved the World,’ and ‘Beautiful Savior,’ and ‘Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, and … “

Gloria chimed in, “and ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and ‘The Love of God.’ One nice thing about the music we sing during Lent is that we can sing most of it any time of the year. It’s not like Christmas carols that we can only sing in December.”

“Talking about all these songs makes me want to sing,” honked Gilbert. “Let’s start practicing for that hymn sing right now.”

As they started to sing, I walked back into my office, but I left the patio door open. I think I’ll be hearing lots of songs in four-part harmony – like a gospel quartet – over the next few weeks. Maybe I’ll hum along with them when they’re practicing on the pond or flying overhead.

Geese returning to Whispering Pond

Geese returning to Whispering Pond