Liturgy and worship were never meant to be confined to the cathedrals and sanctuaries. Liturgy at its best can be performed like a circus or theater – making the Gospel visible as a witness to the world around us. Consider these services that happened in Philadelphia around Good Friday just before Easter.
Hundreds of Christians gathered on Good Friday to remember Jesus, and also to remember Jesus disguised in the “least of these” — those who continue to be tortured, spit on, slapped, insulted, misunderstood… those who ache, bleed, cry, love, forgive, and ask God “have you forsaken me?” The morning started with a slow meditative reading of the passion narrative from the Gospel. We sat still, praying that we would have the courage to follow the way of the cross in a world of the sword. Then, as many Christians do throughout the world, we spent Good Friday remembering the “stations of the cross”, the various stages of Christ’s execution.
But we didn’t keep things inside the walls of cathedrals — we took to the streets. At one gathering, hundreds of us gathered outside one of the most notorious gun stores in the country for selling weapons later traced to violent crimes. On the makeshift stage outside the gun shop, alongside a Pentecostal dance team and a host of collared clergy from all sorts of denominations, there was a giant gun alongside a cross and a coffin. After some songs, testimonies, and preaching, we read aloud the same Scripture we had read in the morning, only this time what stood out was how the heartbroken women went to the tomb with all the perfumes and spices, and found no body there. We heard from women who had lost their children from gunshots on the streets of Philadelphia, who wept and prayed that tomorrow “the casket and tomb would be empty”. One of them lost her 18-year-old Harvard bound son to a stray bullet outside a movie theater. We could almost taste the salt in the tears of those childless mothers as they wept, like Mary. [This gun shop was closed down and had it’s license revoked – prayer also works!]
A few miles away, another group of folks gathered on that same Good Friday outside the headquarters of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms contractor. We walked the stations of the cross, one by one, remembering Jesus. And we heard stories of suffering — stories of God’s little ones groaning in the midst of killing, displacement, torture. We heard statistics about weapons manufacturers like the one on whose property we were standing. And again we read the passion narrative. This time as we listened to the words, it seemed that we could almost hear the wailing of women in Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine, women like Mary.
As we approached the final station of the cross, about 20 of us crossed onto the property at Lockheed Martin. We bowed on our knees and began to pray the Lord’s prayer, interrupted by police officers who placed us under arrest. As we stepped into the police van, there was a solemn sense of peace. It was the right place to be. It was a magnificent thing to hear folks honk as they went by. We even had a police officer who had arrested us thank us for our witness and decry the evils of violence and war.
This is what we mean by taking liturgy to the streets. There are hosts of creative liturgical witnesses that happen throughout the year, and all over the world. Consider joining with others and taking liturgy to the streets in your city or town this year.
On this Good Friday — here are two events connecting the violent death of Jesus with the violence of our world
One around the gunshops: www.heedinggodscall.org
And one at Lockeed Martin, world’s largest weapons contractor: www.brandywinepeace.com
IT MIGHT BE FRIDAY… BUT SUNDAY’S COMING.
Shane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, activist, and founding member of the Simple Way. He is one of the compilers of Common Prayer, a new resource to unite people in prayer and action. Shane is also helping develop a network called Friends Without Borders which creates opportunities for folks to come together and work together for justice from around the world. His most recent book is Red Letter Revolution, which he co-authored with Tony Campolo.