An Easter Pageant for a Pandemic Year

This year, we have done things differently. Worship has been different and there have been surprises.

There are things that have happened in worship that never would have been possible if we had not been forced into online worship for the care of every beloved child of God. Sometimes, different is good. It invites us to dream. It challenges us to imagine what else is possible.

It might even challenge us to take risks.

A pageant might not feel like that much of a risk because our first association is so often the costumes on the sweet cherubs that refuse to stay in the chancel and tell the story of Jesus’ birth. It especially might not feel risky because so many of the pageants I saw online this past Christmas were so wonderful. They had all of the wonder and all of the joy that warms our hearts every other year.

The risk, instead, is in telling the story of death and resurrection in a way that speaks to this moment. It does not feel faithful to leap into the good news of new life when so much has been lost this year. We still need to find space to lament and grieve. We need to honor the liminal space we still find ourselves in waiting for the world to change again.

The risk is inviting households within your church family to tell this story in a way that is meaningful to them.

This Year is a pageant for this pandemic year that encourages creativity and honest storytelling for asynchronous worship. It offers scripted narration that might be shared between two or more narrators and detailed explanation for each of the seven scenes including Last Supper Preparations where Peter has to make a curbside pick-up for provisions and a brief scene where we feel the heaviness of our grief in seeing Mary weep. It is a telling of how hope comes alive in that focuses on that space between death and new life so there is a scene where the disciples are Trapped in an Upper Room. It is familiar to us what their feelings may have been because we have felt that tension build in our closest relationships while in quarantine. My favorite moment might actually be where the tension breaks and the disciples try to do something normal and familiar. They go fishing but there is an invitation to share images and videos of what so-called normal feels like now.

There are other video clips, as we have chosen to call them, where the beloved community can share the wonder and glory of their garden. That was inspired by the church member in my first call that would bring photos of her garden to the church office each week. It is our hope that this isn’t a story that is just told by the youngest in the congregation but an invitation to tell the story in a meaningful way for every age.

There are music suggestions included as the story unfolds from the Gospel of Mark. We chose to include both endings in the gospel telling where there is space for both terror and amazement and space for proclamation of the good news. I love how this script evolved in collaboration with Skyler Keiter-Massefski.

Years ago when Skyler was wee, we sat at their parent’s kitchen counter for one afternoon during Christmas Break and wrote a fresh new pageant for the church I then served as their pastor. Skyler was a determined youth with strong ideas who had just confirmed their baptism the year before. I remember that it wasn’t too much later after that that I wondered aloud if Skyler might consider the ministry.

Now, Skyler is a candidate for the Masters of Divinity at Yale even though I told them to go to my alma mater. They are busy presenting brilliant ideas at the Academy of American Religion and caring for children and youth at the South Amherst Congregational Church where they have already generated enthusiasm and excitement about this script. I am so humbled they said yes to collaboration on this project and so grateful for the wisdom and creativity they shared.

As we were chatting about this project, we didn’t just want to make space for the grief of this past year. We also wanted to provide moments for each congregation to celebrate the ministry that has been done and the ministry that awaits. This Year begins and concludes with opportunities to celebrate and remember. It gives an opportunity to look forward to what hope looks like in this particular place at this particular time as resurrection becomes real again. You can purchase this full and complete script with suggestions for props, costumes and locations here.

I am so excited to share this pageant for this pandemic year and hope it is a blessing to each congregation that chooses to share in its story during Holy Week. As always, dear pastors, I offer it to you this resource for purchase with many prayers for your faithful ministry in this season and beyond.

Ingredients for Worship

Way back when I left my last full time call, nearly five years ago, I established this little home on the internet. I had read a bunch of books about blogging then. The trouble was that my internet home wasn’t what those books had imagined.

There isn’t a whole lot of click bait in worship resources and ministry ideas. I wasn’t going to trend even if I had been consistent with the features I imagined way back when. And I wasn’t. I wanted to write. I imagined a book. I spent hours upon hours writing that book and it was too much to maintain both my writing practice and this internet home.

Most of that book is now written. There is one last chapter to write and a whole bunch more editing to do. I’d spent the very end of last year writing a book proposal. Friends gave me feedback on that proposal and then a worldwide pandemic walloped all of us. The world is not the same as it was. No matter how ready I had been just a week before to send in my proposal, the urgency disappeared. It no longer felt like it mattered.

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This is my quarantine.

I’ve occupied my time in isolation potty training my toddler. I have spent most of the past month staring at my bathroom tile, reading books about poop and dancing around like a maniac when my sweet darling actually peed. Poop is a whole other story. At the same time, my baby girl learned to crawl. She has decided she has places to be.

I haven’t read much nor taken on any projects. I have not written a word outside of a text message but it was in a text chain that I felt a nudge to revive one of the old features. Some of my favorite clergy women were lamenting the fatigue and exhaustion that felt all the more palpable after Easter was over. Somewhere in the middle of Lent, they got locked within their own rooms. Few of them were upper rooms. It happened fast without much preparation. They innovated the crap out of those last few Sundays in one of the most holy seasons in the Christian calendar. They became producers and televangelists. They brought meaning and purpose. They built community in a format that most of their church members have bemoaned before the pandemic hit. And then, they made Easter happen with butterflies and choral anthems. It was amazing to watch. I am truly in awe. Then, Easter was over and all of the hope that this might only last through that Sunday vanished. They are tired. They are grieving.

They have no idea how much longer this will go on. They are, as we are all, hunkered down which another dear friend described really well earlier this week. They don’t know how to temper the expectations of those in their congregations any better than they know how to filter their own feelings. It is so much. It is just so much.

Before Easter, and especially during Holy Week, these amazing women told me that there was a wealth of resources. Artists and musicians were gifting free material to use in worship during those High Holy Days. There was so much good stuff that could be copied and pasted so that they could spend the time figuring out how to do a funeral for the saint that died in isolation at the nursing home or the young man who fell victim to this virus that has upended all of our lives. This broke my heart.

So I’m reviving this old feature so that my colleagues and friends can copy and paste into Zoom and Facebook Live when they are doing so much.

Ingredients for Worship will once again feature prayers following the Revised Common Lectionary. New liturgies will appear each week on Tuesday for the upcoming Sunday starting this coming Tuesday. All of the prayers will focus on this strange new interim season in which we now find ourselves. Themes in these prayers will emphasize change, uncertainty, discernment and discovering who we are and who God is now.

It’s a small thing that I can do and I hope it helps.

I’m praying with you and for you, dear clergy.