We gathered in the courtyard outside the First United Methodist Church in Brevard, North Carolina, just about dusk on Good Friday. A throng of children, women, and men made our way to the fellowship hall by candlelight, walking slowly under hanging plants and past palm branches woven into wooden latticework.
Music from a recorder and a mandolin wafted through the hall, occasionally punctuated by a subtle sweep of chimes or a delicate tap on a drum. Tall bamboo plants adorned the edges of the room lit with oil lamps and candles. A panorama of the Holy Land was projected on one wall.
I had come to this "Early Christian Meal" somewhat reluctantly. But my doubts about how meaningful it could be immediately vanishedmy senses alivened by the simple beauty of the room, the subtlety of the music, and the pleasing aroma of the food.
At the center of each table were a chalice and a plate holding pita bread. Servers, dressed in understated fashion as the early followers of Jesus might have been, brought food in abundanceplatters of baked fish, dishes of rice and vegetables, bowls of freshly sliced fruit. We were invited to imagine ourselves in the home of Joseph of Arimathea just hours after the crucifixion, to converse as the followers of Jesus might have when death seemed to have claimed the life of their beloved leader.
After the meal, seven church members scattered among the crowd rose in turn to offer their Good Friday reflections. The depth and richness of the words they shared were the result of a compelling process in which they had been engaged for several weeks.
At the beginning of Lent, Kim Dodson, director of Christian education at the church, gathered the group together. She brought a list of all the biblical characters who had met Jesus, with scriptural references of their encounters. She encouraged each member of the group to spend the following week with the scriptures and return with a choice about which character they would like to portray.
The second week they created the cast. Kim provided books and other research materials, and each member spent the next week learning about their chosen character. When they gathered again, they "started telling each other who they are," said Kim. The primary question they pondered was, What was my character thinking after the crucifixion?
By the fourth week, each member brought a rough draft of the words they wanted to share with the church. They read these to each other and fine-tuned. By the fifth week, final drafts were in hand. By week six, they were rehearsing their presentations.
NICODEMUS pondered grace, while the apostle Philip wrestled with doubt and fear. The boy who offered Jesus the five loaves of bread and two fish reflected on his miracles. Elizabethrecalling the joy she felt three decades before when her son John lept in her womb upon Marys greetingwondered where things had gone wrong, and how both their beloved sons could now be dead under such tragic circumstances.
Jairus young daughter begged her father to tell her again the story of how Jesus had brought her back to life. When he finished, she asked the question that hung heavy in the air throughout the evening: "If Jesus could save me from death, why couldnt he save himself?"
Vickie Collier chose the part of the woman bent with infirmity for 18 years, who was healed by Jesus. "In some way, I felt that her life was mine," Vickie said. "She symbolizes what many people experiencewhether they are bound up by something physical or emotional, something that keeps them from moving forward and experiencing life in a joyful and meaningful way. I felt like I was being someone else and myself at the same time."
Her words were likely true for many in the room that night. Indeed, the power of the crucifixionand the hope of resurrectioncame home in a dramatic way. Said Kim, "In order for the Easter celebration to be really meaningful, we have to do Good Friday well."
We left in silence, moved by words, music, and spirit. What I will remember most is the face of 8-year-old Amanda Pratt. She was sitting across from me during the meal, wide-eyed with wonder and full of questions.
Just before departing, we all shared Communion. Amandas father, Mike, the server at the head of our table, began the passing of bread and cup. They came at last to Amanda, completing the circle. As she broke off a piece of bread and put it into her fathers hands, she said, "This is Jesus body because he loves you." Then she handed him the cup and said, "This is Jesus blood because he died for you."
In the centuries since that first Good Friday marked by weeping, fear, and confusion, some things have become very clear. They are clear evenno, especially, Jesus tells usto the children. May we all remember the mysteries with such wide-eyed wonder.
JOYCE HOLLYDAY, a former Sojourners associate editor and now a contributing editor, writes, leads retreats, and works with survivors of domestic abuse in western North Carolina.