Ho hum, what an interesting time we had of it at Messy Church on Maundy Thursday. Planning was a nightmare: it was the first week of the school holidays - would anyone come? We decided they might, but in smaller numbers. First mistake. We had about a third as many again as our usual numbers - lots of parents who can't usually come because of work, so had thought 'carpe diem' during the holidays for a break and some adult company and free activities and perhaps, just perhaps, to remember with their children that there's more to Easter than chocolate. So the six shepherd's pies had to be expanded to nine, with the help of a swift dash to the nearest supermarket for bread to pad them out.
We had also decided to make our (ahem) liturgy slightly different. After all, Maundy Thursday features the Last Supper which was a meal, so what would happen if we turned our Messy meal into a celebration of what that first holy meal was about? We didn't go into church at all, but held the whole celebration up to and around the tables. We had prepared and practised and had a host at each table: a teenager or adult able to keep things reasonably on track. Those hosts brought with them tablecloths, candles and flowers to make the tables nicer than usual, and they each had a box with a lid, not to be opened until later...
After the crafts, we herded everyone into the garden, armed with palm branches, and acted out Jesus' entry to Jerusalem (alas, sans donkey), shouting hosanna as we stampeded back into the hall. The tables were laid up and the hosts held a very abbreviated Passover-type meal with the three youngest guests at each table asking three questions about the proceedings. Bread was shared, wine (or rather cranberry juice) was shared and shepherd's pie was shared. As the last bit of mash was going down, a narrator from each table read out a simple part of the Good Friday narrative, with each table bringing an object from that story to the centre. These were then carried into the tomb (the somewhat dark disabled loo. I hope we haven't unwittingly created complexes in people's minds about the link between that space and graveyards). A soloist sang 'When I survey' and another kicked off with 'Wait for the Lord' from Taize, both unaccompanied, which brought about instant silence from all ages. A woman from each table went to the 'tomb' and read out her bit about what she saw that first Easter morning, and as news of Jesus' resurrection was announced, the secret boxes were opened and party poppers and balloons were released around the room. We lit the candles on decorated birthday buns (as it was also our seventh birthday) and sang a rejoicing Happy Birthday to each other.
For me, the most thought-provoking part was the juxtaposition of the banal and the sublime. One of the mums on our table commented on the supposedly moving part of the meal that was about Jesus sharing wine with his friends: 'Oooh, this is nice, I've never had cranberry juice before... where does it come from? I'll have to get some of that.' But then, minutes later, she had tears in her eyes at the sight of her four-year-old struggling into the centre of the room carrying a large wooden cross over one shoulder, with her little friend tottering behind her, trying to help carry the other end of this ugly, unwieldy thing on which Jesus was to die.
Problems: the volume needed to make yourself heard, the need for lots of hosts to be prepared rather than just one celebration leader, the fact that we weren't sure how much people had taken in of the story; nor was there a huge opportunity to respond in worship as we usually do: it was participation in a story rather than 'Let's pray now... let's sing now'. There was also the unforeseeable issue that many of the people there had never been before, so weren't sampling a 'typical' Messy Church shape: was that a problem?
The joys: total engagement, curiosity, a sense of 'what's going to happen next?' and everybody of every age being integrated into the story through food, drink, candlelight, sounds and the representatives on 'their' table speaking or carrying items to help tell the story.
It made me very happy and felt good at a deep level: a real sense of a community celebrating its identity together.