(Special thanks to Paul Adams Photo for the oustanding photography!)
Our annual Maundy Thursday Family Service at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Denver is probably one of the more unique times of worship that I’ve ever been a part of. It is an interactive, multi-sensory, truly intergenerational experience. We started doing it in this format four or five years ago, and it’s quickly become a tradition. Several years ago, God convicted our staff and leadership about our lack of attention to children as full-fledged worshipers. We began a slow but persistent overhaul of how we thought about and engaged children in worship, and the Maundy Thursday Family Service was a part of that process.
We observed how high and formal our Good Friday Service was, and we wanted to be able to allow for a service where our kids would feel less on the outskirts, straining to understand, and more in the inner circle, quite literally. So we devised a more informal worship service that included dinner as a part of the worship service. Dinner…yeah, it’s biblical…and maybe it’s especially appropriate for Maundy Thursday, a day commemorating the happenings in the Upper Room and Christ’s great mandatum (where we get the word “Maundy”): “a new command I give you…love one another.”
As best as we can, with the supplies we have, we transform center court of our multi-purpose center into a replica of what the original Last Supper table might have looked like. The seating most likely would have been a Roman triclinium setup, with a U-shaped table, where those participating would have reclined forward on cushions. We modify this idea, creating a center table on floor-level where, during a portion of the service, the kids come to gather for an interactive teaching time, bringing pillows around the table’s edge, where the kids, while munching, learn about what the Last Supper would have been like and what Communion is all about (the adults end up learning a bit, too.)
With circular dining tables surrounding center court, we create a pretty communal atmosphere. People share a meal that would have (slightly) resembled a typical first century meal: fish, chicken (because fish is scary for some), dates, grapes, bread, and a few slight variations like hummus and cheese. And that’s how the service begins, with people eating, talking, and enjoying one another’s company. We opened the meal in prayer.
This year, as dinner was wrapping up, our ensemble (me on guitar, a percussionist, and a hammered dulcimerist) led some music (Rich Mullins’ “Creed,” to connect communion with the Apostles’ Creed), with the congregation joining in on Matt Redman’s “How Great is Your Faithfulness,” interspersed with amazing, lengthy recitations from three of our kids on God’s faithfulness in Christ through every book of the Bible. The people cheered each kid on, and we were all moved by God’s faithfulness from Genesis through Revelation.
We gathered all the kids around for the table experience, which is always a magical, unforgettable encounter, led by our Director of Student Ministries, Chris Piehl.
Our senior pastor, Brad Strait, then taught briefly on Communion and instituted the elements. As our people came forward to receive the Lord’s Supper, whole families came, and kids not ready to receive Communion were invited to take from a cluster of grapes that one of our youth were holding alongside our elders with the bread and cup.
We played an instrumental version of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” adapted for guitar and recorder, pulling from J. S. Bach’s arrangement along with some of Paul Simon’s variation on the tune in the last verse.
Our music moved into one of our favorite Communion songs at CCPC, “We Will Dance,” a Vineyard song by David Ruis that does a really nice job bringing the festive, eschatological themes of the Eucharist to the fore–lots of longing for the Second Coming and the marriage feast of the Lamb:
Sing a song of celebration, lift up a shout of praise
For the bridegroom is come, the glorious One
And oh, we will look on His face,
We’ll go to a much better place
So dance with all your might
Lift up your hands and clap for joy
For the time’s drawing near
When He will appear
And oh, we will stand by His side
A strong, pure, spotless bride
We will dance on the streets that are golden
The glorious bride and the great Son of Man
And every tribe and tongue and nation
Will join in the song of the Lamb
Words & Music: David Ruis; ©1993 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing
The final part of the service was an interactive time of people grabbing a few inches of chain from the center of their tables, tying red ribbons on them, symbolizing sins that we’re holding, burdens that we’re carrying, and bonds holding us down. Then, while singing “Amazing Grace,” people came to center-court and threw our chains down.
It was a moving experience to hear the chains slamming against the table; it made the freedom of the good news God’s grace through Jesus all the more visceral. After a prayer and the benediction, people left with a strong sense of the “heavy joy” of Maundy Thursday evening.