One of the most unforgettable experiences that Sandy and I have had in our travels is watching the “processions” during Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Spain. These are ancient processions that take place all during Holy Week and move from local parish churches to the main cathedral in the larger cities. They are long parades of young people, women in lovely costumes, hooded penitents (who look like the prototype for the old Ku Klux Klan), bands playing dirges, and in the middle of the assemblage a gruesome statue of the suffering Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and carrying his cross. The second half of the parade is a repeat of the first but the “grand finale” is a massive statue of the Virgin Mother dressed in the finest clothing and bedecked with jewels and being carried on the shoulders of dozens of strong men. For Sandy and me this was a striking display of the devotion still remaining in a rapidly secularized country, and we were very impressed. But for our friends who lived there it was more public spectacle and pride between communities as they competed for prizes to gain bragging rights for the coming year.
Some years back I remember Tim Stiemann, now a pastor in Houston, teaching our kids a song: “I am the church, you are the church; we are the church together.” This is pretty advanced theology. “The church is not a building,” the song says. It’s not an institution, either, and it does not consist in a short list of leaders. It really is all of us, every one, those who feel important and those who don’t. Kids and teenagers too: this stuff applies to you too.
I was both encouraged and challenged by reading a recent article in a theological journal from Covenant Seminary (my alma mater) that insisted that reading and study of the Gospels needed to be paramount in the life of the church. The article is entitled, “Not by Paul Alone: The Importance of the Gospels for Reformed Theology and Discipleship” (Presbyterion, Volume XXXIX, #2, Fall 2013). The author is Michael F. Bird who is a theological professor in Australia.