In the second parish I had the privilege to serve as pastor I was more comfortable with experimenting with the liturgy and what better moment to do so than during Holy Week. After all, Latin American Christians are by and large quite intense in our commemorations of the week. And I believe especially so during the Passiontide (that period of Holy Week that begins Maundy Thursday and ends on Holy Saturday’s evening Vigil). Zenaida Manfugás (+) was the pianist for the congregation. She was a well-known pianist in her native country of Cuba and throughout Spain and Italy, who having been exiled to New Jersey, found herself congregating in a small Latin American congregation in Union County, New Jersey.
I shared with Zenaida that for Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday) we would do the “regular stuff”: washing of the feet, communion, a homily, some Passiontide hymns. But there was to be something new (at least new to the congregation). We would do a Tenebrae ritual. I described for Zenaida what I had in mind: once communion was finished with the reading of the lesson of the last supper, I would want her to begin playing a piece that was soft, dark, perhaps even mournful. As she was playing, deacons would clear the communion table, including the vestments, while an assisting pastor and I would take down all vestments in the chancel. Everything was going to be taken out through the center aisle. The last thing to be taken out would be the brass cross on the communion table, while one deacon would remain behind to blow out the Christ candle. Zenaida told me that she knew exactly what she was going to play.
As I expected, the image of all color and light being removed from the chancel, even as the lights in the sanctuary were being dimmed, was strong, even heavy. But the sound… when Zenaida started playing I shook. Her selection: Chopin’s Marche Funèbre in his Sonata No. 2. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHZHy2B6MCc&t=1038s, interpreted by Ivo Pogorelich) When Zenaida ended her interpretation I allowed the silence to fill the room and sent the congregation forth to journey in the Passiontide. For there is an end to that journey, but it is a journey the Church must take.
These many years later I still remember how my heart shook at the sound of Zenaida’s interpretation of Chopin combined with the sight of dimmed lights and exiting colors. It reminds me that the Christian story of joy, hope, and salvation is one also of passion and suffering, a storied journey that is also full of witness of the ever-presence of God even in the darkest of life’s moments.
Today, as we gather with the Church throughout the world to remember the story of how the Passion of our Lord began – a meal among friends, and the betrayal of one of the closest of friends – let us resist the temptation to avoid the journey. The passion will inevitably lead us to Golgotha, with the somber sounds of darkness and the seeming extinguishing of the Christ. And although we know that the story does not end there, this might be one of those instances where the purpose of the journey is not the destination, but the journey itself – a journey with Jesus and with those for whom he gave himself.
Rev. Dr. Amaury Tañón-Santos is a minister member-at-large of Albany Presbytery. He serves the Church as the Synod Networker, for the Synod of the Northeast (the regional community of Presbyterians in the New Englands, New Jersey and New York).