In medieval England there was a unique part of the Good Friday service called “creeping to the cross.” It was a ritual procession that involved approaching the cross barefoot and on your knees. Being on your knees like that, “creeping,” is a physical expression of reverence, of humility, and of slowness.
Reverence, because you’re on your knees, and “bending the knee” is an embodiment of respect. Humility, because the posture puts you down lower. And slowness because WOW it’s hard to go very fast on your knees. In fact, except for the young and the physically fit, crossing a room on your knees is tough (“More like creaking to the cross,” opines the resident church curmudgeon).
It’s exactly the kind of practice that was to be contested in the English Reformation, with predictable arguments marshaled on both sides (the only unpredictable part of the argument was that this particular service couldn’t quite be called Popish because it wasn’t continental; it was apparently a homegrown English tradition). All things considered, while I can imagine it being done properly given the right context and instruction, I’m not exactly in favor of a liturgical service involving devout knee-walking (speaking of predictable).
But as the final days of Holy Week approach, it is important to remember the meaning embodied in creeping to the cross. This is the time for reverence, humility, and slowness. The main ways, and the best ways, to move slowly toward the cross and resurrection are in gathered worship in church services. Special church services like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday bloom at this time of year like, well, lilies and daffodils.
But we also need ways of approaching the cross –reverently, humbly, slowly– in our individual and family lives. This year, two new resources for this have come to my attention.
First is the book The Final Days of Jesus, by Justin Taylor and Andreas Köstenberger, which spends over 200 pages (plus maps & diagrams of key locations) on these seven days, carefully exploring every detail from the gospels. Taylor and Köstenberger establish the chronology as precisely as possible, handle the historical data as objectively as good journalists, and leave nothing unexamined as they go. Because they are working comprehensively through “the most important week of the most important person who ever lived,” they follow a chronology that harmonizes the four gospels, but (unlike most popular-level harmonizing treatments) they do so without obliterating the unique voices of the four evangelists. The theologies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are here, interpreting the meaning of what Jesus did from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.
The book is well written, but somewhat restrained in style. I think I know the reason the authors chose to mute their own authorial personas in this project: this is not so much a book as a tool. When I got a review copy at the beginning of Lent, I spent a few minutes looking through it and then set it aside, thinking, “there’s not much here that I don’t already know; let me think about who the audience might be and see if I should recommend it to them.” But then as soon as Palm Sunday arrived, I found myself rooting through the stack of books to find it. The time had come, and suddenly the tool was appropriate, and I wanted it. I don’t creep to the cross every year because I hope to learn all sorts of new ideas by doing so. Like most Christians, I pretty much know what’s going on with the cross and resurrection. But if you’re going to slow down and creep to the cross appropriately, you need some material, actually quite a bit of material, to work through, to turn over in your mind, to ponder in your heart. Within a few days my wife asked me, “what are we doing this year for Easter week devotions?” because we didn’t have a special plan in place yet. My response: “Get that black book from Crossway, it’s got everything we need in one place” (including, of course, the Scripture passages themselves).
Speaking of “everything in one place,” Taylor’s blog has a series of posts about the days of this week, including good videos featuring interviews with scholars with relevant expertise.
A second resource that came my way this year is a little book in a series called Let Us Keep The Feast: Living the Church Year at Home. The series editor is Jessica Snell, long-time blogger at Homemaking Through the Church Year. The basic idea of the books is, I think, evident in the sub-title: these are guides for what to do in your household during different seasons of the church calendar. They are especially relevant for families of small children (“God’s Toddlers” as they are called once in this book).
The Holy Week & Easter volume is just out, and available in paperback or e-book. So if this sounds like a resource you wish you had, you can either order one for next year or download one right now. The Holy Week half of the book is written by Jennifer Snell (related by marriage to Snell the Editor), and the Easter half is by Lindsay Marshall.
May I proudly point out that all three of these women are graduates of Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute, and that this publication of theirs is, in an exemplary way, Christ-centered and classically-informed? Oh, I may? Why, thank you.
There is a very consistent format for each section, which includes (among other things) a theological and biblical foundation of each season, a description of how the season has been celebrated in church history, ideas for “new traditions” to consider, and reports on how Christians all over the world worship at this time of year. Then comes the really unusual bit: what to cook (actual recipes), ideas “For the Very Young,” and ideas for craft projects and other things to make. Finally comes a remarkably rich section listing all sorts of other resources, including related scripture readings, other readings, musical selections, and prayers.
As with the Taylor & Köstenberger book, this little volume (only about sixty pages) makes more sense if you think of it as the kind of book that is a tool for a specific purpose. You’ll want it to assist you in a particular task, and everything about it is designed to give you the needed equipment and then get out of your way. The publisher, Doulos Resources, has as their slogan “Creating Needful Things in Service to Christ’s Church.” So if you’re needful, here are the things! Let us Keep the Feast strongly presupposes a life context –creeping to the cross– and won’t make much sense out of that context. You won’t want to take this out during the winter and savor its literary qualities, although I’m relieved, nay pleased, nay quite proud to be able to say that these graduates of our Torrey program are good writers, and are using their talents to equip God’s people (including God’s Toddlers).