Search for peace found in worship

Published 12:01 am Friday, March 21, 2008

Sitting in church Thursday evening I was struggling to find the words for this column.

Rarely is there a time when I have nothing to say.

But this week has been a chaotic one. At one moment I was beginning Holy Week like every other one before it with palms and pomp and circumstance. I was home and feeling comfortable.

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Then in the blink of eye, I revisited a part of my childhood that I had not seen in 20 years. On a business trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., I spent some extra time seeing many of my teenage haunts…only, my teenage haunts had changed.

Sharing my thoughts with these images of my past were moments focused on the future and new ideas for the newspaper.

Never mind that the NCAA basketball tournament was starting this week. It appears that I was dealing with my own sort of March madness.

In the span of four days I had one foot in the present and one foot in my past with my head in the future. And all that was a sideshow to the daily routine of work and family.

A Holy Week meant to focus on more spiritual things had suddenly been gobbled up by the mundane chaos of everyday life.

That is where I found myself Thursday evening, as I entered the church sanctuary, only four hours before the deadline for this column.

As the church service began, I was hoping for inspiration and guidance. What I didn’t figure out until later was that what I really was seeking out was a little peace.

I was an adult before I attended a Maundy Thursday service. It wasn’t a regular service at the Carrollton United Methodist Church when I was growing up; neither were Good Friday services.

As a adult, participating in this service at Trinity Epsicopal Church, I often have left it with a sense of peace that I rarely find in my everyday life.

Maundy Thursday is the feast or Holy Day falling on the fourth day of Holy Week, commemorating the last supper of Jesus with the apostles.

In this service several events are celebrated, including the washing of the disciple’s feet by Christ and the institution of the Last Supper.

But it isn’t until the end of the service that I experience that sense of inner peace.

It happens every Maundy Thursday service when the church altar is stripped of all embellishment.

A tradition of many Christian churches, the altar is made bare to signify the beginning of Christ’s death and eventual resurrection.

One by one the shiny brass candlesticks are removed. The pure white altar cloth is whisked away. The cushions, the prayer books and other forms of embellishment are carried away.

All that is left is bare wood, nothing but a simple table.

It takes more than a few minutes to remove all of the fine things that mark our worship. There is a lot of stuff.

It is a little like all of the extra things we pile into our lives. Week by week we fill our days with work, travel and basketball games.

But one by one the embellishments were removed and the lights were turned off Thursday night. All that was left were two candles burning in the darkness and quiet.

Surprisingly, all of the chaos that filled the beginning of my week was replaced with something else — a small sense of peace.

Unlike the rest of the week — spent somewhere between the past, present and future, — this sense of peace seemed timeless and eternal.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at