First a disclaimer. Not positive about the year but it’s a moot point. This was the way my immediate family and my church family celebrated the days leading up to Easter Sunday in my small town of Rock Valley, Iowa during the 1960’s. Not sure how the First Reformed Church celebrates Holy Week some 50 years later but there’s no doubt much of the world has changed a lot since then, so my home church might have changed some of their Easter traditions too.
My family belonged to one of the larger congregations. I’m trying to remember how many churches we had in our town of about 1,600 at the time, (bigger when counting all the surrounding farmers). One each; Catholic (big congregation and beautiful church right by my house), Methodist, two Lutheran churches (one was about 4 miles south of Rock Valley but the pastor’s son was in my class, so they belonged to our town too) and then the rest of the churches where the Dutch folks worshipped. Netherlands Reformed (the strictest of the bunch, 3 services on Sunday, one in Dutch), Calvin Christian Reformed (the smallest congregation and the one we belonged to when my brother Larry was killed in 1958. They were amazing with my parents), First Christian Reformed (don’t know much about them although the church was only a block away from First Reformed. I think most of their congregation sent their kids to the Christian school) and First Reformed (we all went to public school, and our church was the least strict of the 4, lucky for me). (I think when 2 Reformers got into an argument, one just went off in a huff and started another Reformed Church). My family joined First Reformed in 1960.
The entire town went to one church or another on Sunday mornings. It was expected. Most people revered the Sabbath (although not even being allowed to ride my bike past the swimming pool on Sunday was extreme). Nothing but the swimming pool was open on Sunday. No stores, no restaurants. Christians seemed to be respected, admired, looked up to. Churches were packed, ladies belonged to woman’s groups, choirs, catechism, youth groups, prayer groups. I think Christianity has been in decline since I became an adult. So much change.
For me, these were the years of junior high and high school. I don’t remember it being called “Holy Week” but remember Maundy Thursday services. The church was packed and I vaguely recall the sanctuary was dim/dark through at least part of the service. I was in the youth choir and this might have been a service where our gang sang a couple special numbers. (Keeping the youth somewhat contained behind the pulpit and facing our folks, gulp).
The RCA (Reformed Church of America) served Communion 3 or 4 times a year. (I’ve held onto this belief my whole life-by limiting the number of times this ritual is held has always added to its significance for me). The Maundy Thursday Service was held at night and Communion was served. Significant because Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his Apostles. I wasn’t partaking of Communion during most of these Maundy services because I had not yet made my Profession of Faith (a story for another day). And our church did not dispense Communion by lining up in the center aisle and dipping the bread (signifying the body of Christ) into the cup of wine (really grape juice, which signified Jesus’ blood). The Consistory, made up of Elders and Deacons served the flock. (Elders helped the minister with visitation/policies while Deacons took up the responsibility of the financial needs of the church).
Shiny round silver discs which resembled fancy tire rims were either filled with tiny squares of Wonder bread (crusts removed. I know this because my Mom, being an Elder’s wife had the job of cutting up several loaves of bread for Communion. She was probably in complete agreement with the Reformed Church’s policy in the number of times Communion was served every year. The rest of the tire rims had numerous small openings where minuscule glasses (yes real glass) were filled with grape juice. (Mom got the job of washing and drying those little glasses after Communion too).
These were passed down each long pew, an Elder or Deacon on each end. As a child I was never allowed to even pass the bread held discs, let alone the ones holding the glasses filled with grape juice. This was a very solemn occasion. The organist would quietly play hymns. It actually took quite a few minutes for the whole congregation to be served and no one (absolutely no one) ever partook of the bread or cup before the minister said the litany. Something like, “this is the body of Christ, broken for you. Eat ye, all of it.” After you quietly chewed and swallowed the morsel of bread, our preacher would hold up a cup and say, “the blood of Jesus, shed for you. This do in remembrance of Me. Drink ye, all of it.” (One of my fondest memories is right after everyone drank from their cup. A couple hundred (at least) tiny glasses would clink in unison as everyone placed their glass in the wooden cup holders attached to the pew ahead of you. Hundreds of clinks in unison. I loved that).
We had school on Good Friday. No long Easter weekends for us. Unless you had a note from your parents excusing you because you were attending afternoon Good Friday services. You could miss a half day of school with no repercussions (as if that made a difference, not for me). Big decision for teens, I usually opted for church. The service was about an hour and you were done with the rest of the afternoon free. I don’t think there was any special churchy thing on Saturday but Easter Sunday was huge.
Easter sunrise service held at the crack of dawn. Think I slept-walked through most of it (I could attend sunrise service with some of my friends). But I was always there and amazed how beautiful an Iowa sunrise really was. I think this service was held outside. The ladies of the church made a huge breakfast feast which was served in our church basement after sunrise service. Long tables lined up everywhere. It was wonderful. I believe most of the townies went back home for a bit before our 9:30 Easter service. Might have changed clothes too. I always had a new special outfit for our Easter service.
The best part of Easter services? Anyone familiar with me knows. It was the hymns. The old hymns we sang in unison. Say what you want about Advent (Away in a Manger, Silent Night) there’s nothing in this world that measures up to the hymns explaining the love and ultimate sacrifice that Jesus suffered to save us from our sins.
I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today. I know that He is living, whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer, and just the time I need Him, He’s always near.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me & talks with me, along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart. You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.
Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior, waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord.
Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph ‘ore His foes.
He arose the victor from the dark domain, and He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose, He arose, Hallelujah, Christ arose.
On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, til my trophies at last I lay down.
I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown…