I don’t know if you’re like me. I’ve sat in churches all my life. I’ve stared up at the Crucifix looking for answers, inspiration, meaning. Sometimes I’ve found the thing for which I searched. Other times, my mind wandered and I caught myself wondering how the heck the people who worked at the churches ever got the Crucifix up on the wall in the first place, let alone how the drapes that appear at the Lent and Easter seasons were placed there.
Now I know.
For the past few years I have been in charge of Environment at our small Catholic Church in rural north Florida. The Environment Committee is not in charge of promoting efforts to protect and respect the natural environment of our fragile planet, although this is not a bad idea. The committee’s responsibility is to provide an environment inside the church for prayerful reflection appropriate to the liturgical season. I had little idea of what I was being asked to do when I said yes to the job, but it’s been immensely challenging and fulfilling.
For the first few years, I had a woman on my committee whose husband had a very tall ladder and a truck to transport it. Her husband draped the Cross at Easter time. It always involved a lot of tweaking to get it just right. It was frustrating and scary watching someone so high up on a ladder, leaning over to pull fabric so that it would fold and hang just so. That couple moved away last year, and with them, their ladder.
So, last Saturday I was faced with putting the new white drape on the Cross for Easter. My new assistant has a history of neck problems, and I didn’t want her craning her neck trying to help me get the drape up, so I arrived at church early to tackle my mission of preparing the church for the Easter Vigil. I was armed with two long poles – one of them a tool designed to change light bulbs on very high ceilings. While I was working, the light bulb changing tool broke off the end of that pole. Twice I was able to get one side of the drape hooked onto one end of the side pieces of the Cross, but when I started working on the opposite side, it fell down. I needed something to hold the weight of the 10 yard piece of fabric while I was trying to place it. “Help me out here, God,” I asked aloud in the quiet of the empty church.
It was then I got the idea to let Jesus hold the weight of the drape so I could work with one side at a time.
So, here’s the picture. We’ve just celebrated Good Friday the night before. Jesus has been beaten and bloodied and crucified for our sins, and I’m asking him to hold the weight of this drape for me so I can place it upon His Cross to signal to everyone who will come into the church later that evening and the next morning that He is risen. The nature of the literal and figurative request is not lost on me. But, it seemed like a good idea. So I placed the center point of the fabric on the end of one of the poles and lifted it up over Jesus’s head and rested it on the back of his neck. I then took the mid-point of the right hand side of that half of the material and draped it over the right end of the Cross’s side piece. With that in place, I did the same thing on the left side. When I stepped back to look at it, the drape hung down lower on the left. When I tried to lift it up, some of the fabric got caught up under the INRI sign that hangs above Jesus’s head. I had a few minutes of frustration trying to get that unstuck. I tried to then lift the fabric from behind Jesus’s neck to hang down in front, but I realized it just wasn’t going to happen on that day. So, I left it and moved on to decorating the rest of the church.
In front of the Altar is a fountain with flowing water that gently trickles during the Mass. It signifies the living water that Christ baptizes us with, giving us a rebirth through Him. The palms that flank the fountain remind us of Jesus’s triumphal reception into Jerusalem just one week prior, a triumph that would turn into tragedy within four short days. The Easter lilies, nestled among the palms trumpet the Good News that Christ has risen, as prophesied many centuries past. All the plants are draped in white, which symbolizes the purity of being washed clean by Jesus’s Passion, Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection. All the symbolism is there. But what spoke to me most was the drape across the Crucifix. It’s not perfect. One side is hanging lower than the other, but I know how it got there.
I put it there, but I didn’t do it by myself.