When parishioners left Ash Wednesday services at Shades Valley Lutheran Church some 40 days ago, they were given a stark reminder of what the season leading up to Easter is all about.
When they head to church April 6 for Good Friday services, that reminder will truly hit home.
Pastor Dan Dahl gave members of his congregation masonry nails during the Ash Wednesday service, as he has for the past five years he’s been pastor there and as he’s done in several other parishes he served since becoming a minister in 1980.
“The whole idea is you don’t jump from Palm Sunday to Easter,” he said. “You have to go through Good Friday. In order for Christ to rise, He also had to die. It’s a costly grace.”
The nails, Pastor Dan said, represent sin. On Good Friday, parishioners will have the opportunity to hammer the masonry nails into the cross, symbolic of Jesus’ crucifixion some 2,000 years ago.
Gretchen Sexton, a member of the church’s evangelism committee, said the nails are there to serve as a reminder during Lent, the 40 days not including Sundays that lead up to Easter in the Christian church.
“This is a tradition at our church,” Gretchen said. “We have a basket of nails in the church on Ash Wednesday, and when people leave the service they are encouraged to take one and carry it with them during Lent. It’s kind of a reminder — however it works for you.”
According to Christian tradition, the Lenten season is a time of self-reflection and self-discipline. Many observe the period by giving up something.
Gretchen said while self-denial is a reminder of the crucifixion, the Homewood church’s tradition of hammering the nails into a cross on Good Friday is a more concrete way of remembering what the Easter season is all about.
“It’s an interesting process depending on where you are in your life,” she said. “For some people it turns out to be something very meaningful. It’s just very concrete, the act of hammering the nail.”
Pastor Dan said the Good Friday service, even without the hammering of the nails into a cross, is a very moving and emotional service. The addition, though, makes it even more so.
The altar has already been stripped during Maundy Thursday service the day before. At the end of the Good Friday service, after the lights are dimmed, the 8-foot cross is laid down horizontally and secured with gurneys in the middle of the church.
The church is totally silent, Pastor Dan said, and only the banging from the nails being hammered into the wooden cross can be heard.
“It’s just really moving,” Pastor Dan said. “What they’ve been holding onto, the nails, are our sins. That’s what was put on the cross, our sins. This is really a visual to understanding the significance of what Jesus did for us.”
Pastor Dan has carried out the tradition of hammering nails into the cross throughout his ministry, which has moved from mission work in Brazil to churches in Florida and Georgia. He said he wanted to find a way to really demonstrate what occurred on Good Friday.
“I needed a visual,” he said.
He also wanted his parishioners to remember throughout the season of Lent the great sacrifice Christ made.
The nails are only one way Shades Valley Lutheran Church observes Lent.
This year, the church also put together a Lenten devotional. The book contains daily devotionals written by church members. They have also a special Lenten offering to ECLA World Hunger to help provide safe drinking water to communities in Vietnam.