It is Holy Saturday here in this old house. This is a day that makes many Protestants nervous. In fact, many are nervous such that they don’t hold or attend services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday; they prefer to go straight from Palm Sunday into Easter, skimming over or ignoring completely the betrayal, crucifixion and entombment of Christ. “It is too depressing,” they say. Yet, how do we learn to grieve well as Christians if we don’t practice it as a faith community?

On this day in the Church, we remember that disciples stayed faithful to the Sabbath Law of their day and stayed home. They must have been tempted to make an exception and run to the tomb to finish the hasty burial they gave Jesus as the sun was setting and the Passover was beginning. I would have! But their spiritual discipline practices were strong enough to hold them through that endless day of grief and confusion such that the women saw the miracle of the Resurrection shortly after it had happened.

I wonder what I have missed in life because I was so busy rationalizing why I didn’t need to keep the disciplined practice I was attempting some self-defined “exceptional moment.”

Many theologians teach that we as Christ-followers are living a kind of Holy Saturday existence, that is, we are living in an in-between or “meanwhile” time between Christ’s Ascension and his Second Coming. When I was a child, I always wondered if God was actually dead on this day. Even today, I find it an odd kind of day. The Holy Week fast is still going on but yet, I am making this old house festive for Easter. Also, I will go to the Easter Vigil tonight and hear again the ancient texts and stories of our faith as we light the first fire of Easter and sing the first Alleluias of the Resurrection.

But right now, it is that in-between time of the day here in this old house. It is similar to many other Holy Saturdays here: the eggs are dyed, the hot cross buns are made,and the fixings for  Easter dinner are well under-way. I will also probably take a nap.

This is the day when we remember how Christ rested in the tomb and his exhausted disciples kept the Sabbath. I can’t imagine it was a very refreshing rest for them, though. The question for me today is, can I rest and trust that God is at work in all of the “Good Friday” situations of my life and the world? As I remember the early disciples and conjecture what their Holy Saturday must have been, I confess that I often live in fear and a sense that death is the final word in too many situations and relationships. Too many times, I forget that “Sunday is a-comin’!” This is why I need the lessons of Holy Saturday. I need to remember at least once a year that there is no stone-covered tomb that God cannot blow open from the inside out.

Holy Saturday invites me to live in hope that an Easter dawn continues to rise in all sorts of places that I have consigned to the hopeless dead. God is at work!  “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” (1 Corinthians 15: 55)

1 Peter 3:19

The Harrowing of Hell


This is the day we remember Judas going to the chief priests and scribes, offering to hand Jesus over to them for 30 pieces of silver (translate: not much money). See Matthew 26: 14-16 for the full story.

On this day, we remember Judas’ attempt to “force God’s hand.” By turning Jesus over to the authorities, Judas, a zealot (or radical nationalist in today’s terms), thought he could force Jesus to “come out” and over-throw the Roman empire. Judas wanted God’s Kingdom to come here and now, in his definition of what “here and now” would look like.

When he realized that the political overthrow he was desperate for wasn’t going to happen,that Jesus had not come to end Roman occupation of Israel, he had no “Plan B.
In his myopic view of why Jesus was on earth, Judas had put all his eggs in the political action basket, and now, they were all broken. Unlike Peter who could repent of his betrayal and misunderstanding, Judas, in his pride and narrow focus, saw death as the only  response to the failure of his life’s dreams and work. Hanging himself was the only way out, in his mind, of the destruction of his “house built on the sand” that had collapsed when God worked far differently than Judas expected or demanded.

The question to all of us is: where are we so focused on our idea of how God “should” work? Do we have all our eggs in one basket such that we are blinded to the larger workings of God in the world? Where have we “committed suicide” emotionally or spiritually because God didn’t work in the way we knew was best for him to work in the world?

How might we swallow our pride, take our failed dreams to God, repent as Peter did, find healing and restoration and an even larger purpose and role in God’s Kingdom?

It is the eve of Holy Week here in this old house. The Pasque flowers are out on the Enchanted Mesa behind us. They are named “Pasque” for their appearance near the time of Pascha, the Eastern Christian name for Easter. Or as Wikipedia puts it, ” Pascha is a transliteration of the Greek word, which is itself a transliteration of the Hebrew pesach, both words meaning Passover.” Easter coincides very closely with Passover as the events told in the Gospels all happened around the celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem.

The Pasque flowers don’t know the formula for figuring out Easter in the West: the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. That is why Easter is so widely variable in date. I am sure Hallmark would like to assign it a permanent date, like Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) but the fact that the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus is intimately tied to creation time is powerful, at least in my mind. The flowers come out about now, shortly after the spring beauties make their appearance. When the spring beauties are in full swing, I begin to go up a path I don’t usually take on my walks, looking for the Pasque flowers. I know the spots where they usually bloom but this morning I was surprised to see one in a spot I hadn’t expected. They never cease to thrill me.

Tomorrow, for Palm Sunday, up to 15″ of snow is predicted. Typical of spring time here in the Rockies, we have been in the 70 degree range for the last couple of days. Now, a storm system from the east is forming and when it hits the Front Range mountains, it curls back on itself, dumping a lot of moisture. Because it will drop the temperature significantly and because we are at a mile-high altitude, the moisture will come as snow. My girls had most of their school “snow days” in March and April. That is typically when we get our biggest snows. As someone in the paper said this week, the ski season in Colorado really is January through April. In November and December, there is a lot of man-made snow on those expensive ski resort slopes. Between January and April, Mother Nature usually provides feet of the stuff for free. That snow in the high country is also the water source for the Front Range area of Colorado so snow away!

However, the ecumenical Palm Sunday street processional complete with live donkey is being proactively moved inside. We will all miss the little donkey since it won’t make an appearance inside the church. The custodial staff would quit on the spot if that happened! When the weather permits, it is lovely to see the donkey come down the street and all the children (and some adults) laying their palm branches in front of it. We need to physically re-enact the stories of our faith. It is good to speak of them, better to sing them, and the better yet to re-enact them. When we use our entire body in a Gospel story, we remember it more deeply and personally.

I will be getting out my boots for Palm Sunday and probably having to shovel off the car early in the morning. I will thank God for the moisture as I live in a semi-arid climate with a large metropolitan area sucking up as much water as it can for its lawns and toilets. But I will be thinking of warmer, sunnier Palm Sundays and wave my palm at the donkey in my mind as I shout “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna!”

I am glad to be back in this old house after a week in Houston at the Renovare conference. The conference was rich and powerful, as they always are, and my 6-hour intensive workshop went well. I was able to connect with old and new friends, sight-see in a place I had never been before, and connect with some of our wonderful summer neighbors. Seeing their houses in Houston helped fill out what I know of them from having them as neighbors every summer. A house tells a lot about a person.

What does your living space say about you?

One of things I talked about in my workshop for the Renovare conference is the idea that art and culture forms us, for good or ill. Often, we are not consciously aware of what we surround ourselves with day-after-day at home, at work, and in our worship spaces. The music, art, books, and popular culture that we see or hear everyday impacts our spiritual formation toward or away from God. In the workshop, I had the participants draw a box for each room of their house and then one for their corporate worship space. In each box, I asked them to list the art and cultural items in it. It was eye-opening for some of them. For example, one person noted that the only thing in her guest room was a bed and a mirror.  She wondered what that said about what she thought about her guests! How would you feel going to stay in a room like that?

Here are some things to ask yourself about your living space as you think about the spiritual formation each room has on you:

1. Do you like your living space as a whole? Why or why not?

2. Are there some rooms you like better than others? List specifically what you like about those rooms. What could be done to make the less favorite spaces more appealing?

3. What does the art on the walls say about God and about humanity?

4. What kind of books are in the room?

5. Do you listen to music in that room? If so, what kind? Do you sit and listen or is it background to other activities? Are there any rooms where it is possible to find silence?

6. How many TVs do you have? Where are they placed in each room? What does their placement indicate about their role in that room? For example, in a home entertainment room, one would expect that the TV would be rather prominent but if you have a TV in your bedroom, how dominate is it?

7. Do you have items that remind you of hurtful times or past relationships, or gifts that you felt obligated to display? What would it mean to get rid of them?

8. Would you describe your living space as full or sparse? Open or more enclosed? Clear or cluttered?

9. Go outside and come in the front door. Pretend you are a first-time guest. What is the first thing you see? What does it say about you? Is that a message you embrace? Do the same experiment with other doors into your house.

10. If you have a yard or patio/balcony area, is it a peaceful place? Why or why not? If you don’t, how present is nature in your house? Are there lots of windows or house plants? Do you have a pet?

11. What is the predominant color in your living space? Outside? Do those colors reflect your internal colors?

12. Is your living space quiet or noisy? If it is more noisy, where is the noise coming from? Is it comforting noise or quiet?

13. Is your living space conducive to creative living? For example, do you have adequate work space for hobbies or other creative pursuits?

14. Does each member of the household have a private/personal space?

15. Does your living space radiate health or unhealth?

These are the kinds of questions we need to begin asking to understand how our environments shape us. These questions can be also be asked, with some modifications, to critique our corporate worship spaces. For example, ask what is the main focus when you come to worship? Does the space help or hinder worship? Are the colors conducive to good worship? And so on and so forth.

Our environment, inside and out, impacts us, for good or for ill. Some things we have no control over but many others we can change or at least mitigate somewhat if they are negative. Environmental art and culture are especially important to assess for the children who will be regularly using those spaces. School classroom art and colors all make a statement about what the school/teacher believe about children and learning.

Art and culture and its relationship to spiritual formation is a huge topic and one that I don’t hear a lot of discussion around in terms of spiritual formation. (Lane and I put a chapter in our book “The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation.”) What are your thoughts and experiences with this? I would love to hear.

It’s packing day here at this old house. Not for moving but rather because I am heading down to the Renovare conference in Houston. I am very much looking forward to the pre-conference intensive I am leading on the subject of spiritual formation in community as well as attending the main conference. I will see wonderful people, old friends and new, as well.

It is always hard for me to get started packing. It is not an activity I like doing. This time, I am taking “the kitchen sink.” I have gone to Europe and the Middle East for up to two weeks with just carry-on but because of the workshop and other conference events, as well as uncertainty to what the weather forecast will really feel like, I have thrown in extra clothes to cover cool to hot. Plus, Houston is known for being cold in its buildings due to air conditioning levels a Polar bear would like.

It never ceases to amaze me how much I feel I need to take to function well while on the road: clothes, toiletries, jackets, hostess gifts. Years ago, a friend wisely pointed out that one goes camping for the weekend with 500 pounds of gear and camping for a year with 550 pounds. It is the same with a trip. The difference between what I feel I need to take for a weekend vs. for a week is basically six more pounds of clothes. I once heard of a guy who, before a trip, would go to Goodwill, buy what he needed (which for a guy is often much less than for most women I know), pack those items in a plastic grocery bag, and then leave it all at the last hotel before he flew home virtually empty-handed. That is not my style!

I was given a Kindle so the book pile is significantly reduced from what it used to be “back in the day” when we all lugged a couple three books along on any trip. And then there are the shoes. By taking shoes that are comfortable for long-distance walking coupled with shoes that look decent for dinner plus slippers for in the hotel, carry-on is rendered nearly impossible. I try to wear the bigger, heavier shoes and jackets on the plane when I am seeking to travel lightly but in truth, that only works in the summer. One trip, I did end up leaving some clothes in the last hotel. Carry-on limits the number of souvenirs one can bring back and when those souvenirs include books and music, something has to give before the zipper on the suitcase does.

I always like to pack the day before so that things I forgot or things I should really take out can percolate through my sub-conscious in the few remaining hours before I head out. Already, I have taken something out and added in more socks.

I have a list of the last minute items that can’t go in until just before the suitcase is loaded into the car. The flight that was canceled has been re-booked and the last bit of the perishables will be eaten tonight and in the morning. Last time I was at this point, I broke my ankle on a short “bit of fresh air before the airport” walk in the neighborhood. This time, I am just going to sit and read until it is time to go.




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