It has been quite the Holy Week here at this old house. Wednesday saw a record-breaking snow storm after a day of 70 degrees. We were without power for over 8 hours; all Easter rehearsals were canceled.

Maundy Thursday morning, we flew to Bozeman, Montana. There was a 3 1/2 hour delay at the Denver airport due to the domino effect from the previous day’s storm that shut the airport down completely for four hours and saw the cancellation of 243 flights. Finally arriving, we drove to Helena, initially in snow but quickly moving past that into a lovely Montana sunset. Other family members were delayed for mechanical reasons and came in at midnight instead of 3 PM, resulting in a last minute “slumber party” in our motel room.

Good Friday morning saw us at the graduation of our daughter from the Montana Law Enforcement academy and the beginnings of her life as a City of Missoula police officer. Today, Holy Saturday saw us flying home, packing John up for his final weekend as temporary pastoral supply in Yuma, Colorado and me trying to wrap my head around the coming Easter Vigil service and the early fully morning facing me on Easter.

This is the first time in my life I can remember not being in church on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. There are no hot cross buns baked, no eggs dyed, no Easter tree decorated, no Easter grass grown. There is snow on the ground and it is supposed to be quite chilly tomorrow. Fortunately, Easter is a seven week season but  will it “feel” like Easter morning tomorrow? What does Easter even feel like?

Knowing a story does not have the same impact as walking through the story, hearing the ancient words, re-participating in the rituals of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, participating in the increasing darkness. It was interesting to note the number of people just doing “normal life” on both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The Catholic church in Helena had a full parking lot on Maundy Thursday. Somehow that was comforting to see. For so many, these days are simply the start or end of spring break, another day at work or school, another ordinary day. How do we share the power of these days with them?

Too often, the Church has done a terrible job of communicating the radical change in life the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ offers to the world. People hate Lent because it is “depressing” instead of the bright and hopeful sadness it is meant to be. Good Friday is another day to be made to feel guilty for being human. The Resurrection doesn’t seem to effect everyday life in any kind of meaningful way. Why not go skiing or to Florida instead of church for three days?

I have no answers because I, too, have been guilty of incomplete and even bad theology in my own life. I am only beginning to glimpse the incredible possibilities that Jesus’s death and resurrection offers to me here and now! I am only beginning to understand in a more functional way that I am invited to be fully who I was created to be and that my being fully human is an act of worship and joy. I can’t blame people whose lives are dark and hard and who then find only more darkness and hardness when they have tried to find God. Lord, help us!

Meanwhile, I am going to spend the next hours looking for Easter joy beyond the hot cross buns and chocolate. I am going to try to focus in a way I never have on following Christ through the seven weeks of Easter, even as I do that following in snow boots and a heavy coat.

 

Sometimes gifts are so inconvenient. We got a  18″ of spring snow between Thursday and this morning here at this old house. For the first time in over 20 years, I got the car stuck coming up the hill. We had, at that point, about 8″ of pure slush with a layer of ice underneath. It was like driving in wet concrete on top of an ice rink. The all-wheel drive in the car threw up its hands and quit. Fortunately, we were half a block from home so it was easy to grab the snow shovel and scoop a path to some previous car’s tire tracks.  This was followed by a pedal-to-the-metal gunning up the hill and a final fish tail into the driveway, not exactly straight in but in.

Kids, don’t try this at home!

The gift is nearly a month’s average snow fall in three days. Our mini-drought was ended. Relatives in California talk about all the rain they are having and yet they are still living under severe water restrictions because the four-year drought out there has lowered the reservoirs and water tables to unsustainable levels. Yes, shoveling and driving in heavy wet snow is a pain but it is water and water is life.

It is a fitting metaphor for the beginning of Holy Week: life-sustaining gifts sometimes come in challenging ways. Today, many parts of the Church celebrate the raising of Lazarus from the dead. That event propelled the people to think that their political Messiah had finally arrived. They cut palm branches, a sign of victory related to a king (which they were proclaiming Jesus to be). This was a risky act that could have created a conflict with the Roman authorities, who, with Pilate, were entering Jerusalem opposite the gate Jesus was coming in. 

Two processions related to Passover: one with the ruling military might and one with a humble Rabbi seeking to establish the Reign of God on earth.

The Jewish leaders were between a rock and a hard place. They knew when Jesus arrived so triumphantly into the city of Jerusalem, especially after having raised Lazarus from the dead, that they were “losing the battle.” They needed to plot a way to kill Jesus and save their status quo with the Romans. Cue: Judas Iscariot and his Zealot background. The Zealots were a group of people who were seeking to overthrow the Roman Rule in Palestine through any means possible. Thus the dominoes that we now remember during Holy Week began to fall, culminating with the Crucifixion of Jesus the Christ.

Again, a gift that was certainly hidden from nearly everyone until Easter morning and beyond. It took a long time  and the sending of the Holy Spirit 50 days later for many to recognize what Jesus’s death meant and how his Resurrection really was the end of civilization as they knew it! Life’s gifts are sometimes only discerned in hindsight.

Meanwhile, I am planning my footwear for the Palm Sunday street processional tomorrow. It will be sunny and in the 50s but there was so much snow with this storm, we will still be navigating it in our choir robes as we hike down to worship with the other downtown churches and to watch the little donkey walk over our palm branches that the florist delivered for us to lay down on the road. While none of us are looking for a political Messiah quite the way ancient Israel was, I am aware this year how many in this country are putting their “salvation eggs” into one political basket or another.

While Jesus’s Resurrection changed the course of history and civilization itself in many ways, people are still people.

 

We managed to navigate the time change here at this old house. I find it harder and harder to make that “spring forward”  clock shift every March. We both got off to church when we needed to but I did take a nap this afternoon!

The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday in Lent is John 12:1-8:

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”  (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)  Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.  You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

It was pointed out in the sermon that one can view Mary as being very wasteful of a valuable resource and Judas, despite his bad motivation, as the more practical one. It is a hard decision that all of us encounter at one time or another: when do we throw caution to the wind and be extravagantly generous, and when do we hang on to a resource in wise stewardship. When do we take our retirement savings and “go for broke,” and when do we forgo the dream vacation and keep saving?

Later, I found myself thinking about this delicate balance act and the old Judy Collins song, “Bread and Roses”:

As we go marching, marching
In the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens
A thousand mill lofts grey
Are touched with all the radiance
That a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing
Bread and roses, bread and roses

As we go marching, marching
We battle too for men
For they are women’s children
And we mother them again
Our lives shall not be sweated
From birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies
Give us bread, but give us roses

As we go marching, marching,unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!

As we go marching, marching
We bring the greater days
The rising of the women
Means the rising of the race
No more the drudge and idler
Ten that toil where one reposes
But a sharing of life’s glories
Bread and roses, bread and roses

If you missed this several decades ago, you can hear her sing it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK3MqwsqnPY

The phrase “bread and roses” from a speech given by Rose Schneiderman. A line in that speech (“The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”) inspired the title of the poem Bread and Roses by James Oppenheim first published in The American Magazine in December 1911. The lyrics of Judy Collins’ song is Oppenheim’s poem with a few minor changes in the words.

I have always liked this song: the tune is catchy, Judy Collins’ voice is lovely, and the text says that while we need to feed the body, we also need to feed people’s souls. The supposed quote of Winston Churchill’s works here as well: when asked to cut arts funding to help the war effort, Churchill replied, “Then what are we fighting for?” Whether he really said that or not, the statement makes a very valid point and one that has profound implications for the current state of arts education in American public schools.

It seems to me that we need both Mary and Judas–extravagant acts of love and wise acts of stewardship; bread as well as roses. That can be hard to discern at times and we must be careful to not judge when someone else chooses the opposite direction than we do in a situation. We must not become Judas, either in our judgments of the Marys, or with self-centered motives behind our frugalities.

Would you say you side more with Judas’s practicality in most situations or Mary’s impulsiveness? Maybe this week, you can try life from the other side of the aisle!

Here at this old house with spring bursting out in flowers and birds, deep in the heart of Lent, I have experienced a shift in my thinking. For some reason, this Lenten season of giving up my “usual” (related to food and shopping) has been a spectacular failure. I simply have not been able to say no! I have been struggling with feelings of failure and self-deprecating thoughts but then I was struck with the thought that maybe “giving up” was not what I was to be focused on this year. Maybe I was to focus on “taking on.”

The ancient and more common Lenten practices of fasting, prayer and alms-giving involve both “a giving up so as to embrace.” We give up eating lunch so as to pray and read our Bibles more, for example. The fancy theological term for all of this is “the via negativa and the via positiva”–saying no to something so that you can say yes to something better.

This can imply degrees of value because what we may be saying no to (a food option) might be a good thing but it isn’t necessarily the best thing (learning that God is sufficient for all our needs). Too often, the focus in Lent is on the saying no without knowing what you are deeply wanting to say yes to. Maybe if we started with what we wanted to say yes to first, we could craft a better way to say no and make the practice “stick” more easily during the long days of Lent.

Philippians 2:5-11 shows what Jesus said no to so that he could say yes:

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.


9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

I realized this week that my attempts to say no were for the wrong reasons: my waistline and my checkbook. The “yes” I deeply want to get to was not going to be achieved by giving up sugar and shopping. What I want to do is embrace the love of God for me in the deepest parts of my soul, the parts where the “foundational damnation” (Richard Rohr’s term) has its strongest hold on my thoughts, words and deeds. That means I need to focus on saying a resounding YES to the love of God in my life and that won’t happen through the disciplines I was feebly attempting.

No, I need to embrace in new ways and, while that may include saying no to certain things or activities, the focus has shifted. Easter, not Good Friday, is where I need to keep my Lenten disciplines focused.

We had a lot of excitement here mid-week. My husband miscalculated the ice level between this old house and the neighbor’s, fell and tore the tendons in his left quad. He had surgery to sew it all back together on Thursday. He will be in a massive brace for about six weeks and will begin physical therapy in about two. There were lots of “hand of God” protection points throughout the whole ordeal, including the fact that it happened at a time when I was able to hear his knocking on the side of the house! An unfortunate situation but we are trying to learn what we can in and through it.

I made an interesting self-discovery as well. I really like lists! I have always been a list maker but I became very conscious of how enjoyable I find list making this week. Right now, I am creating a list of Lutheran hymn-writers and composers in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in October of 2017. It started out as a personal interest project and has quickly mushroomed into something much bigger that will eventually be shared publicly.

It began when I had an idea that it would be fun beginning October 31, 2016 and going through October 31, 2017 to sing a hymn and/or have a composition every Sunday by at least one Lutheran composer or poet. It could be an educational time for the congregation (and me, as well) in addition to being a way to reflect on the events leading up to the world history-changing event known as the Protestant Reformation.

I have felt ambiguous about the Reformation for years because at one level, it splintered the Body of Christ into 38,000 denominations and counting. Too many groups through out the baby with the bath-water! For example, Luther assumed Holy Communion would be served every Sunday and that Mary would still find a place of honor in our faith. I find those losses among so many Christ-followers to be very sad.

However, one cannot deny the political, theological and social tsunami Luther unleashed. Those 95 Theses posted on the church door on Wittenberg on All Hallow’s Eve (October 31st) ignited a forest fire that was primed to burn. Certainly, there were many causes to the Reformation but the perfect storm came together with Luther’s public complaints against the errors he perceived in the Roman Catholic church. Civilization as they knew it really did shift significantly in the decades following 1517.

Imagine the music of J.S. Bach without the influence of the Lutheran chorale! Bach’s Lutheran theology was so primary to the way he composed his music; it is hard to imagine how it would have been written in a Roman Catholic context. Luther brought the Bible in the vernacular to the German people and created worship in which the congregation could fully participate again. (Up until then, the Bible was only in Latin, a language few understood, and corporate worship consisted of people watching the clergy “do the Mass.”)

My list of hymn-writers and composers will not have the same effect on society as Luther’s list did, of that I am sure. However, I do hope my list will be useful to someone else besides me somewhere. Either way, it sure is fun to create!

 

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