Easter is such a grand holiday in the life of the church. People make an extra effort to attend worship. Folks tend to dress up a bit more on that Sunday. There is a definite sense of excitement in the air.
Let me share with you today what I saw on Sunday and throughout Holy Week.
I saw Melanie Ellington and Linda Enders (and maybe some others, too) adorning our sanctuary on different days in order to create a visual environment that assisted us in worship.
I saw Rick Regen and Rick Francis and Myers Jones and Becky and Doug Jensen (and maybe some others, too) welcoming folks into the church and making sure they were cared for.
I saw Peter Cassidy and Eric Culler and Steve Shearer back in the “control booth”, working hard and with little fanfare to make sure the services ran smoothly.
I saw Ray Jones thanklessly videotaping the services—a ministry not only for those who might want to “look” at us on the website, but also for those who can’t leave their homes and would like to still participate in worship.
I saw the choir create an amazing atmosphere of worship with their cantata—split between the last two Sundays—as well as leading worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. They were all awesome!
I saw members of the Jubilee Sunday School Class help create a wonderful Easter breakfast enjoyed by everybody.
I saw Carol McDonough use her “acting chops” to lead our Readers Theater for the Sunrise Service.
I saw Kim McDonough ring a large bell 39 times on Good Friday to remind us of the 39 lashes of Jesus. That wasn’t an easy thing to do.
I saw Liz Robertson and Denise Jungmichel (and several others) lead our children through a fun morning of activities.
I saw our youth hide hundreds of eggs so our children could have an amazing experience outside.
I saw the “Resurrection Rolls” baked by Carol Sircy for our children’s activities.
I saw dozens of folks join the choir out of the congregation to sing “The Hallelujah Chorus”—which was glorious.
I saw three families join our congregation and we are thrilled to welcome them.
I saw your church staff working extraordinarily hard on your behalf this week. More, even, than you might know. I’ve been battling a cough and hoarseness for a few weeks. With Holy Week’s extra services I wasn’t sure if I could hold out. Your staff stepped in and took leadership in so many ways and I am deeply grateful to them. We are SO fortunate to have them all.
This is what makes the church, The Church. So many folks stepping up to help make us better. If I forgot to mention anyone who did something amazing this week, please accept me apology and my thanks for your contributions.
He Is Risen! Alleluia!
Christians all over the world will celebrate the great festival of our year—the week of Passion and the Resurrection of Jesus. People who are not connected to a church often scoff at the idea of resurrection. After all, we are a scientific people. And can you name anybody else you’ve ever known that was resurrected?
Even the biblical record isn’t all that helpful. There is no account of anyone having actually witnessed the resurrection, itself. What we have are the stories of those who encountered the risen Christ. For some—maybe for many—such stories just aren’t compelling enough.
Across the ages, people have looked to the theologians and ministers to provide answers to such questions. A lot of folks come to church on Easter Sunday hoping someone like me will finally solve the riddle and prove to them that resurrection happened.
I have bad news on that front—there is no proof and there isn’t likely going to be any proof. And besides, it is a mistake to imagine that we ministers—or any Christian for that matter—are in the “question answering business.” Being a follower isn’t about proving something. Being a follower is about emotion, not science.
Faith is much more like a romance. There is a mystery as to what draws us to one person or another. God has romanced creation from the beginning. Faith is about believing something before you see it. Not long ago the scientific community was all a twitter over the discovery of the so-called “Higgs Boson” as the result of an experiment inside the CERN supercollider. Without boring you to tears about what that discovery was about, the amazing thing was that Robert Higgs predicted this particle discovery decades ago. He was mocked for that theory at the time. But Higgs believed before he saw.
Faith is much the same. One of our popular sayings is “Seeing is believing.” We in the church are the ones who profess “Believing is seeing.”
This week, we will worship on Thursday night with a commemoration of the Last Supper—a service traditionally known as Maundy Thursday, named for the Latin word “mandatum” or mandate. Jesus instituted this feast and we Christians have held it as the centerpiece of Christian worship ever since. And on Friday we will have a Tenebrae Service commemorating the crucifixion. This is a service of light and shadow in which Jesus’ last words are recalled and candles are extinguished throughout the service until we end in darkness—and death.
I hope you can attend these services (both at 7:00 p.m.). The fullness of your Easter celebration depends on encountering the darkness of the Passion.
And next Sunday, we will more fully understand why we can shout “hallelujah.” Here’s my suggestion for this Sunday: don’t come looking for proof—come to feel the arms of God around you. Come believing that God so loves the world that He gave His only son . . .
The story of Noah and his infamous ark has been a favorite of mine for a long time. There’s a lot going on in that story—far more than meets the eye.
Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite authors, once commented that it seemed strange to him that for the most part we have turned that horrifying story into a toy boat where the roof comes out and you can pull out all the little animals to play with. We tend to forget that the flood in this story was the result of God being fed up with humanity and His desire to start over. That is not a happy story.
That “ark” was a symbol of salvation. The same word is used in the story of baby Moses being rescued from the Nile River in Exodus. And the Christian Church adopted the ark as a symbol for itself. Some of you—who have been involved with one of our confirmation classes over the years—have likely heard me explain to our young people that the sanctuary is patterned after a ship/ark. For instance, there is the “pulpit” which on a ship is that extension over the bow, the area where the congregation sits is called the “nave.” The nave on the old ships was that area deep inside the hull where the slaves would row the boat. And many churches for a very long time featured a ceiling that resembled the keel of a ship.
There is another fascinating aspect to this story—the introduction of the Rainbow. You will remember that the scripture says God set a bow in the sky as a reminder (God has a faulty memory?—or maybe it’s a reminder for us) that He would never again wipe out humanity with a flood. So that Rainbow became a symbol of hope and a symbol of promise.
What most folks don’t know about this story is that the “bow” in the clouds was actually a hunting bow. You see the hunting bow was the primary weapon of death in Noah’s time. God set that “bow” in the clouds as a reminder that God “disarmed” Himself. This divine symbol is not about sweetness and color. Nor is it a sign that God promises a pain-free life. It is, in fact, a sign of the goodness of life in the face of all that life’s pain can bring.
The bow in the clouds is a proclamation that God has chosen us over death.
As we make our way to Holy Week and then to Easter Sunday, we would do well to remember that God has already made a choice of life over death. No reason we should be surprised at what happened on Easter Sunday. God is pretty predictable that way.
Thomas Merton wrote the following:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I’m doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.”
I resonate with Merton on this. You recall the Apostle Paul once saying “I know what the right thing is, I just don’t always do it . . .” That sounds like a similar sentiment to me.
Here in the season of Lent, we are being asked to take inventory of our lives. To ask hard questions about what we love and what we don’t. Who we forgive and who we don’t. What we are doing to bring the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth and what we are leaving undone.
I wonder sometimes if some of us don’t get a bit paralyzed trying to make sense out of all of it? As if we can’t move in any direction until we have the entire journey mapped out? Which typically leaves us mostly spinning or running in place—expending a lot of energy, but ultimately getting nowhere.
I heard a colleague this week talking about his church and the fact that his church is at an important crossroads for their future. He confessed that a lot of his folks seemed to be in that “stuck” place of wanting to know the whole future before launching the trip. Then he said something that struck me as particularly wise: he said, “I think it’s like driving your car at night across the country. You can never see further in front of you than the reach of your headlights. That might not seem very far, but in reality that’s as far as you need to see at any given time. You can make the journey across thousands of miles just that way—by going as far as your headlights allow you to see right now.
Living a life of faith mostly means living in and embracing the “now.” Spending too much time wondering where the journey ends mostly means missing all the wonderful sights along the way.
The musical “Jesus Christ, Superstar” had a real impact on me. It came at the “right time” in the life of a 16 year old. I can never forget one of the more poignant songs in that musical, sung by Judas Iscariot’s character, titled “Too Much Heaven On Their Minds.” What happens in the end is already in the hands of a God who loves us. What God needs from us is to reconcile THIS world to Him.
Like most of you, I have been somewhat mesmerized by the current presidential primaries. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates have mostly hurled charges and insults at each other. I personally don’t find that very helpful, but such is the nature of polarized politics in our day and age. Screaming at each other is what passes for passion. Gone, it seems, are the days of statesmen and stateswomen.
The intriguing thing to me in these debates and the hype surrounding these candidates is the notion that we all seem to be wanting someone to swoop in and save us. Save us from exactly what is the basis upon which we will choose one candidate over the rest. There is a sense in which many of us—maybe most of us—appear to feel that we are lost. It’s a flat economy or it’s a failure of foreign policy or it’s a lack of vision for domestic issues or it’s whether to build a wall or not.
Curiously, the same thing can be said of our favorite sports teams. If we can just draft Marcus Mariota, then all our troubles will be over. And it has been a popular belief in the business world (the right CEO), the academic world (the right university president) and the church (the right pastor).
To be sure, a single person in the right place at the right time can make things better. But it never happens in a vacuum. In the end, if our beloved Titans are to be a great football team, it will be because all of the players do their part. If our nation is to make progress, a great President will help, but that will never replace great citizens.
The church has known this for 2000 years. The term “litourgeia” is the Greek word from which we derived our word, “liturgy.” For most of us, liturgy is what we do in the order of worship on Sunday mornings. But the true meaning behind the word was the Greek idea that every citizen had a unique place and function in the city. And furthermore, the city can thrive only when every citizen performs his or her duty effectively. By establishing this value, the city affirmed the importance of every one of its citizens, from the Emperor to the humblest servant.
We can’t afford to wait for “someone” to come and save the day. That has, in fact, already happened in the person of Jesus. But the world is not yet redeemed. There is still hatred and violence and ugliness nearly everywhere you look. The only way it stops—the only way the world gets redeemed—is for each of us to become a partner to Christ and each other. The litourgeia of the church will transform the world.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.