It is the last week of Epiphany, Reader, the last week before we turn our steps to the wilderness wandering, holding tightly to the warmth of a stable that seems unreal in the midst of the chilled winds of Lent.
At least, that’s how it feels for me. Lent pulls all of my self out, and this year has the added bonus of being the time in which I need to choose a school and set the course for at least the next year if not three of my life. No pressure, of course.
In contemplating this recently, I’ve been aware of a space between God and I, a dearth of conversation as I get deeper and deeper into Church work. It is a paradoxical thing, but the more involved I get in the Church, the easier it is for me to ignore the God Who wants me there in the first place. I first encountered this when I worked the slides during worship at my last church; I realized that I never actually paid attention to the worship itself because I was working, and that work needed attention.
Which it did, but not at the cost of my connecting to the community and offering myself and my praise to God. The same is true now; I do firmly believe God is calling me ever deeper into His Church, but never at the cost of my connection to Him. I am a perfectionist, a detail-oriented administrator who will readily get so buried in the “what” and the “how” that I completely miss the “who” and the “why.”
I was at a worship conference this past weekend which is, in some ways, the height of Church work in that it’s thousands of people coming together to swap ideas of how to understand and do worship and the connectivity of the Church. It’s a fabulous resource, but I was tired and disconnected—even more so by mixing the conference with an overnight for my middle schoolers (I would advise against ever trying that, Reader, especially if you’re an introvert. I’m still tired from the people overload that was). I was getting very useful and handy information, but I wasn’t so much paying attention to why I needed it. I was absorbed by the “how.”
Then I went to vespers, worrying along the way because the vespers for which I had signed up was a play entitled “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” There is nothing quite like the theatre for me; I worked in theatre for nearly ten years, some professionally, and still have my fingertips trailing the edge of it. I love the theatre, love its ability to make the ordinary extraordinary and the extraordinary possible, love the energy and passion of it. I have the greatest respect for actors (I was much better at being a techie) and their ability to pull from themselves the depths and heights of humanity without losing their own centrality. So I went to this vespers because I knew that even as the story would be a suckerpunch for me, I had to know how it would be staged, had to know the “how.”
What I got instead was the “Who” and, far more than I could ever have imagined, the “why.”
I have seen a great many Passion plays in my life. I have been to many Easter vigils, I have spent the majority of my scholastic career discussing the theatrical representations of the Crucifixion in medieval England, I have read the Passion narrative in all four Gospels many times over. I have always had my heart ripped out by it, coming to Easter with an emotional limp bearing the scars of Good Friday even still, never quite made whole in this glorious Resurrection. Yet this play hit me square in the soul with its incredible use of the word “but.”
An odd choice, to be sure, this adversarial conjunction, upon which to hang a spiritual dose of cold water. Yet there it is; I had never connected the death and the life so viscerally before. If you have 25 minutes to spare, Reader, I highly recommend you see what I’m talking about; the play I saw was performed again, later, at a church in a different state. It begins here at 8:50 and continues here, ending at 15:50. If you haven’t 25 minutes, than take five alone and watch the second video starting at about two minutes in. The “but” that so attracted my notice is at about the seven-minute mark.
Perhaps it is a spoiler to tell you what happens, but the play was indeed the Passion narrative continuing into the Resurrection and the walk to Emmaus and the Assumption of Christ. The “but” announces the mystery of an empty tomb, the wonder of a risen Jesus; “but,” the actress says, her face shining in joy that the story does not end there.
This is the “why,” Reader: the story does not end there. It pauses there, but for me so often that pause becomes a resting place, a halfway house that stretches into fullness because I do not get up and keep going, because Sunday is so far away from here on Friday evening. That play reminded me, told me for the first time, redrew for me the outrageous nature of Christianity: we follow a God Who beat Death.
What a thing that is! What a miracle! What a marvel! What mind-bending joy to dwell in that space with all of these other conference-goers as all of us shared in the laughter of these disciples that our Friend Who was dead is now alive, that we have hope, unyielding and incredible hope because the One we follow is utterly unstoppable—that His love is utterly unstoppable, even by our very best efforts at ending all that He was.
And this God, this Jesus, this resurrected brother is calling my name. He knows it, knows me, and wants me to serve with Him, for Him, to be Her child and care for His children and yes, I do what I do for the Church because I am in love (in a complicated way) with the Church and with Her people, but I do what I do because I am in love with the God Who called me.
It is so hilariously appropriate that this should be the takeaway for me just before Lent, that this time of darkness should be so firmly bookended by Light. Good Friday will come, but.
So will Easter.
Thanks be to God.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (Luke 24:1-3, ESV)