Good Friday: The Quick and the Dead

In the old-school version (i.e. the one based off of William Tyndale’s English Bible) of the Nicene Creed (and the Apostles’ Creed), it says that we believe Jesus is in Heaven and will return to “judge the quick and the dead.”  “Quick” in this sense is an archaic word for “living, alive”, like quicksand and cutting to the quick.  It was only later that it became a word for speed.  I like this use, this quickness of the heart that still beats, the blood that still flows, the lungs that still pull in even the smallest amount of air.

Today is a day in which I want to gather to myself the slowness; today is the day the heart stops, the blood halts, the lungs cease their rhythmic movement.  Today is the day of Christ’s death.

It’s weird to be observing Good Friday with such a different pattern than I’ve had the last five or so years; I went to work this morning and then to one of my other jobs (I’ll actually go to all three today, come to think of it).  I went to a party for student appreciation—a party on Good Friday, which felt so jarring and yet not jarring at all because I still can’t wrap my head around it being Good Friday.  I didn’t see it coming, didn’t really do anything for Lent this year.  I’m not ready for this death.

The thing of it is, though, that you can never be ready for death.  My family has been on a kind of low-level deathwatch for my one remaining grandparent for a couple of months now—it is definitely her time and her body is shutting down bit by bit.  But I know that even when she dies, we won’t actually be ready for it.  We can’t be.  Death, in all its slowness, comes quick; death steals into even the most-watched spaces.  Death, even the expected kind, is always a surprise.  I can’t even imagine how intense the shock must have been for the disciples.

Think of it—Jesus had been trying for weeks to get the disciples to understand, to prepare themselves even to some small degree, to set up their own kind of deathwatch.  They didn’t take it seriously.  Who could?  Jesus was at the top of His game, in the prime of His life.  A crowd had just laid their own clothing on the dusty ground for Him.  Radical things were happening; there was change in the dry, desert air.

But then there is the inexplicable jumpiness of Judas, and the incomprehensible things Jesus says at the table about bodies and blood, and then there is the garden and the need to stay awake when they don’t know why, don’t know why they couldn’t just sleep; it had been such a long week, after all.  Jesus’ voice is so quick in its frustration, straining against something they don’t understand, a pain they don’t feel—and then there is the crashing of the soldiers, so loud in that quiet space, so bright in the darkness.  Peter lashes out; he always thinks with his body first, speaks the first thought, never reflects.  Peter is quick.  The soldier is too slow and the shriek of pain slices through the murmurs of the crowd, the blood pouring red on red cloth under grey armor and Jesus is quick, too, stooping down to pick up the ear, holding His hand to the man’s head while the blood pours over His fingers and slows, slows, stops.

The trials are not quick.  The walks between the political poles are endless as Jesus’ heart still beats and the disciples cower, quick to refuse any connection others ascribe, anxious not to end up in that same slow circle of accusation and torment where no one takes responsibility.  The crowd is quick to choose Barabbas, opening like a hungry maw to receive him into itself from the platform where Jesus sways slowly, exhausted from holding the world together.  The soldiers hurry Him away and the women who love Him, who stand in the crowd shouting His name against the louder voices of the priests’ plants, do not know they will never again see Him whole like this.

PICEDITOR-SMHThe crucifixion does not feel quick.  Jesus’ last breaths come slowly, His words making sure community remains even as the sweat slides into the blood dripping down His naked skin, the cuts on His back pressing into wooden splinters as He pushes against the nails that hold Him there, splayed for the world and God to see what it looks like to slow, and slow, and die.

It is finished,” He says, and there is no more quickness in Him.

Lighting flashes, a quick bolt shattering the sky suddenly darker than night as the sun and stars hide their faces in grief and the earth shudders at the violence she must bear on her sacred soil.  A curtain tears and God is as naked as Himself, His body and His secret dwelling place both on display in this unthinkable space where Death claims what he believes to be his.

No one was ready.  No one is ever ready for this.

 

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”  (Matthew 27:54, ESV)

Advertisements

Lent, Week Six: Sacred and Profane

I have a cold.

It’s sort of the salt in the wound, because I have a cold and my father has upcoming surgery, my sort-of-stepmom is in the hospital, I now officially don’t have a car, one of my cousins is in the hospital, another cousin’s new baby is slightly ill, my housing situation is a mess, I have two papers I can’t focus on enough to write, a friend’s wife has cancer, my chair broke, and I’m to the point where I’m fairly sure if I had a dog to go with my loaner truck they’d both die.  Yee-haw, y’all, I’m living a damned country song.  And now I have a cold, right before Holy Week which is essentially the Superbowl for pastors in terms of hours and focus and time.

Also, we as a country just inexplicably bombed Syria as though they don’t have enough violence to go around and a Supreme Court justice was just appointed who frightens me even more than Clarence Thomas in terms of my rights for my body as a woman, which is saying something considering Clarence Thomas (like the president) has a penchant for sexual harassment.  So perhaps my cold is a little thing.

But all of this seems so incredibly unholy, so terribly profane because it’s freaking Lent and I feel like we’ve been in the Passion for a month.  This much pain and fear and worry and brokenness can’t possibly be holy, can’t possibly be anything related to God.  Where the hell is God, anyway?  I’m starting to feel like I’m trapped in the birthday song my dad used to sing to me because my family is macabre and strange:   “Happy birthday, happy birthday.  People dying everywhere, people crying everywhere!  Happy birthday, happy birthday.”

I make a lot more sense when you see what shaped me, which is true of everybody.

But here’s the thing—in its own weird way, all of that is holy because all of that has God.  Perhaps not God at the helm in the sense that I don’t think God orchestrates pain and war and colds (that would make God rather an asshat, and I’m not down with worshiping asshats).  But God is in the mix because God is everywhere but also because God didn’t become human as a lark.  It wasn’t a weekend vacation; it was a commitment to us and to all of the mess that comes with us, to the cancers and wars and stress levels and even the colds.  God came for all of that.  And stayed.

lent-157185911-589ff1843df78c4758fd6641Which is why it’s so intense that we’re now entering Holy Week (where it’s right in the name, in case we were still confused).  Palm Sunday (also called Passion Sunday) was definitely a profane (in the sense of secular) affair as Jesus rode into town on a donkey mocking everything about Roman processions of victory.  And yet it was made holy by the participation of the less-thans, of the forgotten, by the carpet of branches they laid down.  Those same people completely forgot Jesus a day later and did not stand with Him in the Passion proper, and yet still it was holy.  Still it is holy, as we also wave our palm branches and sing hosannas and delight in this one party day after a long time in the wilderness.  We know what’s coming.  And we know that after the pain and the darkness and the profane, there is Easter.

By which time I will hopefully no longer have a cold.

 

 

On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”  (John 12:12-18, NASB)

Lent, Week Five: Rested and Weary

I pretty much can’t even handle how late this entry is, Reader, but I also can’t handle that I keep feeling like I have to apologize for that, like I have to make sure that this too is on schedule and perfect.  It isn’t.  Most of my life isn’t right now.  Part of that is the nature of doing grad school and serving a church at the same time; part of that is that things happen that are unexpected—cars break, parents visit, jobs are lost, friends fall ill, housing situations change.  Life is a constantly unexpected shift and I have an unfortunate habit of filling it to the brim such that the unexpected things don’t have any room to happen without consequence.

I have the feeling I’m not the only one who does this.  Culturally speaking, we Americans are fantastic at stuffing our lives with all of the things we need to do, all of the work we need to accomplish, all of the relationships we feel we need to maintain.  We stretch ourselves to be and do everything; I just sat through a presentation last night from a guy who has founded an entire organization built to to support and re-train ministers so we don’t burn out from all that we try/are asked to do.  It’s a problem.  We become weary.

6a00d8341c9e5b53ef00e54fa30c708834-640wiHere’s the thing about weariness:  it’s not being tired.  I am currently tired because I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in a while.  I know why that is—my sleep schedule sucks at the moment.  Also anxiety is a thing and wakes you up more effectively than any alarm clock.  But that’s a matter of physical exhaustion, of the material systems not being given what they need to rejuvenate.  Much as I dislike it, we are physical beings with bodies that require certain things.  (Which, in a semi-related note, is interestingly explored in this New Yorker article on autoimmune diseases, a thing I’m always trying to learn more about since my best friend has one.)  Being tired is pretty much centered around bodily care.

Being weary is less easily fixed.  Weariness is a mental thing, an emotional thing, a spiritual thing; weariness is being worn smooth by people and expectations and your own internal drive, the edges of who you are rubbed off.  Weariness is when the brain and the heart and the soul check out because no nap can help what they need.  Weariness climbs into your bones and squeezes.

We’re in the tail end of Lent, drawing ever nearer to Jerusalem and the Holy Week of the Passion and Resurrection.  Forty days is wearisome, really; the wilderness is wide, its vast emptiness stretching toward the unforgiving horizon.  So how are we to replenish in that space, in this space?  How are we to give ourselves both physical and emotional/spiritual/mental rest when life doesn’t stop?  That’s the real trick; I may indeed be weary, but I have this paper—I have this service—I have this shift at work—I have this letter—I have this reading—I have this commitment—I have this promise I made.  I’ll rest after…or after…or after…

I can’t be the only one who swallowed the line that I’ll rest when I’m dead.

Jesus calls those who are weary to Him, promising rest.  He doesn’t say how, which is actually rather brilliant.  Let’s be honest, if I were given even the slightest hint of a formula then I would do it myself.  I’m like that.  Jesus doesn’t give a formula.  He gives a promise.  Come to me, and I will give you rest.  The end.  But Jesuuuuuuuus, it isn’t working.  I have come to You.  I am still weary.  The equation is wrong.  To which I hear only the repetition:  I will give you rest.

I love semantically focusing on Scripture so as to notice the words used and how they affect the sense.  To be sure, do that kind of devotion carefully because the Bible isn’t word-for-word written by God’s own hand and the words themselves are not sacred.  You’re also working with any one of a million different translations from various manuscripts that are all historically removed from Jesus Himself, so there are ideological choices going on in each chosen nuance.  But I don’t think the human overlay at all destroys the God underneath Who lives and loves and speaks in an often frustrated tone:  I will give you rest.  I have plenty of gifts people have given me, many of which I don’t do anything with, some of which I’ve re-gifted.  When God gives me rest, as when God gives me anything at all, I am perfectly free to refuse it or to misplace it or to put it on top of the never-shrinking stack of Things I’ll Deal With Later.

God’s rest, like God’s grace and God’s forgiveness and God’s love, is a gift given freely.  I am in no way obligated to do anything at all with it, even when I have come right up to Jesus and asked for it.  This is not to say that if I am constantly weary it’s always my fault and that I’m not allowed to push back on God’s promise—it’s not and I am.  I believe wholeheartedly that I not only can but must hold God accountable to the premises of God’s Self in relationship with me, not because I know God’s Self better than God does but because this is a two-way thing as all relationships are.  God doesn’t get to hang out in Heaven tossing platitudes down; nor, I think, does God want to.

But it is to say that I can’t ask for rest and then add another job.  I can’t come to Jesus and speak of my weariness while taking on another school office or saying yes to an outing with fellow students when I know beyond doubt that my introvert meter is completely tapped.

The hardest part for me is that I’ve said I will do X and I do not go back on my word.  But I am weary and heavy-laden.  Perhaps I have to allow Jesus’ promise to be stronger than my own.

 

 

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  (Matthew 11:28-29, KJV)

Lent, Week Four: Dangerous and Safe

Right, so, this is crazy late, I realize.  I had half a post all set up and then went and had an absolutely ridiculous weekend that involved, among other things, my car breaking down in a different state than the one in which I live and me almost getting squashed by a semi and having to call friends to help me out.

I’m okay.  I’m just saying, it’s been intense.  So this is hella late.  Think of it less like I completely missed last week and more like this is a Spiritual Implications two-for-one post sale this week.  Bogo, y’all.

Many of my friends will exasperatedly tell you that I don’t have a good nose for danger.  It’s not that I’m stupid or even unobservant; I just don’t think about consequences properly (and I’m crazy stubborn) before I barge into all manner of situations that are Pretty Bad Ideas in retrospect.  Most of the time these are moments of physical danger in that I’ll put myself in a place where my bodily well-being is at risk.  Sometimes it’s emotional danger, when I am around people or events that threaten my psychological balance.  And, while some would scoff at the possibility, I’ve even been in spiritual danger, placing my soul in compromised situations.  The friend who rescued me by driving up yesterday to retrieve me from the shop where my car is (and yes, it totally feels like I’m missing a piece of myself to have it be seventy miles away) has informed me there will be so much yelling for my having gone off and taken a road trip with a car I knew was in poor condition.  I’m pretty sure I also freak Interpreter out a lot with how many times I cheat death in the choices I make.  The excuse “it’s worked so far” will only hold so long, I realize.

danger-signMy courting of danger is actually hilarious because I am in no way a thrill-seeker by nature.  I’m actually pretty cautious and I don’t do things that are deliberately meant to raise chemical levels of danger (Will Robinson) response (roller coasters, bungee jumping, skydiving, etc.—count me the eff out).  But I decide quite often that I need to do something or get somewhere and damned be whatever gets in my way, including safety and sanity.  I don’t recommend it as a life strategy.  It irks your friends.

But that concept of danger is such a weird thing, and actually an appropriate Lenten topic—after all, the Adversary took Jesus to the top of the Temple and told Him to jump, daring Him to cheat danger on the idea that safety was certain.  The kind of danger I court is ill-advised, for sure.  And the kind of danger the world provides is awful; my heart grieves for London.  But there’s a certain kind of danger in being faithful that we are asked to walk into knowingly:  a danger to who we are.

I realize that sounds like the set-up for some terrible pun (are you a pilot?  Because we’re about to enter the danger zone) or pick-up line or something, but I don’t mean it that way.  I’m quite serious; faith should challenge your notions of who you and the people around you are.  It should be a dangerous undertaking, not to our physical selves but to our selfishness, our ideas of self-preservation, our priorities.  Jesus tells people to take up a cross, for crying out loud.  Those kill people.

The difference is that in the kind of danger that I find myself in involving sketchy motels in nowhere towns on dark and rainy nights there is no bedrock guarantee of safety.  When Jesus asks us to stretch, to risk, to grow and change and Go Forth into the world, we don’t do it alone.  We step out in the faith that God will not ask us to do something that will completely and irrevocably fuck us up, because sadistic god is not a god I want anything to do with.  This is not to say that we should just go with whatever we feel is being asked of us; after all, the Adversary was quoting Scripture when he told Jesus to trust that angels would catch Him.  We have to be wise as serpents in the world because it is indeed a dangerous place.  But that, too, is part of the faith life:  learning what God’s voice sounds like and how it differs from the sounds that try to drag you into that which is truly and alarmingly dangerous.

Stay safe, Reader, but not so safe that you can’t act in the many ways God can use you.  And don’t mess with semis.  They are not kidding around.

 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  (Psalm 23:4, AKJV)

Lent, Week Three: Healed and Broken

I went to see Logan this evening; I love the comic book films, love the characters and worlds and adventures and connections.  And for the longest time I loved the action part of action films—I loved a good fight scene where the hero (rarely a heroine) takes down all the bad guys with fists of fury and a kick-ass rock song.

But this—this film was all anger, sorrow, and pain.  I can’t do this level of gore and rage anymore, can’t absorb the sheer amount of ache that we as a culture have reached.  We are in so much pain, Reader; the sickened edges of our never-healed wounds of racism fester in our bellies, the blood we spill on our streets and everyone else’s leaves us weak and stumbling, our throats are raw from throwing up the vapid and unhealthy bullshit we have tried to convince ourselves is any kind of nourishment.  Our illness colors our news, our music, our pastimes and yes, our movies.

healing-touch-sold_We need healing.

It’s funny; I started writing this while half-listening to a Christian radio station and three songs in a row now have dealt with the concept of healing.  Part of that is the Spirit reading over my shoulder, but more of it is that Christianity has a lot to say about healing and the need for it.  After all, one of the many terms for God is “Healer.”

But from what?  Of what?  Oh no, Christiana, don’t be one of those Christians who equate spiritual sin with emotional and bodily malaise, as though some people deserve to be punished with illness.  No, Reader—my best friend has a disease that is frying his brain a little bit more every day, stripping it of its effectiveness.  My good friend’s wife is fighting a cancer that sits sullenly in her femur, spine, and chest.  I myself am gradually going deaf because my body cannot recognize the way it’s supposed to work in order to hear.  I can’t believe in a god who would cause such prolonged torment to satisfy reparation of sin.  That’s sadism, and I don’t roll with a sadistic God.

There’s something to be said, though, for the gulf between Christianity’s language of healing and the reality of just how broken we are in so many ways.  Do we keep breaking ourselves, outpacing God as we find new ways to inflict pain?  Do we never allow ourselves to fully heal, running pell-mell into the next ill-thought thing before our bodies and souls have had time to re-knit?  Perhaps.  I am most certainly guilty of both of these, especially when it comes to myself.  How I haven’t more seriously injured myself on a number of levels, I don’t know.  But I am certainly not whole.  I am broken.

In the film—which I can’t say that I recommend, although it is incredibly well acted, because it is so incredibly violent; there’s a great breakdown of it through the lens of its relationship to religion here—an underlying theme is that you’re never so broken you can’t be at least on the way to healing.  Everybody gets a chance at redemption, at reclaiming the best part of themselves; some take it, some don’t.  Healing comes from being willing to walk back to what you could have been.

I was recently reading an article for class about John Wesley’s ideas of healing and that he had no problem whatsoever with both medicine and prayer as effective tools of healing.  He also never blamed sick people for getting sick.  We live in mortal bodies that are constantly falling apart.  We should definitely take better care of them (preaching to myself) but we can’t stop our own mortality.  We are not Wolverine, able to heal almost instantly, and yelling at sick people about what they should be able to do is both foolish and cruel.  I appreciate that the vast majority of Biblical references to healing have no truck with blaming the broken.  Do they have to do things, like get up or reach out for a hem?  Yes.  Healing requires work on our part.  But do they get shamed into being well?  Nope.  We are all of us broken, so what good would shame do?  How silly is it for one mortal to tell another mortal that their mortality is shameful?

I realize that I’m switching back and forth between a lot of different kinds of healing and brokenness, but that’s a little deliberate (and a little due to my mind being in about fourteen different places right now).  I think it’s all of piece not in that your soul makes you have cancer but that sickness isn’t just a physical thing.  When I am sick—and I’ve been fortunate in never being long-term, all-the-time sick—I definitely notice an impact on my spiritual and emotional self.  And when I’m aware of my broken spirituality, it takes a toll on my physical commitments.

You may choose, good Reader, to push back on any and all of my assertions.  Perhaps, for you, the spirit has nothing to do with the body, or perhaps you’re really uncomfortable with my equating sick and broken because those mean different things to you.  Please, challenge me.  But recognize that in this wilderness of Lent, we are not whole, and we are not healthy.  Even Jesus needed angels at the end to put Him back together from the stress of the environment and the temptations.

I simply want us to consider, as I have been doing in light of the film, where our brokenness is.  Where do we need healing?  What can we do about that, in both the “non-miraculous” medical and the “miraculous” prayer sense?  (Yes, I put those in quotes because I think it’s a false dichotomy.)  And where are we healed that we can celebrate?  Where, in this desert of forty Lenten days, do we already see the bright edges of Easter?

 

 

Jesus and his disciples came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch and heal him.  Taking the blind man’s hand, Jesus led him out of the village. After spitting on his eyes and laying his hands on the man, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”  The man looked up and said, “I see people. They look like trees, only they are walking around.”  Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. He looked with his eyes wide open, his sight was restored, and he could see everything clearly.  (Mark 8:22-25, CEB)

Lent, Week Two: Light and Dark

Right, so I know I said we were going to work with the elements of the wilderness but the Blogging Spirit says pairs.  So we’re going pairs.

It snowed this morning here in the Wicket Gate; this is remarkable because this is the American South and it doesn’t really snow all that often here.  It was warm even before global warming.

4ab51967138a6856445430523bbfce5dThis is also remarkable because I absolutely love snow.  I love it.  I love the way it slows everything down, I love the slight weight of it as it falls, I love the silence it engenders, I love the chill of it and the sting the air bites into your cheeks, I love the way snow outlines everything and makes every single twig and parapet a white exclamation point against dark tree bark and grey shingles.  I love the snow.  And it has affected me more than I realized that it doesn’t really snow here—I apparently count on winter as a breathing respite far more than I knew and I think the lack of it has contributed a lot to how overwhelmed and de-centered I’ve felt.  So the snow today was a precious gift and I literally skipped through it across one of the major roads singing My Favorite Things to myself because it was beautiful and there were so few cars it was laughable and running errands in that kind of silence was so, so wonderful.

Light in the darkness.

After getting ink (a necessary though expensive reality, especially now that printers have been programmed not to recognize the cheaper off-brand cartridges) I took myself out to brunch for a sandwich at one of the local fast-food places.  The life of the student is a glamorous flirtation with the poverty line, something I point out not to get into an appeal for money or onto my soapbox on the stupidity that we as a society feel students somehow “deserve” to be poor but to underscore that breakfast out isn’t something I do every day.  As I was sitting down at the restaurant, a man came up to me and asked if I had a dollar to spare so he could get breakfast.  It’s unusual, even here in the city, for someone to come into a place to ask like that; there’s kind of an unspoken agreement that begging as a transaction remains outside, but like I said, it was snowing.  Hunger can prompt some incredible things that we would never have thought ourselves capable of, and hunger with cold demands to be fixed.  Mindful of having recently preached a sermon on Jesus’ differentiation between the hunger of the body and of the spirit, I said come on, I’ll buy you a value meal breakfast, I can do that much.  I intended to have him eat with me since I think that giving money without even the attempt to build connection isn’t helpful to anybody.

We went up to the counter and I gestured him ahead, determined not to speak for him, trying desperately to figure out how this would work since I’m bad at small talk and I really just wanted to watch the snow.  He ordered some eight or nine things, still not an exorbitant cost because it’s a cheap place but way over what I was prepared to spend, especially after having spent so much on the ink.  I didn’t know what to do; I had not expected him to take liberty of my offer, which is perhaps woefully naive.  A manager passing by stopped and said no, he was just in here with someone else; apparently this man had been working the system all morning, waiting for new customers to cycle in and then getting them to buy him more things.  She asked if I still wanted to continue with the transaction and I said no, I couldn’t afford what he was asking, cancel it out.  He asked me when he was going to get his food and I said I can’t give you what you want, I can do this and nothing more.  He looked at me disbelievingly and left.

Darkness in the light.

I tell you this not to say that all beggars are crooks (they certainly aren’t) nor that I’m a saint for having tried (goodness, no).  I wish I could tell you how to respond to those who ask for alms, I really do; I feel like, especially as a pastor, I’m supposed to have some kind of answer for how to react, when to give money and when not, what to say.  I don’t know any of that.  I’m awful and uncomfortable and conflicted as all get-out when it comes to these kinds of interactions.  I tell you this because it is so incredible to me to have it juxtaposed against the beautiful snow, the crisp clarity of the flakes nearly lost in the murky confusion of how to look another human being in the eye and say I cannot give you what you want.

Darkness, and light.

When Jesus looks Satan in the eye and says I will not give you what you want after He is starving in the wilderness, after His face has become chapped not from the cold but from the sun that burns and the wind that scratches sand across the skin, does He hesitate?  Does He wish there was a manual of how to interact with this, how to look at the darkness and still be the light?  Or is He the manual, sure-footed and strong even in His exhaustion, knowing that the light will always win out?  Here in the wilderness I wonder, aware that God is in the snow and the stranger and wishing I understood what She wants of me in either situation.

 

In him there was life. That life was light for the people of the world.  The Light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overpowered the Light.  (John 1:4-5, ICB)

Lent, Week One: Hot and Cold

Happy first Friday of Lent, Reader, if such a thing can be deemed “happy.”  Lent, though traditionally a pretty rough space for me, is actually a good time to go internal and take stock of one’s faith journey.  It also happens to start smack in the middle of midterms this year, which I think is God foregoing actually saying anything and just chucking me out in the wilderness.

It’s been a really, really long week.

Part of it, though, was officiating for the very first time at an Ash Wednesday service.  There’s one other student pastor at the church where I serve now and she and I were put in charge of the entire service:  plan it, prep it, preach it.  So we did; we met twice to plan what hymns we wanted and write the liturgy.  We each wrote half of the sermon and then preached it as alternating voices.  We got to the church early to move furniture and set the scene, making sure everything was in place just as it needed to be.

And, human endeavor that it was, things went wrong.  My lapel mic came off my robe just as I stood to begin the sermon—I seriously should get all of the theatre points for how calmly I grabbed it and reattached it.  Then there was a bat that decided to join us for a couple of laps around the sanctuary in the middle of the sermon.  Yes, a bat.  I’m not kidding.  And I nearly ran out of oil as I was working my way through the ashes.  This is what the pastoral life is, Reader; it’s super human.  Sorry if that’s breaking any cherished notions for you.

6c3ae1418d0d0367d1ae643ae283d3e6But it’s also incredibly holy.  This is the second time in my life I’ve ever put ashes on someone else, and the only other time was on Interpreter and that had all sorts of emotional complications going on.  But this; this was feeling the oil and cold ash against my thumb, feeling the warmth of people’s skin as I placed my fingertips at their temples and drew the sign of the cross.  This was standing by the Christ candle and watching its flame flicker against the semi-darkness of our shadowed sanctuary.  This was hearing What Wondrous Love Is This roll down out of the choir loft behind me and remembering the times I have hummed that to myself on the chancel steps back home when I felt so completely separated from God and so terribly cold in my very soul.  This was raising my hands in benediction to this congregation with whom God has entrusted me and feeling the fiery warmth of praying that I will be worthy of that trust, of praying that they will be open to God’s Spirit.  The pastoral life is a terrifying and electrifying gift.

As we move throughout these forty days, I want to take a page out of the sermon my friend and I preached this past Wednesday in terms of imagining and fleshing out the story of the wilderness to which we’re called in this season.  What does our wilderness look like?  How does the temperature vary, with the extremes of heat and cold that such landscapes have?  Where are the rocks upon which we trip?  What plants struggle towards the rain that rarely comes?  Let us imagine ourselves into this space, Reader.  Let us name our wilderness, that we may hear our names from the One Who walks it with us.

 

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness.  (Exodus 14:19-20, ESV)